Airbnb’s public debut has been anticipated for years. The San Francisco company is one of the highest-profile start-ups to emerge from a generation of “sharing economy” companies born after the 2008 recession. The start-ups, which include Uber, DoorDash, WeWork and Instacart, rode a wave of smartphones, cheap cloud computing and gig work. Plentiful venture capital funding allowed them to stay private and put off turning a profit.
If Airbnb goes public in the coming months, the company will have squeaked its offering in before a compensation deadline affecting many of its employees. Start-ups like Airbnb compensate workers, especially those who join in the earliest years, with potentially lucrative stock options and restricted stock units. But if a company waits too long to sell or go public, that equity can expire and become worthless. If Airbnb goes public before the end of the year, its employees will avoid losing a large tranche of equity that was set to start expiring next spring.
The I.P.O. could also enrich Airbnb’s earliest backers, some of whom invested 12 years ago, while turning its founders into billionaires.
Airbnb has raised more than $3 billion in venture capital funding. Its largest shareholders include Silver Lake and Sixth Street, which invested in the company as the pandemic set in. Sequoia Capital, Founders Fund and Accel also own sizable stakes.
Airbnb’s founders — Brian Chesky, who is the chief executive, and Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia — each own around 15 percent of its Class B shares. In a move that is common among Silicon Valley companies, the founders have carved out a special class of shares for themselves, which gives them 20 votes per share and disproportionate control of the company.
The three men founded Airbnb in 2008 after they rented out a spare room in their apartment to make extra money. That idea became a company, which has since expanded to seven million listings in almost every country.
Airbnb’s website helped bring the world of short-term rentals, once limited to vacation homes and time-shares, into city apartments, country cabins, spare bedrooms and treehouses, while advertising a message of authentic travel and “living like a local.”