Airbnb is a marvel of a company in many ways: It has faced a trustworthiness crisis in recent years, with controversies including the proliferation of a scam spanning eight cities and another involving a deadly shooting at an Orinda, Calif. rental. Now, an ever-prevalent coronavirus has upended the travel market. Yet after a fall off early in the pandemic, consumers have returned to the home-sharing business, with CEO Brian Chesky saying bookings between the end of March and early June exceeded the same period in 2019.
That image, of a company on the mend, is perhaps in no small part thanks to Chris Lehane—a long-time Democratic strategist who worked through many scandals in the Clinton White House and now leads Airbnb’s policy and public communications efforts.
He is arguably the second most important executive after Chesky himself, according to this thoroughly fascinating Information profile on the senior vice president for Global Policy and Communications, and he remains the longest-surviving executive on the team aside from Chesky and his co-founders.
The self-described “Master of Disaster” fought stricter enforcement of zoning laws that could’ve sidelined (and potentially still can) Airbnb’s business and more recently, laid out a four-point coronavirus response gameplan that so far, appears to be working. The Airbnb headlines largely have been dominated by how the company, surprisingly, has made a comeback even amid travel restrictions. Heck, we even wrote about it.
Still, beyond his ability to cast the company in a positive light, his policy wins have been checkered—and that is the ultimate challenge the company will have to face. In November, a Jersey City ballot measure placing new restrictions on the platform was approved after Airbnb spent millions fighting against it. And while stateside, Airbnb is framing the pandemic as a way to reset the business, some cities in Europe are seizing the opportunity to propose restrictions on short-term housing that regulators say has driven up rents for local residents. Meanwhile Airbnb, per the Information, does expect urban travel to return after the pandemic ends.
As the pandemic wears on, Airbnb may have to consider even more outreach as city residents move in droves to local, smaller towns. A friend of mine who works in tech recently moved to the Lake Tahoe area to escape San Francisco. Among the first questions his neighbors asked was if he planned to rent out his home as an Airbnb. The relief, when he said no, was a story all on its own.
A NEW CHALLENGER: There’s a new fintech on the scene. Jiko, a Berkeley, Calif.-based challenger bank, raised $40 million in funding led by Upfront Ventures and investment firm Wafra. Its play? Slow and steady. The company focused on getting the banking charter first—acquiring a 63-year-old bank—ahead of scaling up. Read more.