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The Airbnb Community

Former Country Manager at Airbnb and Director at eBay, APAC

IP Interview
Published on May 30, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How Airbnb drives a narrative of belong for guests and hosts
Executive Bio

Sam McDonagh

Former Country Manager at Airbnb and Director at eBay, APAC

Sam has over 20 years experience running online marketplaces. He is the former Country Manager of Australia and New Zealand at Airbnb where he scaled the platform to over 250,000 listings from 2014-19. Sam was previously the General Manager of Australia for Dollar Shave Club and spent 5 years running eBay Southeast Asia from 2000-05.

Interview Transcript

Moving on to look at building communities and I think this links into this purpose led, narrative based theme that we’ve discussed. What does a community mean to you?

A community, to me, means a group of people that can gather around a common cause or mission or activity and feel like they belong. To me, at its simplest, it’s that sense of sharing something in common.

What do you think attracted so many people to the Airbnb narrative, of belonging?

At their core, I think everyone wants to feel as if they belong. I caught a small section of Michelle Obama’s documentary, Belonging, recently and it was interesting to juxtapose some of the things we heard her saying, relative to much of what the founders talked about, in terms of how Airbnb was established. It’s interesting that when the first three guests stayed with Brian and Joe, in their apartment in San Francisco, over 10 years ago, the thing that comes out of that, even though there were air mattresses, on a floor, in an apartment, and they were thousands of miles away from where they lived or where they were from, they had made a human connection and they felt as if they belonged. I think that’s a really key part of it.

You often hear people say, managing the community. Obviously, community is a very fluffy and broad, subjective and intangible word. What did you focus on, within the community?

Reflecting on some of the communities that I’ve been a part of, from a genuine community perspective, as opposed to a business or marketplace point of view, I think it generally is, what is that common thread that people can attach themselves to? Different things will have different meaning to different people. If there’s that one common thread that they can attach themselves to – and at Airbnb, that’s belonging – I think that what makes people belong, will be different to different people. The diversity that you have, in the Airbnb community, is one of those things that will continue to help Airbnb stand in really good stead, relative to the experiences that people have had when they’ve been living like a local. I think they will continue to look for that.

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