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What we can learn from AirBNB and #ransackgate

If you read Techmeme this morning you can see AirBNB is in a deep PR crisis:

Photo credit, this is Airbnb's CEO, Brian Chesney speaking to Y Combinator's Startup School last year.

What can the rest of us learn from this?

1. Most people will believe a batshit crazy customer over a nice businessman. I'm sure at AirBnb they think this lady is batshit. But if you are working at a company, remember this, that batshit crazy customer is far more believeable than anything I've seen come out of AirBnb all week.

2. Have a single point of contact: the CEO. Part of this crisis got worse because numerous people have been speaking to the press. The first thing you should do if you are in a crisis is appoint ONE PERSON to speak to the press and represent the company. That person should be the CEO. Not Paul Graham. Not the PR team. Not some VP. Not friends. Not off the record sources. Not anyone else except the CEO. Fire anyone INSTANTLY who does not listen to the CEO and stop talking to the press. Stop everyone from Twittering, Google+'ing, Facebooking on the topic EXCEPT to point everyone to the CEO.

3. The CEO should NOT use exclusively use press to argue out his case. Why not? The press has goals that might not align with cleaning up the crisis. Instead, the CEO should USE VIDEO! Why video, instead of text? We can tell whether you are lying or not. When I see text I can't tell, but video is far more convincing. Look at how Domino's CEO responded to a crisis: AirBnb should have done this. They still should do this.

4. Fix the freaking problem. Make it completely go away. If you don't understand what this means, completely means, well, completely. Does it cost a million dollars to make this customer whole? Do it. Your business will live to see another day. Don't argue about it. Do it. Look again at Dominos Pizza's video:

5. Get better because of it. Come out with new policies. A new attitude of humbleness, etc. Dominos did (they actually totally changed their pizza to the point I actually like it now).

What would you do if you ran AirBnb today?

By the way, when I helped run a consumer electronics store in the 1980s I had a few batshit customer crisis days. I dealt with them by:

1. Changing my attitude toward them. I imagined they were billionaires and are worth listening to.
2. I listened to them. Agreed with them. Took their side "yeah, you're right" goes so far to calm down someone who is yelling and screaming and throwing metaphorical rocks through your front window in an attempt to get your attention.
3. Apologized. A lot. A lot more than I needed to. "I'm sorry, we messed up." Goes a long way.
4. Don't sweep the problem under the covers. Deal with it then and now.
5. Find a way to turn the batshit crazy customer into an advocate. "Hey, listen, it's clear we have a problem here, can we pay you to help us find a solution here?"
6. Shut up and listen. I had one lady yell at me for half an hour once. I just listened to her. Eventually she got tired of yelling. Eventually we were able to have a conversation and she became a great customer again and, even, admitted that that day she was just having some really difficult problems in her life and she was taking it out on me. Humans aren't rational, so you've gotta let them go sometimes.
7. Sometimes the customer isn't right. Another customer I kicked out of the store. Luckily there wasn't a bunch of bloggers around waiting to write about how I was an asshole, but the customer came back in an hour and bought $2000 worth of equipment. In this world I would be especially careful of treating someone this way, though. They can start a blog and get everyone up in arms about how they were treated. Back to my first point, if we have to decide who is right we're going to side with the crazy customer EVERY SINGLE TIME. Just not fair, but that's the way humans are wired.
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Jim Coffis
"Fix the freaking problem" should've been number 1 in this case at least.
This doesn't seem any different from the Intel FPU bug, Tylenol poisoning, the screw in the Coke can, etc. Companies need to have a crisis plan in place for dealing with PR issues.
that some people are a sorry sack of S^&# who love to destroy a good thing.
Anyone with only half an idea of what AirBnb did would have instantly realised that this was likely to happen. They should have foreseen such a eventuality and had an air-tight contingency plan in place ready to go as soon as someone had their house trashed.
If anyone at that company thinks that she is bat-shit crazy, they have a customer relations issue that needs to be fixed now. How they've managed this has been terrible. They should've paid, let her have her say, and go from there. No blog posts defending themselves on TC, or Paul Graham getting all huffy in a blog post attacking a blogger (arrington), who by all accounts, seems to be the only one with his facts straight.
On the dim chance to be worse than Kanye here, yet: it's probably a big nightmare that happened, to any Airbnb host. Yet, she is healthy, things can be replaced, everything. Can the victim please stop the drama or turn it down a bit? Or is she counting on a huge sum from Airbnb? I mean seriously, worse things can happen to you.
Bunch of clever guys came up with a great idea and are in the process of disrupting a whole industry. They have one (very sad and scary for the home owner) incident and the world is up in arms. Come on people get real. There are crazy's in every walk of life. Why not here. How is this different from renting your apartment to some dude that found you in the paper and or Craigslist? This is a great company and sound leadership (although asking the woman to take down the post is kinda silly!) give them some slack!!
+Dave Sparks I agree. Things like this are going to happen and companies better have a plan to deal with them. And really, it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.
+Robert Scoble excellent points. However, I'm just disgusted how Michael Arrington was treated in the mix of this. His article truly upset me.
+Philip Daly Hindsight is 20/20. I truly don't think it was a terrible thing that they didn't have a plan in place for an event like this (when I looked at AirBNB, my first thought wasn't OMG SOMEONE MIGHT TRASH MY PLACE), and I am sure that wasn't their thought either. What is terrible is how they reacted to the chaos of the unexpected event.
+Robert Scoble My takeaway has been that any startup that is built on interactions between two sets of users (sellers and buyers) is fraught with big problems. I'm hopeful those can be solved, but they often involve social, non-technical solutions. I think the drama and schadenfreude surrounding this is off the charts, and everybody needs to calm the hell down a little and let AirBnB, pg, and YC deal with this before rushing to judgement.
Wish there was a way to collapse your mile long posts on my android.....
In most major metropolitan areas, renting your home for a period of less than a month is a code violation. It's illegal. And many AirBnBers / VRBOers are themselves renters, subleasing their apartments in violation of their rental agreements.

AirBnB and others like it (VRBO) are great services. I've stayed in an AirBnB and several VRBOs. But running serious capital-intensive startup on a business model that encourages illegal activity, however benign, is an exceptionally risky idea. I wonder how many AirBnB investors were aware that the company encourages illegal activity, and that makes it essentially uninsurable?
+Reid Hoffman spoke at MIT the other week and talked about a moment in PayPal's growth where he and another founder realized, just by the law of large numbers, one of their customers was a murderer.

That's the world we live in.

If AirBNB didn't have a crisis plan for dealing with some horrible event that involved them, then they had their heads in the sand.
+Eric Wagner I tend to believe people are good, and things will always work out for the best. A lil' more paranoia would do me good in life tho.
"Batshit Crazy"? Do you have any proof that what she says isn't true? Calling her names without any backup proof just fans the flames (as well as being borderline libelous).
+Robert Scoble And it certainly is a manageable PR crisis. AirBnB needs some better PR people.
The problem is not whether the crazy customer is more believable than airbnb. The real deal is that everyone now realized that there's a big risk associated to renting via airbnb. The problem is real.
She is not over-dramatizing the event that happened to her, for anyone that thinks so. My car got everything stolen out of it last year and it fucked me up for a good while. Sure, things can be replaced, but damn it hurts your sense of trust. If my home was broken into and torn apart like that, it would kill me.
+Robert Scoble Most startups aren't putting strangers into each others homes. Not having thought about "what could possibly go wrong" and have a plan for dealing with it for this startup is negligent management, IMHO.

But documenting this for future startups is a good service, once, of course, you can actually search this stuff.
Not exclusively using traditional media, but instead self-publishing video is essential. Anyone who believes that the media doesn't have its own angle on a story is being naive. I also agree about listening and letting the customer talk it out. I have found in all my customer dealings that it is rarely only about you or your company. More often than not it is something else going on in their life.
Don't people know about safety deposit boxes?????? Never leave stuff like that in your house that's nuts
That your Silicon Valley geeks should stop trying to censor people. What bothers me isn't that somebody on Airbnb turned out to be a robber -- surprise, surprise! But they could on Craigslist or even a fancy expensive vetted room mate service. But what bothers me is trying to silence the blogger and not deal directly with a customer with a grievance.

What you say here, Robert, essentially, is that the customer is always right. Until you revert to Silicon Valley geek-style contempt and start calling her bat-shit crazy and blaming her -- when it's not her fault, but the callous indifference to other people's property inherent in the AirBnB devs to start with.

That was an ancient adage of American business but you geeks in Silicon Valley turned it around to PICNIC, "Problem in chair, not in computer" and took a viciously anti-customer approach. It's a culture that is seeped in everywhere in the tech industry. The customer is stupid, didn't read the manual, can't understand simple instructions, blah blah blah.

Worse, there is a contempt for private property -- the Internet collectivizes digital content callously to help Silicon Valley sell ads, even as it destroys the music, book, and news industries. Now it is coming for our real-life property...
To those that think that AirBnB is "a bad idea":

In the late '90s I had the opportunity to invest in this crackpot startup called "eBay". The premise was that the website would facilitate a sale, and then the buyer and seller would rely on mutual trust and a spiderweb of "controls" to complete the agreement.

"No way," I said. That'll never work.

+Robert Scoble That's definitely true. Airbnb does indeed handle the affair very poorly - although from my perspective, I slowly begin to get annoyed by the victim's complaints.
The lesson isn't about PR - it's about common sense. Don't rent your home out to people you don't know. Hotels are a physical asset that you can't 'disrupt' with software. No amount of software can physically ensure the safety of your home when you give your keys to a stranger.
Agree w/ +Jim Coffis - First, "fix the freaking problem" and then "have a single point of contact", a single source of truth and information.
In this case I don't think the customer is in any way out of order. She comes across as petty rational and even handed in her 2 blog posts. What AirBnB seemed to miss was that, had they backed up their initial response with action, the PR here would have been positive. The first blog post actually made them look like they gave a damn. Deciding to cut things off because of it and spin against her totally destroyed that. Rather than ask her to get in touch with him if she wants to in her blog comments, the CEO should have been there in person and sorted things pro actively.
+Fred Lybrand I disagree here. The lesson is very obviously about PR for Airbnb. The lesson that startups like Airbnb and the new generation internet can teach to people is a complete different one: living can be easier and more affordable if mankind embraces its chance to actually establish a community with norms and values, such as kindness and open-heartedness (not sure on that english, sorry). I'm idealistic here, but it worked fine for the church since 2000 years. /cc +Robert Scoble
+Curtis Miller At first sight of the post, she didn't. By pretending like that and being unable to recover (we're not talking about rape or anything comparable here) for 2 months, she does. (To me.)
+Robert Scoble Agreed, there are a lot of people with vacation homes (we just got back from one last week!) and this has long been a problem with that industry. It is not a software-fixable problem or a PR problem. These kinds of events are very common - if airbnb wants to increase the frequency with which people rent out guest homes, then the frequency with which criminal problems associated with renting out guest homes is going to increase too.
Assuming that she is "batshit crazy" or a "drama queen", and don't fully agree with this, you don't manage a situation like this by throwing hissy fits. AirBnB simply needs some PR 101.
But Airbnb is a bad idea. It collectivizes property that isn't theirs and behaves as if it is a communist commune where the attitude to the property falls to the lowest common denominator -- as it did here. It can't work. This is America.
+Saul Tannenbaum, absolutely, I agree. Hotels can have burglaries too and they don't solve the problem. However, the owners of hotels don't physically live in the hotel room when it is unoccupied, nor do they store their own valuables there.
+Fred Lybrand That is certainly correct - the more rentals, the more (the expection of) crimes to happen. Yet Airbnb has to give a feeling of security for both sides and the impression of handling crises correctly and straight - which I would consider a PR issue.
+Robert Scoble I think in this instance being open about the solution rather than the NDA approach could have made AirBnB look fantastic. Handled properly they could have even ended up with an eloquent word smith as an advocate.
+Robert Scoble : I'm surprised you think she's being a drama queen. I don't think you fully appreciate what was done to her. It wasn't just valuables being stolen, it was a total violation of her livelihood, a ransacking. Followed by AirBNB trying to silence her. I actually think she's held back in her writing; doesn't sound like a drama queen to me.
Have used Airbnb successfully. However, with a broader brush, it seems that a PR disaster happens when some of what Scoble wrote above isn't followed and it's because most businesses don't have a disaster plan (for PR) or don't follow it. A single voice (heck, I write that into our contracts: we have a single yes/no person at the client's company) should always be used and that voice should be trained for the unexpected, although I can't imagine Airbnb didn't "expect" this could happen. Seems like very poor planning when there were plenty of examples pre-dating this. It's not like it's new - brands get hit monthly with horror stories and we keep talking about what should have/could have been done. We write tech disaster plans. Why don't businesses have PR disaster plans? Either there's a PR firm that needs to be fired OR there's a CEO who needs to put his hands around it and fix it. Now. Didn't they ever learn from BP?
+Robert Scoble So let me contribute to your list and add a first item before your items:

"Know your industry, understand its risks, and have a plan in place to deal with adverse events that might end your startup before it even has a chance to succeed"
I especially liked the respond via video idea very powerful.

The idea that anyone is responsible for this besides the person that actually trashed the house is bat shit crazy.
They should've helped the woman and introduce a new insurance product at the same time, say charge an OPTIONAL 5% insurance fee. Instead of trying to quiet the woman, they should've turned the issue and the hole in their business model into a great business opportunity.

btw, +Robert Scoble you just made me order a Domino Pizza

I love your repeated use of "batshit crazy"
It's also a reminder that the ills of more traditional businesses don't magically vanish because you're using a new Web 2.0 business model. It would be nice to think that because someone is sitting at a keyboard, they're not a criminal. Nice, but naive. (Given the recent stories about the prevalence of smuggled smartphones in prison, you can't even assume the person isn't behind bars!)

Also, more traditional news outlets and websites, feeling threatened by a start-up, are all too willing to bash a new website because it was involved in a crime. How many people think of Craigslist or eBay mainly on those terms, and avoid them completely?
She wrote 2 blog posts. The first was totally rational and likely cathartic for her to write. The second seems to be a reaction to a smokescreen of spin about the company's response. I can't say I blame her, I would have likely been more cutting than she was had they tried that bull with me.

In terms of the business model (which requires everyone involved to be 'batshit crazy') it is not actually a new one. People have been couch surfing and/or swapping their houses with people for vacations for a long time. In tough economic times it can be really handy to many to mitigate their costs or sweat their biggest asset a little. Most of the time these things go well but occasionally the realities of humanity lead to a nightmare. I was personally amazed that the service does not have insurance as an option (apparently now coming).

They are growing quickly and I believe there is a market and enough crazy people to make the business a success. They just need to get real with their response to issues.
What I've learned is that the person who was arrested and named in the SFGate article should make her FB photos private before people run with the snapshot of her flipping two middle fingers to the camera. Or if it's not her, her same-aged, same-named namesake from the same city should.
+Robert Scoble: In the customer's defense (against the charge of being a drama queen), in her first post she went out of her way to thank AirBnB for being gracious and helpful, and she even devoted a few paragraphs to explore the extent to which it was her fault. It was only after that post, when they tried to silence her, and when they started publicly lying about what had happened, that she started to speak out against AirBNB.
Tao Xie
Well, people see this as a crisis, or "sh*** happens". I disagree. I see this is a flaw in AirBnB's idea. The problem is when it will happen. It is not a bad thing it happened when AirBnB is small because the public has more tolerance to small startups (yeah I know it's valued at 1B). However the AirBnB and its investor did very bad job to handle that.
Most customer-service issues are not as severe as this problem, but the advice is good. It gets a little tricky when your organization's legal counsel advises "clamming up", where a little contrition would go long way to bridge the gap with the aggreived customer. Then, the question is, how much do you go "out on a limb" -- risking liability yet making the customer less angry and perhaps less likely to sue? 
This was certainly not the first time something of this nature has happened, neither was it airBNB's fault but they did handle the whole issue poorly showing little sympathy to the victim!
Robert: I tried to make a different point. It's not really a matter of trust between the customer or airbnb, people have been exposed to the problem and now rebuilding the image of the company/business is going to be very complicated. People follow emotions and they are extremely emotionally attached to their homes.
+Robert Scoble You seem to be focusing a lot on the material losses instead of the emotional trauma. It's easy to replace stuff. It's a lot harder to replace your trust in other people and feeling secure in your own home.

" her statements on her blog don't sound like something anyone I'm friends with would say or do "

I find it hard to believe that you aren't friends with someone who would blog about a bad experience they had with a service and the failure of their customer support. Or someone who would write a post attempting to clarify misconceptions and falsehoods about what occurred.
After seeing several vague tweets about the airbnb situation with no details a few days ago I went to the airbnb web site and poked around for the first time, knowing nothing about it or the so-called #ransackgate. My BIG initial impression was how much of a security risk this is, especially if it's just for a room while you're still home. My second thought was what a pain it would be to rent out your primary home because you'd have to remove stuff or secure it somehow (second home is a smaller problem). Then I read the customer EJ's blog posts and the storm of articles, comments and speculation.

The tendency most of us have, especially in crises, is to get invested in who is "right." Big deals are brought down all the time, crises are frequently unnecessarily made worse, and our own interests thwarted cold when we get emotionally attached to our own rightness and vilify, if only in our own mind, the person/customer/vendor/partner on the other side of the issue. [insert diatribe about legal system here] If we stay focused on two things: 1) what we really want as an outcome, as long as it's not to cause harm or get revenge, and 2) without real evidence to the contrary, the other party is probably a human and not the devil, then we are much more likely to find and take a path that leads to a better outcome.

And +Robert Scoble that's the 10,000 you know about ;-).
#6: Talk to Your Community. Airbnb’s CEO has yet to address the thousands of hosts it relies on directly. No blog posts, no direct messages through the internal system, and nothing on their Facebook page. Instead, we’re relying on posting like the one on Techcrunch to get updates, instead of getting word directly.

Chesky talks about how important transparency is to the Airbnb community. But transparent shouldn’t mean invisible.

Read more:
This brings up serious questions about management competence. The buck should stop with the CEO, instead we see a cast of characters all trying to do damage control instead of just fixing the damn problem. Do they care about their customer or about their valuation? Fix this now, or step down and get someone who can. 
What's bizarre is that Airbnb is all about PR, they've made something that isn't new seem like the greatest invention since sliced bread. There are hundreds of such sites out there. But being a "startup" and getting 100m in funding gave them some serious PR clout.
And one day the shit hits the fan, I mean this could have been predicted. It happens in hotels all the time, it surely must have happened to other BnB and home rentals. So they could totally have foreseen it.
The solution wouldn't have been that complicated. Pay for the damages and make it the next big PR move. They could've made a huge PR boost out of that and at the same time use it to close a lucrative deal with a global insurance company (where they get a cut of the profit) and people can opt in to get insured or not. If they do a % is taken off the fee.
It would have boosted their reputation and put them one step closer to becoming a profitable company.
How this could have gone so wrong is a mystery. The lessons to learn from this are;
1. When you've created a global buzz, then have a plan for any type of negative buzz. It's as if they thought they were invincible and then at the first bad buzz going the whole PR team caved in. Look at iPhone4 it's a perfect example. They make a huge buzz, the phone has a problem, they tried to deny it for a bit and then rapidly came out with a "solution" (free cases) and the whole thing died down and people continued to buy.
2. That denial is always the wrong move in a PR strategy.
3. You can never get away with a lie if others can find out about it (saying they were fixing it with EJ when they werent).
I use Airbnb often and had one major issue with fraud. I contacted their 24 hour Emergency Customer Service about credit card fraud and whether my account had been hacked.

I contacted them 5 times via email (all documented). They didn't respond for two weeks. I escalated the issue, and to make a long story short they fixed it within a week. Come to find out it was a software glitch. Glitch or no glitch, it took two weeks to respond to a real fraud/hack inquiry, plus an additional week to resolve after I escalated past their emergency csr sys.

Other than poor cs, and sketchy seat-of-their-pants IT, I like the company.
Good points. For me there's always a risk inviting strangers to live in your home disclaimer or not. And, quite frankly, a risk for those renting through AirBNB too.. I'm sure most homeowners policies will not cover rentals this way and it may violate local zoning rules too.
I think fixing the main problem of lenders risk control should help. 
Not sure why you are calling the customer batshit insane, though. That doesn't really make sense - but what does is that the Valley doesn't get PR anymore, hasn't since the dotcom era.
Robert - I'm giving you that one, and you have me laughing.

I HAVE rented out an apartment before, when I was in Buenos Aires. BUT the rental was handled by a rental company, they met me at the place when I arrived, did a walk-through and set-up the WiFi and then picked up the keys and did a walk-through again to make sure there was no damage.

You know, like a professional rental service. The fact that there's no deposit, no escrow, etc with AirBNB says a lot. And says a lot for its future.
You know what the Domino's Pizza video reminds me of? That two poorly paid workers with no benefits, vested interest in the brand, loyalty to a corporation that is designed to suck the life from them in exchange for a pittance of a wage so it can turn that into profit for its overpaid CEO managed to all but crush Goliath. That's funny. Of course, they paid for it. But still, that's what the corp gets.

As for +Robert Scoble repeated statement that the woman must be insane because she was trusting, it is demonstrative of how ridiculous misinformed he actually is (apparently). (I know he's already drawing a lot of flack due to this post, and my apologies in advance for adding to it!) The fact that the woman trusted a corporation to protect her, filter the applicants, assure that these things don't happen, etc. demonstrates an essential difficulty in our corporatized economic system. The larger the corp the more social currency goes into playing it up as 'safe' 'secure' and there for the good of everyone. After all, the corp wants everyone to be happy so it can make as much money as is possible. There is truth to it, for sure, but what happens is when the corp falls on its ass, as in this case, the shockwave is all the more powerful. This woman trusted (was NOT INSANE) that the corp had guarantees, had some assurances, filtered applicants, checked backgrounds, or did SOMETHING that would reduce the risk of such a thing happening. Corps NEED this trust (INSANITY??) in order to work. You must TRUST that what you buy in the Android app store is not infected with MALWARE. You must TRUST that Apple patches security flaws as they say they do. You must TRUST the word of the organization that exceeds its contractual (nonsensical) liability, otherwise your corp will run into these flaming issues. And CEOs will whine about it. Oh, the poor CEOs. Must be rough being paid 100s of millions of dollars to apologize. Sucks.
At least I hope the guys will stop smiling for a second. My jaw hurts from seeing yet another photo of smiling AirBnB founders.
Your points about how AirBnB handled the situation were correct, but you owe the woman an apology for calling her bat shit crazy. I don't buy you meant bat shit crazy because she left her stuff in her home. I think you meant bat shit crazy because of her posts(based on what you said earlier about how she sounds) which is out of line, unprofessional, mean spirited, and unnecessary on your part. I also wouldn't be surprised if you and RackSpace get a call from her attorney.... Maybe Rackspace and you will get to write a check to "bat shit crazy" too.
ouch. truth be told something like had to happen at somepoint.
i'm glad they didn't rape and kill her to boot. i'm pretty sure lessons will be learned and the service will move on though.

killing hitch hikers didn't stop people, especially the young, from hitch hiking.
I totally agree with all of your points on how AirBnB should handle this mess but I don't agree with your assessment of this woman being 'batshit crazy' just because she's severely traumatized from this ransacking of her home.

I don't know how I would react if my house was maliciously trashed and defiled by people who are obviously sick in the head but I'm pretty certain I wouldn't appreciate being called crazy just for being upset about it and blogging it.
Haha touché. I guess I was more referring to her trauma in which she has every right to be upset regardless of how she got into that situation. Like you said, like it or not, the fact that she used their service makes it their responsibility to fix it and improve their product.
Batshit Crazy: A person who is batshit crazy is certifiably nuts. The phrase has origins in the old fashioned term "bats in the belfry." Old churches had a structure at the top called a belfry, which housed the bells. Bats are extremely sensitive to sound and would never inhabit a belfry of an active church where the bell was rung frequently. Occasionally, when a church was abandoned and many years passed without the bell being rung, bats would eventually come and inhabit the belfry. So, when somebody said that an individual had "bats in the belfry" it meant that there was "nothing going on upstairs" (as in that person's brain). To be BATSHIT CRAZY is to take this even a step further. A person who is batshit crazy is so nuts that not only is their belfry full of bats, but so many bats have been there for so long that the belfry is coated in batshit. Hence, the craziest of crazy people are BATSHIT CRAZY.

"Dude that guy on the corner wears a tinfoil hat and ripped all the wires out of his house so the government couldn't listen to his thoughts."


"Yeah, he's batshit crazy."
...or my personal favorite... "When Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah's couch, he proved he was bat-shit crazy."
So, did they run a credit check on this 19 yr old meth-head that was arrested prior to setting her up as a guest? Was she the guest or an accomplice?
The video response is a very good point. It's easier to attribute malice to sincere words when written than when spoken.
Robert: "Sorry, it's batshit crazy to invite people into your home you don't know and not expected that one of them could have turned out to be a criminal."

If you are saying that it's batshit crazy to use Airbnb to rent a home, with their terms/procedure, I kinda agree.
I agree with Ilkka Huotari above. When Robert says, "Sorry, it's batshit crazy to invite people into your home you don't know and not expected that one of them could have turned out to be a criminal," implies that the AirBnB business model is "Batshit Crazy".
Yes, well it does make more sense for vacation homes, and I agree it seems a bit nutty to be letting strangers into one's private lived in home. However, the negative PR fallout will likely impact that vacation inventory, further weakening their progress towards "large-scale" monetization.
Seriously, though... Renting your well beloved home ("sanctuary") to someone named "Dj Pattrson" with a phoney gmail email address, for over a week and not having met the person face to face?

Borderline reckless, imho.

Having said that, I don't wish this to happen to anyone, I can imagine the feelings that were felt.
This whole "batshit crazy" thing seemed to get a little crazy. I didn't take the original statement to mean Scoble thought EJ was bscrazy, but that even if someone is, they may be more believable than the suits at a company. Additionally, ABNB might think EJ is bscrazy (probably does) but what ABNB believes doesn't change public perception of EJ. Then later Scoble indicates that anyone who rents out their home without suspecting a renter may be criminal is bscrazy - I suspect under that definition almost all of ABNB's customers are indeed crazy.

ABNB needs to pay up, publicly, and at the same time revamp their service and offer an ID verification process. This could be an extra step - an extra charge paid for by a renter to get 'verified', and homeowners could filter out requests from unverified renters. Sure, you could take a chance on an unverified renter, but you'd charge more at the very least, so it's in a renter's best interest to be verified (but it would still be optional).

The flip side could happen too - someone rents a room and the homeowner is just using it as a way to lure people in to their home to torture/kill them. I'm sort of waiting for that story to happen (not that I want people to die, but it seems it's just a matter of time until ABNB does some serious ID verification).
It shows that businesses who go through YC don't get much guidance on PR and it's obvious why -- Paul Graham himself is making the situation much worse than if he'd done nothing at all. Despite the business prowess that got him where he is today, PR is evidently not his strong suit (it's also not the first time he's gotten snarky in response to bad YC-related press... never a good way to handle things).

Good PR practices are essential at any stage of a business, but startups are so vulnerable and can fail so quickly that they need protection from bad PR moves the most. Failing a PR firm or professional on hand, management should have some sort of media training, and failing that the company's accelerator should be able to put them in touch with an experienced advisor during a crisis. Instead of doing that, YC went and made it worse.
I am just dyning to know the backgrounds of the AirBNB flounders and what their track records are, if there are any scandals or skeletons, and, I wouldn't mind a little light background on the client - because I find it fascinating that a person who just went through all that trauma had the clarity to write that very literary "Je'accuse" . There are professional writers and bloggers for whom such a lengthy accounting would be no big thing, but most mere mortals would be hard pressed to do justice to the event, such as that particular customer did.

Also, It does not reconcile that a person who would let via AirBNB, with valuable personal possessions, and a fragile soul, would even consider allowing strangers to live in their home, amongst their possessions. I have allowed close friends to house sit my modest digs, and I had a few "issues" - nothing that could not be reconciled, but it educated in regards to how different people live and what they care about. My friends intended no damage, but they broke things and didn't tell me - and they are honest people of means. They just did not consider the damages serious enough to recall - in other words, it broke and they figured I would take care of it. It's all about values. The scumbags who trashed the Airbnb client's home had crappy, criminal values. The company has a rotten seed that makes one question whether the current management is suited to operating a customer centric business.
Are you trying to say the Ej is batshit crazy? Really Robert? I expected a bit more from you. Airbnb had a great opportunity to make things better, a whole month infact! If you look at her first post, she thanks Airbnb for their help and support not once but twice! It's bullshit to assume she's batshit crazy just because Airbnb came out lied to us on Techcrunch and she decided to set the record straight a whole month later than her original. Infact I doubt that she'd have said anything if Airbnb's CEO had not come out and lied to the whole world.
You know what we learned? Don't give the keys to people you find on some shitty website.
I learned how easy it would be to sink a company with some good actors.

Not necessarily implying anyone is acting here, but the melodramatic "MY LIFE HAS BEEN TORN APART BECAUSE I GOT THINGS STOLEN FROM ME AFTER TAKING A BUSINESS RISK" carries the aura of either reality television or a severe case of borderline personality disorder.

I'd say the chances of a settlement lawsuit are about 50/50, with the histrionics continuing my guess is only trending upwards.

P.S This is what really kills me here, if this was a company like Sony or Coke, they'd find some way, legal or otherwise, to totally silence this issue and they'd PR right over it with absolutely no substantive changes. I say a company like Coke or Sony because we can readily identify with the idea that these companies have absolutely no stake in our wellbeing and actually ARE the corporate wolves with bloodthirsty and anticompetitive practices and terrible humanitarian track records, but they can coax you all into being ok with it by hiring people who add absolutely no real value to the Economy (I'm speaking about Corporate Litigation & PR here of course) to threaten or trick you into thinking or saying that "Everything is alright" with Company X. Then a company that spends its money on rapid iteration, customer features and tries to stay lean by, oh, I don't know, not taking liability for something that OBVIOUSLY THEY SHOULD NOT BE LIABLE FOR and it seems like every soccer mom and startup wannabe comes out in droves to hang AirBnB for doing their jobs as good or better than anyone in their shoes could have. Your Senators and Congressman that YOU ELECTED (As opposed to a privately run company) are fucking up 100s of times worse than AirBNB right now at this very moment on issues that effect you ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE more than Ej's 'plight' on AirBNB could even if you were the owner of AirBNB yourself. You know what they say about priorities.
In future what would be of Airbnb
1. Empathize with EJ. She is right - no ifs or buts
2. Empower EJ as champion of best practices & care for victims
3. Engage local law enforcers; seek/reward in/external ideas
4. Educate everyone on best practices
5. Enunciate (communicate) every step of the way

Good luck, Brian.
Also, if you read Techmeme this morning, you'll also see the debate about Pseudonymity and Anonymity, without which we would have never of heard about any of this.
+Robert Scoble You said that "anyone who would rent out their HOME and invite total strangers in without expecting that some of them could be criminals is DEFACTO insane!"

The thing is, Airbnb shares the belief that it's 100% safe. Read what Brian Chesky wrote on TechCrunch ( "We were devastated when we received this news. With a single booking, one person’s malicious actions victimized our host and undermined what had been – for 2 million nights – a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good."

This echoes what the crime victim stated in her original post (, noting that Airbnb said this had never happened before.

In fact, one of the victim's primary allegations is that Airbnb specifically attempts to hide this risk. From her post:

"By hindering my ability to research the person who will rent my home, there is an implication that has already done the research for me, and has eliminated the investigative work that Craigslist requires. In effect, the friendly, community-based site with its Golden Rules creates a reasonable expectation that some basic screening of its users has occurred, and speaks little to the risks involved, primarily within the very small print of the lengthy Terms of Service."

I tend to agree with you. I'd never allow a perfect stranger to be in my house, alone, for even a few minutes, let alone a week. But Airbnb does not seem to see it this way.
well, I guess this gives us the definition of a 'great company'. the great company can get things under control and deal with those intelligently and in ethical way when shit happens.. how many of those around? one, hundreds or none at all...
+Robert Scoble So are you saying that ALL AirBnB absent hosts are "batshit crazy"? I don't think the evidence would support this contention. Renting a primary residence on a short term basis is not totally new but has never been a very efficient process. I got the impression that the host had attempted to secure valuables in a safe which seems reasonable. I think there's a minimal expectation that AirBnB has done a sufficient evaluation on renters to avoid this situation and for the most part, whatever has been going on has worked (to the tune of 2 million nights rented). Like more "rental by owner" properties, this whole thing probably migrates to professionals and loses its "magic". See Home Away.
Thank you Patrick, I was just about to make that same point. By +Robert Scoble's definition anyone who would use AirBnB must be insane. That doesn't speak well to the long term prospects of the business.

Also, Scoble, you certainly must be aware that the standards of liable are different for public figures (that's you, btw).
+Robert Scoble I was defending you, saying you likely meant "batshit crazy" in a hypothetical sense. But, I've read your comments in this thread and it seems you're attacking her personally.

It's irresponsible to use that kind of polarizing language and to slander an individual (true or not). She isn't a company or public figure. You should have dealt with her personage with kid gloves.
+Robert Scoble If anyone is doing a Google search to see how to fix a PR issue in their company, they don't belong in a leadership position. How many more wars would there be if the State Department googled our foreign policy from social media?
+Robert Scoble I wonder if you would label the person a "bat shit crazy drama queen" if they were a guy? Probably not.
+Robert Scoble have you actually read her two blog posts? They are anything but "batshit crazy". They are reasoned reports about an appallingly experience with a lot of real losses. She doesn't rant, but gives credit to AirBnB for what they did do, albeit belatedly. The most critical part of her second blog is the account of the talk with the co-founder, who explains to her that her "negative" blog is hurting his business just when he was seeking another round of funding for VCs. That's the really awful immoral part here, more than the lateness or the shrugging about one customer's problems with another in classic Silicon Valley platformist indifference.

Indeed, Loren Feldman's video up criticizing you right now is spot on -- it's like the Valley has Aspergers' syndrome and no empathy. But as he says, a new wave of social media is coming where companies will have to be decent. It's not decent to call someone batshit crazy because they complained about a highly flawed system that doesn't even give you the name of the renter in advance so you can do your own search.
The warnings about these kinds of risks must seem so hyperbolic until you open up your google alert and find a shit storm has landed while you slept
Robert, you owe an apology to the lady you accuse of being "batshit crazy". Time to man up and do so.
Robert, so let's get this straight - you are asserting that every customer of Air BnB is Bat shit crazy?
scoble - "Sorry, you are DEFACTO batshit crazy if you rent your home out to strangers, don't have insurance to cover the losses, and leave personal items there. That is incredibly lame!"
what percentage of Air BnB users have insurance to cover this situation (renters insurance won't apply)

Clearly the mental deficits afflicting the Air BnB crew are contagious and now afflicting much of the the valley.
What I learnt is a media-bitching, no need for big noise.
Robert, count me as someone else who thought your original post wasn't offensive but your later comments do smell of victim bashing. Being the victim of a violent crime (and this is more than a simple theft of a laptop) is an incredibly traumatic experience. For many women, it is akin to rape and it shakes their sense of self profoundly, more than I think most men can relate to. Ease up on the victim bashing. I am not saying she doesn't have responsibility. SHE isn't saying she doesn't have responsbility. But as others have pointed out, you're acting like an ass on this, picking on a woman who wrote a mostly private blog post to express her feelings, not trash a company.
Wow, am I glad I don't follow you, Scoble. Shaming the victim, that's classy.
Rob, you've defended your batshit comment a few times, but unless I missed something in the threads I don't see you dealing with the big elephant in the room that is Airbnb's business model: many of the transactions that take place on its site are in violation of local laws. Yes, they are shaking up the lodging industry with some good ideas, but do you really think they were the first to have those ideas? Maybe the brains at Starwood or HIlton or whoever had similar ideas in the past but chucked them out the window because local zoning and licensing laws prevented them from being a real business in the long term.

I met with Brian Chesky and two other Airbnb execs last year around the time the NY state legislature was debating the bill it would later pass -- which effectively banned a large portion of Airbnb's business in the state. Brian & Co. had some good ideas about how our businesses could work together and we exchanged emails. The next week when I assigned a writer to do a story about the NY state law that passed, the writer discovered a few really bad apples that had been repeatedly cited/fined/evicted for scam rentals on multiple websites. I popped a note to Brian pointing out that Airbnb was listing properties from these scam artists and he might want to get rid of them. No response. I followed up. Nothing. You can still find these units on the Airbnb site.

The Airbnb crew is so freaked out by the EJ situation not because it's a PR disaster that just needs a little social media spin, but because it's a direct challenge to their business. If Airbnb renters begin to realize that their homeowner/renter's insurance won't cover anything that happens when they're renting out their homes, don't you think that'll lead to fewer transactions? If local municipalities start to fret over safety issues, don't you think that will lead to enforcement of zoning and licensing laws?

I think Airbnb is a fantastic idea and a great user experience most of the time. Airbnb's promise this week to cover rentals up to $50K is a great first step to alleviating the first of these two problems. Now they just need to start shelling out the bucks on lobbyists in states and municipalities where what they do is illegal.
"But Silicon Valley doesn't believe that adage, in fact, they belligerently believe in the opposite -- and usually blames every tech failing on PICNIC -- "problem in chair, not in computer." It's always our fault -- computers too slow, too stupid to understand instructions, unable to read the manual, etc. etc.

Indeed, Scoble exemplifies this nastiness -- astoundingly -- as he continues to call the woman "bat-shit crazy" for pushing her case (!) and for letting a stranger she didn't know rent her house with jewelry in a safe (!). Yeah, Robert is too rich to need to use these services as a renter or tenant, so he has a basic elitist disdain for the grunge, but he's happy to applaud it as a rent-seeking service enriching his fellow Silicon Valley geeks." Wired State
Scoble, you are a moron and an asshole. Go back under whichever bridge you came from.
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+Robert Scoble Unfortunately they have much more to learn. I'm currently writing an article that will go live soon on my experience with AirBNB.
You're an ass that should research before reassaulting victims. 
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