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. Be sure to check out part 1 of this conversation.

FCCU: Life seems to be moving at an ever-accelerating pace. Is there such a thing as changing too fast? Can those in the Baby Boomer generation keep up?

CC: Technology is an accelerant and it makes things go global more quickly. I think we should recognize that won’t change. What we do need to recognize is that what’s enduring and what tends to be timeless are great ideas, and creating great teams and organizations that have a great purpose.

If you’re doing something that doesn’t make any sense, moving fast isn’t necessarily valuable. What guarantees success is having a great team that believes in their mission and is delivering something of value to the customer base that hasn’t been offered before. I think there’s definitely room for Boomers to be part of that. I guess I’m a little bit of evidence to that.

FCCU: You often address Maslow’s pyramidal Hierarchy of Needs, referring to both employees and customers/guests. Can you give some examples of things you have done to inspire employees and give your clients service they didn’t even know they wanted?

CC: What is most important to employees? Money is important at the base of the pyramid and recognition is in the middle of the pyramid. But at the top of the pyramid, what really creates an inspired employee, is when they have a sense of meaning. What I’ve learned over time is the kind of meaning a housekeeper in a hotel might have is different than, say, a bartender. The thing that gives our housekeeping staff meaning many of the hotels is the idea they build a relationship with their fellow housekeepers. Maybe once a week they do a potluck. And since 90 percent of our housekeepers are immigrants, they’re going to bring food in from their home country that they can share … that allows them to get to know each other better.

In terms of client or customer service that was an unrecognized need or at the top of the pyramid, there’s a hotel in San Francisco called the Hotel Vitale. When we first launched that hotel in 2005 we included a yoga studio on the penthouse level. This didn’t make any sense. It was a financial district hotel … why would a business hotel have a yoga studio on the top floor? Well, what we believed was there was a growing number of travelers who really wanted to both combine work and play. If you’re stressed out, traveling a lot, one of the things you could do is go to a yoga class first thing in the morning for free. It was a way positioning the hotel as a healthy hotel. My investors in the hotel thought it was a stupid idea, but we did it and it became a huge success.

Continue reading part 3 of this series with Chip Conley.