Airbnb launches new services, celebrates 10 sometimes-rocky years in SF

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San Francisco-based Airbnb is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with some changes to its platform. (KGO-TV)

Ten years ago, Airbnb opened its doors in San Francisco -- and opened a political can of worms along with it.

Thursday, the company made some big announcements about its plans to expand into other areas beyond the home sharing that put it on the map. CEO Brian Chesky took the stage at San Francisco's Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium to tell the story of how it all began: two guys who turned their air mattress into a bed and breakfast.
RELATED: Airbnb makes big changes for 10th anniversary

"My roommate and I couldn't afford to pay rent," Chesky said. "A design conference was coming to San Francisco and the hotels were sold out."

The platform's grown from hundreds, to thousands, to now about 4.5 million listings on Airbnb, Chesky told the audience -- and the problem, he said, is that with so many to choose from, there aren't enough good tools to find the one you want. The company is unveiling new search tools to help with that, and a new level of service called Airbnb Plus that's perfect for motivated hosts like Tyler Vu.

"I focus on making that one room the best hotel room in San Francisco," Vu said of his Bernal Heights spare bedroom.

For a fee of $149, Airbnb Plus sends an inspector to visit the listed home, take photographs, and ensure there's a long list of standard amenities.

"Basically, someone came out with a checklist of things they were looking for, gave me some advice, spent some time photographing my place," Vu said.

The announcement comes on the tenth anniversary of Airbnb's founding in San Francisco. In that time, some would say it's gone from being a disruptor to being an institution.

"In most American cities, short-term rentals to tourists are illegal in residential neighborhoods," said Dale Carlson, who founded ShareBetterSF -- the coalition that pushed to regulate Airbnb and make it remove listings that aren't registered with the city.

RELATED: New rules to take effect for platforms like Airbnb in SF

"As more and more cities crack down on them, the home sharing that they grew up with is going away and is less and less profitable," Carlson said.

That's why he thinks Airbnb is getting into new areas, like luxury estate rentals, before a rumored IPO next year. At the Thursday event, Chesky also announced "Beyond by Airbnb," a platform that rents out vast and exotic villas -- homes worth $10 million and up. "Beyond" was born out of Airbnb's acquisition of startup Luxury Retreats.

Of course, the company's bread and butter are still the smaller rentals -- though Sean Rosas said he strives to make his South San Francisco in-law unit just as luxurious as the palatial estates.

"Airbnb Plus recognizes the differences we've done, like making sure there's a washer-dryer, that they have a toaster oven," Rosas said.

He keeps a small collection of thank-you cards guests have sent. Many fall in love with his small gaggle of pets -- except for one of them.

"She loved playing with the dog, the cat and the two guinea pigs," he said of one guest -- but added: "Not the tarantula."

Click here for more stories, photos, and video on Airbnb.
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realestateairbnbhousinghousing marketrentsrentersrental propertysilicon valleySan Francisco
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