Just months after the pandemic upended the travel industry, Airbnb is going ahead with plans to go public — a move that will test investor appetite for flashy startups at an uncertain moment.
The company announced Wednesday that it had submitted confidential paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering. That means Airbnb will soon start courting investors at a time when its revenue is under pressure.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb shook up the hotel and short-term real estate markets by allowing individuals to rent out rooms and homes to travelers. Since then, it’s grown into one of the most valuable private startups in the world, at one point reaching a valuation of $31 billion.
Airbnb previously said it was profitable in 2017 and 2018, setting it apart from many other unicorn companies which have bled money before and after going public. The company reportedly lost money in 2019.
But Covid-19 rattled its business and the travelers who power it. In May, CEO Brian Chesky said in a letter to employees that revenue for the year was expected to be less than half of what the company generated in 2019, and announced nearly 1,900 job cuts worldwide.
An effort to raise $2 billion in debt and equity during the pandemic valued the company at just $18 billion, according to PitchBook data.
More recently, Chesky has said that business has picked up, in what could indicate a remarkable turnaround. More customers are booking for a week or longer because of the shift to remote work, and Americans have shown a willingness to travel domestically.
On July 8, guests booked more than 1 million nights of future stays at Airbnb properties, the first time the company hit that threshold since March 3.
Why it matters
Airbnb’s IPO will test interest in money-losing startups as bigger tech names steal the show.
Investors may be wary of regulatory risks at a time when peers like Uber and Lyft are facing a legal showdown in California over how they classify their workers, my CNN Business colleague Sara Ashley O’Brien notes. The companies could shut down operations in their home state as soon as Friday.
Airbnb has faced a number of regulatory battles over the years with local and state governments. During the pandemic, some cities temporarily cracked down on short-term rentals, and hosts were forced to pivot to offerings that were 30 days or longer.