AirBNB Executive Shares Wisdom Learned from Disruptive Innovation

Chip Conley speaking at Fall Leadership Breakfast 2018
Chip Conley, Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy of Airbnb speaks the Fall Leadership Breakfast at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, December 13, 2018.

Just 26 years old when he began his boutique hotel business, AirBNB executive Chip Conley has learned a great deal about how innovations, particularly with modern technology, can disrupt the best-laid plans of entrepreneurs and established businesses. On Thursday morning he shared his wisdom with members of Belmont’s Executive Learning Network and other attendees in an hour-long talk in the Curb Event Center.

He began by discussing how he was recruited by the founders of AirBNB to aid in further developing their young company as they wanted to democratize the hospitality business. While the founders understood technology and business, they needed someone with expertise in hospitality. “The best disruptors,” Conley said, “are adept at both high tech and high touch. Disruption is a combination of algorithm and people business.”

Conley related entrepreneurship to his new hobby, surfing, noting that you don’t need to be a marine biologist to succeed on the water but surfers do need to see and understand the wave. He offered four examples of how the two relate:

  • Storms (difficult times) can provide the best conditions
  • Free form, not regimented
  • A fellowship of unwritten rules
  • You need to know what’s going on underneath the surface

He also examined what puts companies at risk, including growing complacent with past successes, losing touch with core customers’ evolving needs and not taking new competitors seriously. He offered Netflix as a positive model of pivoting–from DVDs to streaming–as customers’ needs and desires changed with evolving technology.

“You have to find a tool for understanding your customer’s core need. What’s your shortcut to understanding the psychographics of your customers? What business are you in?”

A New York Times bestselling author and hospitality entrepreneur, Conley served as founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality for 24 years. He then accepted an invitation from the founders of AirBNB to help transform their promising home-sharing start-up into the world’s largest hospitality brand. In four years as Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy, he taught his award-winning methods to hundreds of thousands of AirBNB hosts and created the world-renowned AirBNB Open. He is the author of several books, including “PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow” and his newest release, “Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder.”