In a cryptic letter, Airbnb's CEO announces a new board member -- and that it's now an 'infinite company'

Kimberly White/Getty ImagesAirbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky.
  • Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky on Thursday published a letter to the Airbnb community.
  • Outgoing American Express CEO Ken Chenault will be joining Airbnb’s board of directors.
  • The letter seems intended to define Airbnb’s vision for the future, but is full of vague, cryptic language. He describes Airbnb as an ‘infinite company’ with an ‘infinite time horizon.’
  • “This is the magical world of Airbnb,” Chesky writes. “We will probably never fully realise this vision, but we will die trying.”

Airbnb is turning 10 years old in August, and it seems to have gotten CEO Brian Chesky thinking about where the $US31 billion travel company is headed.

In a new message to the Airbnb community, Chesky describes his vision for the future of Airbnb, laying out two cryptic goals: to have “an infinite time horizon,” and to “serve all of our stakeholders.”

If that sounds vague, there are two bits of concrete news in his letter:

  • Airbnb has named departing American Express CEO Ken Chenault as the first independent director on its board. Chenault was also named to Facebook’s board last week.
  • Airbnb is planning an event on February 22nd, where the company will announce “substantial improvements to our service that set us up for an infinite time horizon.”

The rest of the letter is a little more philosophical.

“I know that a lot of companies are thinking about being long-term oriented, but an alternative way of thinking about it is being infinite,” Chesky wrote. “Being an infinite company is an idea that my friend, author Simon Sinek, has been discussing with me. Simon explained that a company’s purpose is to advance its vision, and since a vision is a mountaintop you never quite get to, you should have an infinite time horizon.”

Sinek is a noted author and leadership theorist, who holds that companies need to have a mission as a reason to exist.

Kenneth chenault american expressThos Robinson / Stringer / Getty ImagesDeparting American Express CEO Ken Chenault is joining Airbnb’s board of directors

Chesky also hopes to find “harmony” between the parties he describes as Airbnb stakeholders: employees and shareholders; Airbnb hosts and guests; and “the world outside of Airbnb.”

The company plans to release its first annual stakeholder report in March, which Chesky writes will be somewhat similar to an annual financial report. But instead of measuring financial performance, it will measure Airbnb’s “progress towards our effort to become a 21st-century company.”

Chesky doesn’t define what a “21st-century company” means in his letter, but implies that it’s a company that focuses on its overall impact on society and long-term value. This is where Chenault comes in: “Ken and I spent time talking about the 21st-century model and in particular the role of trust as the infrastructure for such a model,” writes Chesky.

“This is the magical world of Airbnb,” Chesky writes. “We will probably never fully realise this vision, but we will die trying.”

You can read Chesky’s full letter on the company’s website.

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