Airbnb will use the 10 years worth of data they have collected about sharing homes to build houses to share. Samara, the company’s innovation lab, created Backyard to build homes with sustainable materials and smart-home technologies. The homes will easily adapt to different occupants, unlike Airbnb’s typical housing stock which is built for one family’s personal use.
Founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk saw once-hot tech companies like Airbnb in trouble. These companies focused solely on their core business and saw competitors copying their business model and chipping away at their profits. The founders realized that they needed to expand their business model to include more than just facilitating holiday rentals because Airbnb’s model would be fairly easy to replicate without a high upfront investment.
Gebbia says Backyard will produce homes ideal for sharing and renting for people interested in a new home. It appears the houses will attract investors who would otherwise buy existing properties in desirable communities but have questions their local home builders. Critics have accused Airbnb of driving up real estate prices in certain areas; this move may help stem the rising prices. Gebbia has said the Backyard homes will be ready to rent on Airbnb so investors won’t have to spend money on making an investment home suitable.
While Airbnb isn’t saying where they will begin building, it’s likely the company will choose destinations popular with Airbnb users. Home buyers don’t have to rent out the property on the site, but it’s an attractive option for early investors. In the U.S., the Great Smoky Mountain area is Airbnb’s most popular region.
Airbnb will release prototypes of single and multi-family homes later this year. Sneak peeks of Airbnb’s models show housing systems with interchangeable roofs and modular floor plans. Two of the three founders, Gebbia and Chesky, studied at the Rhode Island School of Design so they presumably would be involved in the design process. There’s no indication what the homes will cost, however, Gebbia says the company’s goal is to make it easier for people to find a home.
Samara’s first project was the Yoshino-Sugi Cedar House, built in the heart of Japan’s cedar forests. The project was inspired by a woman in a small, rural area who began placing her dwelling on Airbnb. Her neighbors were skeptical at first until they found they could sell their services as guides and translators. By building a communal housing project for another small town in Japan, Airbnb hoped to revive the declining town of Yoshino, where the building will be moved to after it is complete. There’s a communal living room which locals can use, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the culture immediately.
Fortune estimates San Francisco-based Airbnb is worth $38 billion. Two of the founders came up with the idea when they struggled with the high rent of their San Francisco loft and they decided to rent out an air mattress on their living room floor. They established AirBed & Breakfast in 2008; the name was shortened to Airbnb in 2009.