Airbnb Is Worth $10 Billion Because The Sharing Economy Is a Farce

Airbnb is about to close a round of funding that will value the company at $10 billion, reports the Wall Street Journal. That's four times as much as the company was valued in 2012, when it raised $200 million. This time, the valedictorian of the sharing economy is raising between $400 million and $500 million led by private equity group TPG.

Low interest rates, bottomless optimism, and venture capital's need for a blockbuster exit have made $1 billion seem like nothing in this town. As Fred Wilson put it, we're "not in a normal valuation environment for high growth tech companies and we have not been in one for a while."

Airbnb is expected to go public this year. Earlier this week, Mark Cuban broke down how the process works:

What Silicon Valley does better than anyone is create exits. They know how to get people who they have made money for to turn over a lot of that money to buy the companies they have invested in. They know how to put on a show to get a company to an IPO. They know how to go out and get hundreds of millions of dollars to bridge companies with 10s of millions in revenues to their IPO and more importantly to make sure the IPO happens.

But if you're going to tack a few unsubstantiated billies on a startup that has not disclosed revenue or profitability, Airbnb is great choice. For instance, I am writing this here blog post in a room in sunny San Francisco that I rented through Airbnb.

The other day my host, who's been doing this for so long she went to early focus groups with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (pictured above with sharing enthusiast Thomas Friedman), told me how anxious she is about whether she is paying the right taxes. Regulators from coast to coast are also very worried about that. Everyone's confused.

Airbnb is using New York City as a model for battles with authorities. To resolve the issue there, Chesky offered to let the hosts on Airbnb shoulder the tax burden.

If that's the case, couldn't Airbnb just lower their cut, my host asked me.

I didn't know how to tell her that's probably never gonna happen. Part of reason that Airbnb is assumed to be worth more than established hotel chains like Wyndham ($9.4 billion) and Hyatt ($8.4 billion) is because Airbnb's costs are much lower. Being an outlaw middleman also makes it easier to scale.

We saw this same thing with Uber—another company that puts scare quotes around the "sharing" economy. First you talk about how much you're helping the little guy, then you break the rules and launch everywhere, then you're indispensable, then regulators shrug, then you win.

Once you're looking at the world from on top of a multi-billion dollar valuation, then it's time to start acting like the old guard that you usurped. Just a couple days ago, Chesky told Fast Company he wants it to function more like a hotel:

Chesky has decided that Airbnb will become nothing less than a full-blown hospitality brand, one that delivers a seamless end-to-end experience when its customers travel. "If you ask Brian now what drives Airbnb's growth, it's not that people want to get a cheaper space," says Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, an early investor. "Airbnb could've spread out horizontally into the sharing of power tools and cars and stuff like that. But Brian has decided the growth is in hospitality."

Nice business model, if you can get it.

Update: To clarify, Chesky told the Wall Street Journal that Airbnb is not going to IPO this year. The speculative article linked to above was about how more tech companies are opting for "stealth IPOs"

"Mr. Chesky said that an initial public offering was not in the works for 2014. 'We are not going public this year. We will do it at a time when it benefits the company. When we have a good reason.'"

To contact the author of this post, please email nitasha@gawker.com.

[Image via Getty]