“This is crazy,” said Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson. “People are letting strangers stay in their bedroom, giving them rides, accepting money for it—and they don’t know each other.”
“I understand there are still skeptics,” admitted Nathan Blecharczyk, the co-founder of Airbnb, at the Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday. Thompson’s description pretty much sums up Air BnB’s business model: taking a share of money that regular people make by renting out their houses and apartments to strangers. Although 9 million people now use the service, many would-be financial backers had the same initial reaction: It would be insane for people to trust perfect strangers this much.
“No investor would give us money, saying, surely this is not a big idea—it’s actually quite a strange idea,” Blecharczyk said. “Five years ago, everyone thought this was crazy, and now 150,000 people are doing this every single night.”
Which is kind of astonishing. It’s one thing to make “friends” with random people on social media platforms like Facebook; it’s another to give them the keys to your house. Although there haven’t been high-profile cases of creepy people using these services to do harm, there's always the risk, ever increasing, that the equivalent of a Craigslist killer will eventually exploit Airbnb. That violation of trust would be a heavy blow to companies in the sharing economy.