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Airbnb founder wants you to open your doors to strangers — and let them sleep over

March 29, 2013 at 7:37 AM ET

Brian Chesky may not yet be a household name, but his home-away-from-home site is on the verge of becoming one

The 30-year-old is the founder of Airbnb, a website that lets you turn your home into a pseudo-hotel, renting it out to business or vacation travelers on a budget looking to find a couch, room, or even a whole house to stay in.

The idea, which may sound crazy to some, has taken off since Chesky started the company five years ago: 300,000 people have rented out their homes on the site, and four million travelers have used it to find a place to stay in locations around the world.

He is seen as one of the driving forces in the new and rapidly expanding "sharing economy," in which more and more businesses are popping up based on the idea that people can share their resources. There are now a litany of start-ups based on this notion, from ride-sharing to office-sharing, and even pet-sharing.

"The stuff that matters in life is no longer stuff," he told TODAY. "It's other people. It's relationships. It's experience."

Chesky came up with the idea for Airbnb when he was short on rent money. "I have $1000 in the bank. The rent for our apartment is $1150," he recalled, of the moment the light bulb went off five years ago. "I have a basic math problem."

He and his roommate came up with the solution to turn their home into a bed and breakfast, renting out the living room and three air mattresses to visitors attending a conference in town — and Airbnb was born.

"My mom just thought it was crazy," Chesky said.

And while Chesky says his company's success did not come as quickly as he originally anticipated, Forbes now estimates AirBnb's net worth is between $1.5 and $2.5 billion dollars. Those worried about the risks of turning over their homes to strangers can find reassurance in the company's million dollar insurance policy against theft or damage.

The San Francisco-based Chesky now lives couch-to-couch, jumping from one Airbnb property to another to mimic the experience of his users, and to get their feedback.

"The American dream, what we were taught was, grow up, own a car, own a house," he said. "I think that dream's completely changing. We were taught to keep up with the Joneses. Now we're sharing with the Joneses."

As someone "On the Verge," we asked Brian Chesky for his picks on the next big things: Here's what he thinks is on the verge:

Music: "This is the hardest question. I think the next big thing in music, and it's kind of because I come from the tech industry, is actually, I think it's the platform...Spotify is incredibly interesting. I think the platform is becoming the star."

App: "One app I really like is Summly. It's this entrepreneur, I think he's, like, 18 years old...And what he basically developed was a technology where you could take a full article, and the technology condenses it to three sentences...So you can read an entire newspaper in five minutes." (Editors note: Just days after this interview was conducted, 17-year-old Nick D'Aloisio sold Summly to Yahoo for millions of dollars, and was featured on TODAY.)

TV: "For the longest time, I didn't have a television, but thank God the iPad came, and I discovered amazing shows. I just finished watching House of Cards. That was really cool. I actually think "House of Cards" is super interesting, because it breaks down the format...I think what I really love is experimentation."

Food: "I think the next big thing in food is already kind of happening in certain cities. It's about being locally sourced. We say everything in Airbnb's gotta be local...and it's gotta be personal, and the same thing with food. So you're starting to see farmer's markets. Right now, though, it's mostly for people that are kind of upper-middle class or upper class in cities that are able to eat locally sourced food, but that's where we used to eat...I think we'll go back to that."

What he'd bet on as 'the next big thing': "A much more democratized, cheaper way to fly...I would basically want that and invest in an alternative transportation system that can connect continents."

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