Can I crash at your place?

A new start-up is connecting people who want to rent their homes to strangers
Alex Ballingall

Ever wish you could find a perfect stranger willing to pay for the opportunity to crash in your spare bedroom? Well, Airbnb, Silicon Valley’s most talked about start-up, has created a billion-dollar business out of connecting people online from all over the world who want to rent out their homes to strangers.

Although the company won’t comment on “rumours,” reports have emerged saying Airbnb’s net worth was driven up by a recent surge of investment worth more than $100 million. On top of this, CEO Brian Chesky told the New York Times that Ashton Kutcher has joined the firm as a “significant” investor and social media adviser. “We realized that Airbnb needs to leverage pop culture and social media,” he said. It’s enough to have some convinced it’s the next rising star of the online world, much like Groupon and Twitter before it.

Airbnb operates as a mediator between people seeking out a place to stay and others who want to rent out their own living space. Those hoping to find lodgers post their digs on the website, Travellers looking to find a place to stay can search the site until they find something that fits their price range. Both temporary lodgers and those offering their quarters are invited to post reviews of their experience, informing others about what to expect. The lodgings posted on the site vary considerably, from a seven-bedroom flat in London for over $1,600 a night to more modest single-room apartments like one in Buenos Aires for $60 a night. So far, Airbnb offers listings in over 14,000 cities in 183 countries.

But the quickly ascending online service hasn’t escaped controversy. Earlier in June, the company admitted to hiring outside salespeople who used automated email systems to lure renters posting on Craigslist over to Airbnb, something competitors allege is disrespectful and unethical. Nevertheless, according to, Airbnb grew more than 800 per cent in 2010 and has booked over 1.6 million night stays since it was founded in 2008. It’s also in the midst of a hiring push in Europe, where the company anticipates opening a regional office in Germany.