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, part 2 and part 3 of this conversation.

FCCU: You seem to be a man with enthusiasm for things not necessarily related to your work — surfing being the latest. Is that important for a well-rounded life?

CC: If you rely way too much on one component of your life — whether it’s work or your family — to be the dominant or only thing that provides you a sense of meaning, if that one particular part of your life starts to fall apart … it’s sort of dangerous. The thing that’s interesting about doing other things in your life, especially how it relates to your career, is it’s one way to get your mind working in a new way, such that you can imagine new ideas. You don’t usually get your best ideas sitting at your desk. The “ahas” come when your brain’s operating a little bit differently. And sometimes that could be going to an art museum. It might be going for a run on the beach, watching a foreign movie or visiting a foreign place. All of those things can help the brain synthesize new ideas and allow you to come up with creative new ways to think of your work.

FCCU: Last question: Have you ever considered entering politics?

That’s a funny question because I did consider it many years ago. One of my close friends is a guy named Gavin Newsome; he used to be the mayor of San Francisco and now he’s the lieutenant governor of California. I was his mentor helping him start his company in his late 20s, and then he became mayor in his mid-30s. I spent a lot of time with him in City Hall. And I was thinking, “OK, Gavin’s becoming mayor, maybe some time I’ll follow him.”

There’s a great Henry David Thoreau quote (“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it”). And I saw how much life you have to give as a politician; it’s like a never-ending full-time job. I realized that was a huge amount of cost (and) I would prefer to be able to surf and do a bunch of other things.

I came to the conclusion that I’d like to be involved in helping society (but) I don’t necessarily have to do it by being a politician.