Airbnb IPO breakdown 🏠

2019 saw several big US tech IPOs, like Uber, Pinterest and Lyft, plus many others which you can find on our app.

Looking to 2020’s crop of potential tech IPOs, and perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of all, Airbnb, will likely go public this year.

In our latest company deep dive, we’re looking at the public prospects of one of the most valuable Silicon Valley startups in the world.

Who are they?

Founded in 2008 by designer Brian Chesky and his friends, Airbnb is a San Francisco-based travel tech business.

What do they do?

Airbnb provides a platform for individuals and companies to rent out homes, rooms and other properties on short-term lets for vacations or other stays.

Airbnb has listings in about 190 countries and more than 81,000 cities.

Over the last couple of years they’ve expanded their remit to cover more than stays by starting to offer special tours and activities called ‘Experiences’ and launching partnerships, such as their restaurant reservation integration.


One of the most surprising things for a lot of Airbnb fans is that, as a pure idea, it wasn’t that innovative. Platforms like HomeAway and VRBO were already in place to allow homeowners to moonlight as innkeepers.

Driven by a Eureka moment when the cash-strapped founders rented out an air mattress on their apartment floor, Airbnb’s big shift was to strip out the formality and offer a real taste of urban life.

Their version of an existing idea, slightly re-tweaked, had a new resonance during the lean years after the financial crisis and the birth of the sharing economy. Airbnb certainly benefitted from good timing.

Airbnb were also able to tap into the new cultural longing for authenticity and the vogue for meaningful travel instead of ‘shallow’ tourism. Airbnb promised that you didn’t just have to rent a villa or book a hotel, you could live like a local. In the age of Instagram, this proposition suddenly had a lot of appeal.

So Airbnb’s defining attributes:

  1. Informality
  2. Authenticity
  3. Tech company credibility
  4. All wrapped up in sleek, modern platform design and branding

The fact that the company’s big differentiator was rooted in brand and experience design, rather than tech or business innovation, is less surprising when you reflect that Brian Chesky and the rest of the founding team were originally designers.

Now, Airbnb has come a long way from its streamlined sharing economy origins. The original proposition of crashing in a host’s spare room is just a fraction of their current offering.

Just as Uber expanded from Friday night limo rentals to a sort of omni-mobility, Airbnb now provides access to every conceivable vacation destination: genuine spare rooms, short-term rental flats intended to live on the platform permanently, luxury villas, bed and breakfasts, and even good, old hotel rooms.

Their recent acquisition of last minute hotel rooms app HotelTonight is a neat indication of their growing product sprawl.

They have more scale than ever, pretty healthy financials for a tech startup (as we’ll see below) and they’re arguably the coolest brand in travel.

However, this transition from nimble room-sharing startup to travel titan has also brought new challenges. Let’s dive in!

The numeros

First, let’s have a peek at the numbers. Like many startups, solid financial results for Airbnb are scarce on the ground, but we’ll work with what we have.

Airbnb’s last financials for 2017 showed the following:

  • 2017 Revenue $2.6B
  • 2017 Profit $90M+

Stats from 2019 released by the company include:

FYI, that private valuation is based on the value in stock paid to the owners of HotelTonight when Airbnb acquired them, rather than a direct cash injection. The last VC rounds in 2016 and 2017 saw the company valued at $30B.

Speculation continues on the IPO price but we would expect a significant bump up from $30B to make those VC rounds worth it.

For comparison, Expedia Group generated roughly $11B revenue in 2018, $902M profit and is valued around $17B., the largest travel conglomerate, is worth a staggering $80B, with net profits at around $2B for 2017.

So then Airbnb is a profitable unicorn, albeit not yet as profitable as its veteran competitors. What are the positives?

Incredible brand

Airbnb have successfully built arguably the most compelling brand in travel. “Getting an Airbnb” is synonymous with holidaying in private home, even though other options exist. Chesky and co’s design chops are evident from the booking experience to their community of hosts.

While online travel services can often be ugly, commoditised and focused on prices and availability, Airbnb has created a quality online experience to reflect the actual experience of an ideal vacation: smooth, easy and fun.

Their extension into Experiences is primarily a business innovation, driven by commercial gain, but it’s also perfectly aligned with their ‘live like a local’ proposition.

Could they own an end to end travel experience?

There’s been speculation since 2016 that Airbnb would launch a flights offering and with last year’s arrival of Virgin America ex-CEO, Fred Reid, as their Global Head of Transportation, it looks like this’ll be taking off soon.

As the big travel search groups know, while margins are negligible, there’s huge strategic advantage in offering flights booking as holiday planning often begins by organising the transportation to get you there. This could potentially come through a partnership with a big flight aggregator, rather than a full in-house build.

If Airbnb can nail their transport offering in a more transparent, attractive user experience than the current aggregators, they could well grab significantly more market share.

While Airbnb may look like a gleaming opportunity full of promise, there are some significant caveats.

Regulatory pressures

While Airbnb has faced less scrutiny than, say, Uber, officials from cities across Europe and the US have started to decry the platform.

Activists and officials argue that Airbnb is damaging local communities by creating a deregulated accommodation sector and incentivising property owners to rent to vacationers rather than local communities. Regulation tends to be passed on a city by city basis, rather than countrywide. More cities than ever have passed regulations limiting the platform’s operations.

This may have helped instigate Airbnb’s embrace of more traditional accommodation options.

It’s worth mentioning Airbnb’s competitors also face a regulatory burden over non-transparent selling practices. However, Airbnb’s regulatory struggles will likely generate more controversy and political pressure.

Slowing growth

Airbnb’s growth over the last couple of years has been slowing down and possibly even plateauing. In this report from Morgan Stanley, the researchers found that the proportion of travellers using Airbnb had increased by only 2% (to 27%) and 3% (to 25%) in 2018 and 2017 respectively. In 2016, that increase was 8% - from 14% to 22%.

That comes in the context of increased competition, as well as a potential ceiling in consumer demand for the sharing model.

In a sense, Airbnb could be the victim of their own success. They grew so fast and popularised their niche so quickly, that they may have already entered a new stage of company maturity.

Powerful, savvy competition

When it launched, despite the existence of competing services, Airbnb positioned itself as offering a completely new product to the travel giants. Now, Airbnb is increasingly in direct competition with the travel incumbents. And unlike incumbents that many startups face, Expedia, Booking and Ctrip (the online travel agency giants) are no slouches.

Airbnb’s competitive pressures basically condense down to this:

  • As Airbnb expand into hotels and villas, they have to compete with the global incumbents, with significant hotel inventory
  • As these incumbents enter the personal rental vacation market, Airbnb have to compete on this too

Airbnb is trying to take Booking and Expedia’s lunch by offering hotel rooms, but the competition are returning the favour.

Expedia’s acquisition of HomeAway, a pre-Airbnb demonstrates their willingness to hit Airbnb quite literally at home. In the Morgan Stanley report, the researchers mention that while consumers still currently see distinctions between Airbnb and the travel giants, they expect those lines to blur.

Their analysis suggests that all platforms and dominance will come down to inventory and scale. Airbnb have the lead on private inventory, but the big sites have far more hotel rooms.

It’s arguably harder for the established companies to build private inventory than for Airbnb to build hotel inventory. Ironically, Airbnb feeder companies like Airsorted and HelloGuest which offer property management for Airbnb hosts, will also potentially funnel those hosts to their competitors too.

Whereas Airbnb previously stood out by offering a distinct experience, by competing for more of the travel market, Airbnb may risk losing what made them special. And their competition are also trying to take what has previously made them unique and turn it into a market standard.

To sum up

Airbnb has seen meteoric growth since 2008. The challenge for Airbnb as a startup was clear: can they use an awesome brand, superior UX and a cultural moment to popularise a new way to travel? The answer was a resounding yes.

The big question for Airbnb as a public company is can they now leverage that awesome brand, as well as superior UX, to expand out of that niche and outcompete in a ruthless, competitive and saturated travel sector?

If you look at Airbnb as a Silicon Valley unicorn, it’s probably one of the most well-run, financially sound examples out there.

If you consider it as another travel tech company, at $35B+ IPO valuation, it may already be too expensive compared to its peers.

Freetrade does not provide investment advice and individual investors should make their own decisions or seek independent advice. The value of investments can go up as well as down and you may receive back less than your original investment. Tax laws are subject to change and may vary in how they apply depending on the circumstances.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming Airbnb IPO? Let’s continue the discussion in the comments thread. :speech_balloon:

Freetrade does not provide investment advice and individual investors should make their own decisions or seek independent advice. The value of investments can go up as well as down and you may receive back less than your original investment. Tax laws are subject to change and may vary in how they apply depending on the circumstances.

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Excellent again :+1: look forward to seeing them in the Freetrade app


This is great work! I think I would like to invest but it just seems too overpriced for me to accept, especially if the valuation crosses $40bn, which is quite likely. Judging by the poll though a lot of people here are interested and the financials and competitive outlook are acceptable as well. Might simply come down to the price/timing in the end.


Marriott is launching a home-sharing product in the US – TechCrunch

Marriott Is Officially Getting Into the Homesharing Business - Skift

I can see Marriott hitting the luxury end of the home sharing market in a impactful way, although I don’t seem the being able to compete overall in this space. It’ll be interesting to see where the hospitality industry ends up over the next few years.

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Good luck to Marriott.

Airbnb from the ground up has been a data-driven tech company first, as has Netflix, and maybe Marriott will do a “Walmart”-like slow push towards becoming an “e” company, but old habits die hard. If you want to understand where any company is heading, look at their careers page. Airbnb has embedded data scientists everywhere and they pay them well. They are not magicians but they do help. Chesky and his crew seem like awesome leaders too and they attract great talent and hire people all over the world.

I’d stay at Marriott if has a good deal in an emerging market in a town I don’t know. Business travellers will always stay at big-name hotels as long as their medium-to-large sized employers pay for it.

Surprisingly, the only time I found Airbnb more expensive than 2* hotels was in their hometown San Francisco.

Motley Fool’s take


Airbnb has completely upended the lodging industry – and in short order. The company was barely on anyone’s radar 10 years ago. Today, it is the go-to spot if you want to book an affordable place to stay that isn’t a traditional hotel. Perhaps that’s why its estimated valuation hovers near $40 billion.

Because Airbnb has yet to announce official plans to go public or submit a prospectus for investors, we only have limited information on the company. But here’s what we do know:

  • The company has been profitable in each of the past two years.
  • During the third quarter of 2018, Airbnb had over $1 billion in revenue.
  • It passed 500 million arrivals earlier this year. Previously, it passed 400 million in September 2018. This represents impressive growth.
  • The company has expanded outside of lodging to include experiences (hosted events), adventures (multiday trips), and restaurants.

Overall, Airbnb would be a compelling investment – at the right price, and given there aren’t any huge surprises in the prospectus (the long document the company must provide to investors before going public).

The company clearly benefits from a powerful network effect: People with houses to offer up know they’ll get access to customers by listing on Airbnb. That draws in more customers, which draws in even more houses. It’s a virtuous cycle.

And Airbnb has shown a knack for expanding its offerings outside of lodging, which could be a very big deal over the long run. For the time being, we’re in wait-and-see mode. Keep your eyes peeled for more details as the year progresses.

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Homeaway and VRBO are irrelevant. It’s nice to have them around to fight an anti-trust case because they create an illusion of competition. Airbnb is a zero-to-one business. It’s become a noun and a verb, like Google, Amazon and Uber (despite its financial issues).

If you have never stays in “managed” apartments via Airbnb, where the owners always seem to be “travelling”, it’s highly recommended :eyes: because it can be a lot cheaper than while on par with a hotel experience.

191+ countries :slightly_smiling_face:.

6 mln+ listings.

Also, @Freetrade_Team well done, this is heck of a report.

P.S. If anyone likes getting their hands dirty with some Python, R or simply Sheets/Excel data exploration, check out Airbnb’s data mined by this site

This is Hackney:


I don’t really see what the big growth opportunity will be once they’ve gone public. It seems like they’re pretty saturated in the short term lets business, based on the AirBnb usage figures for the last 2 years.

I can’t see them being as successful if they start entering into the flight booking business as the established companies already seem to work pretty well. There was definitely a big opportunity when they came on the lettings scene, but I don’t see the same potential to disrupt the flights market.

It seems like they’ve acheived most of their success already, without needing IPO funds.