A Chat with Airbnb's Chip Conley

By Rosanne G. Dunkelberger

Chip Conley — Airbnb’s head of global hospitality and strategy, bestselling author, hospitality entrepreneur and social change agent — will be the featured speaker at this year’s First Commerce Credit Union Power Forward Speaker Series on Jan. 31. Before his talk, which will focus on today’s era of business disruption, the 57-year-old gave FCCU a preview of some of the topics he’ll be touching on during his appearance at Power Forward.

FCCU: Could you talk about your experience at Airbnb working for people half your age and your concept of the “Modern Elder”?

CC: There’s IQ and then there’s EQ, IQ being genius and just basic intelligence, EQ being emotional intelligence. And then there’s what I call DQ — digital intelligence. Digital intelligence has become more and more important in companies. Many, not just in the tech industry but in general, are trying to attract young people into their companies because they feel like that’s how they’ll be more successful in a more digitally focused world. I think the irony is, as power is moving to the young faster and faster, there’s a growing need for some older people to help support all those younger people with all that power in areas they haven’t necessarily matured into, like emotional intelligence, or how to be a great leader, or strategy, things like that.

I found a Modern Elder is as much a mentor as they are an intern. At Airbnb, my experience to both teach the CEO and other people about the hospitality industry and leadership. I was 52 then and I had never been in a tech company, and so I learned a whole lot from them. I think I taught them a lot of emotional intelligence and they taught me a lot of digital intelligence and we were both better off for it. And I think we’re going to see more and more of that moving forward.

FCCU: Airbnb Open was your brainchild. Could you talk about its genesis?

While ultimately you stay in someone’s home or their second home, Airbnb is an online platform and the fact is, it’s a very technology-driven organization. I liked the idea of a creating a festival or an event that brought people from all over the world together who were fascinated by being a host on Airbnb.

There’s URL, what a website is, and then there’s IRL — in real life. Airbnb is a well-known URL, but I wanted to create a well-known IRL — an in real life festival and event where people who love Airbnb can come together. The idea of coming together and sharing and enjoying getting to know each other from all over the world is what I think we need more of in a world where we’re so reliant on getting to know each other purely through digital devices. When you have that opportunity to get to know people in person, it’s a whole different experience.

It grew into a very successful event. We did it in San Francisco the first year, Paris the second year, Los Angeles the third year. At our last one in Los Angeles, we had 20,000 people from nearly 110 countries. For the first two it was exclusively hosts from around the world and for the third one we invited our most active guests in the world to come as well.

Click here for part 2 of this series with Chip Conley.