Airbnb CEO: More people value access over ownership now

Airbnb's CEO discusses what we can learn about the coming cultural change as we shop and re-sell at the same time.

SAN FRANCISCO -- We’re moving from an ownership society to an access society, according to Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky.

"This is a wave that’s going to happen. Think of all the large assets and time you have," said Chesky while speaking at the GigaOM Roadmap 2011 summit on Thursday morning. "There’s someone in the world that wants that, or would love to have access to that."

Essentially, Chesky summed it up as now you are defined more by what you have access to rather than what you own.

Chesky is really on to something here, and this trend definitely goes beyond his company. Just look at the rise of digital movie and music subscription services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Rhapsody, and Spotify. You can pay a much lower monthly fee and have access to all of that content -- usually on an unlimited basis just as if you owned so long as you keep paying approximately $10 per month per service.

Beyond that, the argument can be expanded to clothing and accessories on sites like Rent The Runway and Bag, Borrow, Steal.

Airbnb, which is potentially valued at $1.3 billion, started out as a way for its co-founders to make rent. Since then, the concept has grown from people renting out beds in apartments, to renting boats, castles, and even tree houses.

"Collaborative consumption is something that we dont talk about a lot, but we do think there’s an element of sustainability," Chesky affirmed, explaining that that you can either make things that are disposable, or make things that are not disposable and finding new meanings for those products.

"It seems like what we create now is a more efficient economy," Chesky added.

Naturally, Chesky was asked to comment about Airbnb's major kerfuffle this past summer in which an Airbnb host's apartment was vandalized in San Francisco.

Trying to keep a positive front, Chesky started off by labeling the experience as "a great learning experience." But he also acknowledged that it was, "in many ways, a wake-up call."

Reciting some of the new security measures put in place since then (including a $50,000 guarantee to anyone who rents spaces worldwide) as well as expanded integration with Facebook, Chesky posited that Airbnb is now less about staying with strangers, but more so with friends of your friends.

"We’ve primarily focused on being better, not bigger," Chesky said, arguing that while many people have advised him about the importance of attracting more hosts and renters, Airbnb is more focused on ensuring "a better experience."

Chesky also pointed out that customers in Europe tend to be more open and adventurous when it comes to Airbnb than their counterparts in the United States.

However, despite a global presence already, Chesky was the first to admit that his startup hasn't exactly gone mainstream as hoped by the end of 2011.

"We are mainstream within the tech community for sure, I would not say we’re mainstream across the world," Chesky remarked.

As for future plans, Chesky explained that Airbnb will continue to expand upon products and services to make the business better. When asked about adding car sharing à la Zipcar or City CarShare, Chesky replied that there is no current commitment to do so, but he added that many Airbnb customers are willing to rent “basically any asset they have.”