Is AirBnB Becoming the eBay of Vacation Rentals?

The global apartment sharing startup AirBnB has raised $112 million at a $1.3 billion valuation, confirming rumors about the fast-growing company which books rooms, apartments and houses in destinations from New York to San Francisco to Hawaii to London to Paris to Barcelona to Buenos Aires.  The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz (AH).  Reports are that Andreessen invested $60 million; another $40 million came from DST; $5 million from General Catalyst, and the rest from earlier investors and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.  The round is the second for the San Francisco-based company, bringing its total amount raised to date to $119.8 million.  The firm lets people travel to places more affordably by letting them book places to sleep from people around the world.  AirBnB plans to use the capital to fund its worldwide growth of private properties, often at amazingly low prices.

“Over the past three years, we’ve built a community marketplace for unique properties and brought it into the mainstream and into almost every country on the planet,” said Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of AirBnB.  “Today is a watershed moment – both for AirBnB as a company and for our community – that will enable us to touch new markets and expand our vision to make the world’s most interesting and inspiring places accessible to our users.”

At present, AirBnB has more than two million nights booked, more than double its rate of bookings just four months ago.  Its website receives more than 30 million hits per month and the number of AirBnB social connections has tripled to 54 million since the feature launched in May.  AirBnB has the capacity to rent properties by the night, owned by real people in 16,702 cities in 186 countries.

“We started realizing there is a growing trend of people who are doing this and making a living on Airbnb,” said Chesky, who founded the company in 2008 with Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk.  “That’s what turned this into a movement and tipped it into the mainstream.”

AirBnB tries to prevent bad behavior on the part of the host or visitor by allowing people to post ratings and reviews of both hosts and travelers on their website, similar to eBay.  Users who connect to the site via Facebook can see if they and a potential guest or host have any mutual friends or a shared alma mater.  The site lets hosts ask for a deposit to cover damage or other problems.  To use the AirBnB website, visitors search for listings in the location they want to visit.  Once they have found the preferred location, they send a message to the host with any questions about the room or its location.  Next, users pay for their stay using a credit card or PayPal.  AirBnB holds the money until the day after the guests check in, assuring that the hosts are not cheated out of their cash.  The site profits by charging a transaction fee for each reservation.

When a young Toronto woman’s roommate moved out, she decided to rent out her extra bedrooms to travelers. The service has unexpectedly made her a bed-and-breakfast owner, bringing in approximately $1,800 a month, a nice cushion as she works on starting her own business.  “It pays my rent with a little left over,” she said.  “I’ve been able to upgrade my place, paint and get new furniture, which in turn means I can charge more.”

“The AirBnB movement has changed the way people experience the world,” Gebbia said.  “This investment will help us respond to increasing international demand by accelerating hiring, and the opening of offices around the world, in order to support our growing community on more local levels.”

On the Forbes website, Nicole Perlroth says that “Venture firms have been salivating to get a piece of AirBnB for months.  Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson famously referred to AirBnB as the one that got away. Other investors have been falling all over themselves trying to back AirBnB copycats for office space, tutoring, cars and even, experiences. The round, pricey as it may be for a three-year-old startup, is still coup for the VCs involved.  Andreessen-Horowitz initiated talks with AirBnB about a potential investment long before Jordan joined the firm last month.  (Andreessen-Horowitz’s newest partner Jeff) Jordan, a former eBay executive, says he was eager to lead the deal for AH because ‘(AirBnB) reminded me more of eBay in its early days than any other business I had seen.’”