Sharing Economy

Airbnb-ing in San Francisco? You could be staying with the founder

Airbnb: Young Chinese are fueling booming demand
Airbnb: Young Chinese are fueling booming demand

Talk about living and breathing a job.

Nathan Blecharczyk, a 32-year-old who is one of the three co-founders of Airbnb, could easily retreat into the privacy of his San Francisco home after a hard day's work. Instead, the billionaire entrepreneur rents out a section of his home on Airbnb and never tells the guest who he is.

"It has a separate entrance," Blecharcyzk told CNBC in a recent inteview, who's married and is also a new father. "I don't reveal who I am because, first, for privacy reasons, but also because I want to make sure I have the authentic experience that other hosts are experiencing. I don't want them to treat me differently."

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Blecharcyzk has hosted more than 100 guests who are unaware that their casual conversations or email exchanges with him is invaluable feedback for the computer engineer. He started Airbnb with two friends seven years ago, and by some estimates, the company is currently valued somewhere north of $10 billion

Blecharczyk was in Singapore last week to speak on a panel at the Singapore Summit, a conference of financial, economic and political leaders. Not surprisingly, his ongoing research continues while he travels: He was staying with a Singapore Airbnb host instead of a hotel.

"I'm in a condo about a mile from here," Blecharczyk said, pointing out the window of the Marina Bay Sands Convention Center where CNBC sat down with him. "The guy is away on business. It's a nice place."

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Blecharczyk says 10 percent of the company's customers are now business travelers.

The migration to business clientele may seem surprising for a company that started out targeting vacationers. Indeed, it surprised Blecharczyk himself.

"None of this was intuitive. I'd like to say I knew this was all going to happen, but it's really something we observed," he told CNBC. "Business travelers are often looking for a longer stay and are looking to be integrated with their environment a bit more. Combining work and play a bit more."

Airbnb now contracts with billing companies such as Concur, in order to help smooth out expense procedures for business travelers.

Biggest surge: Outbound China travelers

Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and CTO of Airbnb.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

In Asia, Airbnb's biggest focus is not necessarily within the region. It's the 700 percent growth in outbound Chinese travelers using Airbnb in the past 12 months, according to Blecharczyk.

The common profile is a young Chinese traveler who's not part of a tour group, is willing to explore independently, and speaks some English.

"I actually hosted two women from Shanghai in my house recently," Blecharczyk said. "It was their first time in the U.S. They were going to study a few weeks at Berkeley. They took the subway, walked through the neighborhood and found me.

He added: "I had to admire the courage of these two women who were leaving their country for the first time and experiencing something different than what they were used to."

Blecharczyk says his priority is cultivating the outbound market, more so than growing a nascent domestic Chinese market, where there's still a degree of cultural resistance to renting out part of a private home to strangers.

As for other parts of Asia, a big focus is Japan: "It has grown almost 400 percent over the last year as a destination. Not just Tokyo, but Osaka, Kyoto and throughout."

This past summer, Airbnb closed on its biggest round of funding yet: $1.5 billion.

Blecharczyk confirmed to CNBC that investors included China's Hillhouse Capital, Sequoia China and Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek. But despite whispers of a possible float, he insists the company is in no hurry to go public, especially since it's well-capitalized.

Asked how Airbnb will deploy this fresh injection of capital, Blecharczyk says the funding was not for specific acquisitions.

"We are very much in growth mode. As you become bigger, you need to make bigger bets," he added.