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Airbnb acquires AI startup GamePlanner.AI
A growing business at a crossroads, a short profile with the M&A.
I don’t exactly know what’s going on at Airbnb, but something is definately changing. It sounds like they are focusing more on A.I. and data management.
Short-stay rental platform Airbnb has acquired a small AI start-up as the company takes a greater focus on this type of technology, for allegedly over $200 million.
And it’s hard to say what this is really about, but it’s something interesting. GamePlanner was co-founded by Adam Cheyer and Siamak Hodjat. Cheyer famously helped co-launch the startup Siri, which Apple acquired and whose technology became the basis for Apple’s AI-powered Siri assistant.
Airbnb’s stock is up 50%, although there has been a lot of controversy around the brand, including allegedly not paying their fair share of taxes in Italy.
Siamak Hodjat does ring a bell - Hodjat previously worked with Cheyer at Viv Labs, a firm that Samsung bought and leveraged to launch its own AI assistant, Bixby, in 2017.
Apparently the startup will add to Airbnb's existing set of AI technologies that include large language models, computer vision models and machine learning. These guys sure seem to have a way with tech exits.
An A.I. Rental Overlord that Learns about us?
The stealth startup acquisition is Airbnb’s first since going public, which surprised me somewhat. What else I find surprising is the data mining that they are going to do on both hosts and renters.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has said that “generative AI” will radically change the platform and that he wants to use it as a “travel concierge” that learns about users over time and enhances their travel experiences -- for example, matching users with the right rooms or homes.
For me that’s really pretty personal data, but perhaps in travel personalized service trumps privacy concerns?
In the upcoming Winter Release of new features for its platform, Airbnb will introduce a new AI-powered tool for photo tours.
How businesses will usher in new AI advances in their products could be in aways that strengthen Surveillance Capitalism and its architecture without much public debate in the name of FOMO.
“AI will rapidly alter our world more than any other technology in our lifetime, but we need to ensure that it augments humanity in a positive way,” Chesky said, adding that the GamePlanner team will focus on “accelerating” select AI projects and integrating their tooling into Airbnb’s platform. “Airbnb is one of the more humanistic companies in technology, and I believe that, together with Adam and his team, we can develop some of the best interfaces and practical applications for AI.”
It’s the time to be sneaky, while everyone is doing it!
Airbnb to Accelerate Artificial Intelligence Efforts With New Acquisition
Still something feels a bit off in this acquisition, and Airbnb weird call-to-actions of late in what it considers innovation.
But think about, it might also to make Airbnb itself more sellable. This deal is Airbnb’s first acquisition since 2019 and could pique some interest on Wall Street as to whether Chesky’s M&A strategy is shifting, potentially making Airbnb a more attractive acquisition.
I have a feeling the IPO and M&A markets have to catch up in 2024 if interest rates start to go significantly lower, though it’s somewhat unclear what the new normal will be.
What exactly is Airbnb at this Stage of its Business?
(The above video was about 8 months ago)
Honestly the PR is so light that it’s baffling what Airbnb is exactly up to with this AI acquisition.
Brian Chesky can think broader with added profitability in 2023, so they will certainly do something interesting. Chesky also has had some press that he’s trying to build out the foundations of the business more.
“We never fully built the foundation,” Brian Chesky says in a revelatory interview. “It had four pillars when we needed to have 10.”
With the implosion of WeWork, Airbnb has an opportunity to reinvent itself or at least improve the product in new ways. For instance, Airbnb is revamping its Rooms feature while eyeing AI and betting on work from anywhere.
The original tagline of Airbnb, and this is like back in 2009, was “travel like a human,” so what post-pandemic and in the FOMO of A.I. can they do with it. In a weakening economy for some the challenges are serious. Guests want to spend less money and be guaranteed a better product, while hosts are worried about potential declines in bookings and their bottom lines.
Chesky, who co-founded the company in 2008, has been prone over the years to hyping up small updates as major features. So while I admit Airbnb needs a refresh I seriously wonder if the magic wand of A.I. is going to do the trick.
Probably the number one complaint at Airbnb is affordability. Prices have gone up quite considerably on Airbnb and many sites in the last three years since the beginning of the pandemic. So it’s not exactly surprising that this company is profitable, but while convenient, not necessarily a great or accessible product.
Chesky appears to think generally that the future is flexibility, how can Airbnb be more than just a high-cost rental? On Bloomberg recently he said:
“Our system,” says Chesky—referring to the disruptive tech platform where “adventurous travelers” could buy and sell products (in this case, rooms or homes), process secure payments and leave reviews—“was designed for a much smaller company which grew like crazy.”
Given Airbnb’s growth, it has the opportunity to become finally something more. Perhaps in 2024 we’ll find out what.