Airbnb CEO on the tech downturn: ‘It’s like we’re all in a nightclub and the lights just came on’
After years of seemingly unstoppable growth, the tech industry is now facing the “ultimate reality check” as it confronts broader economic uncertainty and waves of layoffs, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told CNN on Thursday.
“It’s like we’re all in a nightclub and the lights just came on,” Chesky said in an interview on “CNN This Morning.” After a period of “exuberance and euphoria,” he added, “now we all have to, like, take a hard look at things.”
His remarks come at a difficult moment for the tech industry. Facebook-parent Meta said last week it was cutting 11,000 jobs after nearly doubling its staff during the pandemic. Amazon confirmed this week that lay offs had begun in its corporate workforce, with reports saying it plans to cut 10,000 positions. And Twitter recently cut approximately 50% of its staff as new owner Elon Musk races to bolster its bottom line.
Airbnb may be an exception. Chesky said the company is not undergoing layoffs at this time, and in fact is hiring. But that is due in large part to the company cutting 25% of its staff at the start of the pandemic as the travel industry was clobbered, and losing more employees by attrition after.
“Two-and-a-half years ago, we lost 80% of our business in eight weeks,” Chesky said. “People were predicting we were going to go out of business.”
“We just hunkered down,” he added. “We rebuilt the company from the ground up, and we stayed really lean.” Now, Chesky said, “we’re stepping on the gas, we’re not putting on the brakes.”
While the reckoning hitting much of Silicon Valley is painful, Chesky appeared to suggest that a more sober reassessment of the industry could also provide an opportunity for the tech sector to rethink its place in society, after years of criticism for the impact its products can have on people.
“I think Silicon Valley has done so many amazing things for the world, but we have to be careful having a fetishization of new technology, as if the new technology is going to solve all the problems that the last technology created,” Chesky said. “We need more diversity in Silicon Valley, but that diversity should not just be demographic diversity. We need artists, humanists in this industry.”