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Bob Hawkes

It Started With A Simple Email

By Bob Hawkes, Sep 30, 2020
  1. Bob Hawkes

    Bob Hawkes Top Member NameTalent VIP Gold Account Trusted Blogger

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    On Sept 22, 2007 Joe Gebbia sent this short email to Brian Chesky about how they might make a few dollars to help with the rent.
    AirBnB was born. A design conference was coming to San Francisco, and hotel rooms were hard to come by, so they wondered about providing another option. I take a look at the business and the domain name, along with what messages domain investors might take from the AirBnB story.

    Early Years of AirBedAndBreakfast

    They set up three air mattresses, and hence called their venture, registering the domain name on Sept 26, 2007. They charged $80 per night during the conference, and filled their space.

    Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky invited a former roommate, Nathan Blecharczyk, to join them and transform a single offering into a business that would match available rooms to those needing a place to stay. The three co-founders remain with AirBnB today.

    The business struggled through several attempts to gain traction for the model, including room offerings in conjunction with the 2008 SXSW and the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

    They desperately needed funding, but their early pitches were unsuccessful. You can read more details in this visual history of AirBnB.

    The Name Is Shortened

    On August 5, 2008 they registered the shorter domain name, which remains the company website to this day. In early 2009 Paul Graham invited them to spend three months at Y Combinator and provided the first $20,000 in venture funding. He was impressed with the leadership of the management team, despite lack of interest at that stage from many other investors.

    As well as lack of enthusiasm for the concept, many investors were unimpressed by the name of the company, especially when still AirBedAndBreakfast. However, on the shorter name AirBnB they secured $600,000 in funding from Sequoia Capital. Read the full history of funding rounds for the company.

    In 2011 AirBnB achieved unicorn status, with a valuation over one billion dollars. By that time the company operated in about 90 countries. According to one source, AirBnB first became profitable in the second half of 2016.

    Today AirBnB ranks the most funded business in Y Combinator history, having secured $6.0 billion in total funding over the years.

    At time of writing the company is private, but in August 2020 AirBnB filed the required documents for an initial public offering. Despite the challenges from the COVID pandemic, they plan to go ahead with the public offering sometime in 2020. The worth of the company, previously stated at about $30 billion, is currently estimated at about $25 billion due to drop in business related to COVID.

    Why Stay With That Name?

    Domain investors have from time to time cited AirBnB as not a great domain name. It is perhaps audio challenged, is that B or Bee, n or and? Now that the company has expanded well beyond an era of air beds on a floor, why is it still called air? The vast majority of listings at AirBnB don’t correspond to a bed and breakfast model, so is the name even accurate?

    Over the year the company has expanded into other offerings, including experiences as well as housing, and this year an emphasis on virtual experiences. Some say their name is confining.

    It seemed that funding only really took off when they shortened AirBedAndBreakfast to AirBnB. But would they have gone even further with some generic single word name?

    Additional Domain Names At AirBnB

    The company hand registered many subsequent domain names including the .netand .org in November 2008, the .us and .ca in July 2009. They currently hold their name in numerous country code extensions.

    They have registered some city new extensions, such as .nyc, but do not hold their name in a number of others.

    AirBnB actively use in somewhat similar fashion to how and are used.
    They use a few other new extensions, mainly for redirection purposes, such as

    Many Imitators

    AirBnB was registered in many forms by those not associated with the company. Over the years those domain names have generally been lost. A cursory search at indicated that AirBnB transferred to the company in UDRP rulings in the following extensions: .bet, .bike, .casa, .claims, .cooking, .fit, .llc, .luxe, .pro, and .vote. There are also UDRP decisions in numerous other forms such as and Stick away from trademark registrations.

    Messages For Domain Investors

    Brian Chesky, the co-founder of AirBnB offers the following advice to startup companies.
    What are some messages, potentially helpful to domain investors, that I take away from the AirBnB story?
    1. Never underestimate the power of a simple idea. This huge business, started with a short email outlining a simple practical idea. Is there a simple idea that we have missed, that could lead to huge success in the domain world?
    2. Find ideas that scale. Most of the consumer success stories are ideas that readily scale, that can work for a few people locally or the entire world. Have we missed a scaleable idea in domain aftermarket sales?
    3. Names matter, including in raising funds. I think it is not coincidence that funding only came to the company when they shortened their name to AirBnB. Having the right name matters.
    4. But it is more than the name. Sometimes we focus so much on great domain names that we perhaps overstate their importance. While a great name definitely helps, it is the idea and implementation that ultimately drives success or failure.
    5. It takes time. Like many companies, it took many years for AirBnB to become profitable. In domain investing too, don’t expect overnight success.
    6. Don’t get discouraged. In the early years the company struggled with both finding users and getting funded. They could easily have given up. In domain investing I think the first few years are the hardest, as you are learning little details that make a big difference.
    7. Learn. There seems little doubt that the three months the founders spent at Y Combinator were crucial in the development of the company. Never underestimate the value of learning. Positive connections make a difference too.

    Rename AirBnB

    Just as a fun exercise, how would you rename AirBnB? Please add your suggestions in the comments.

    I outlined a few messages for domain investors that I took from the AirBnB story. Please add your own.
    The views expressed on this page by users and staff are their own, not those of NamePros.
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  4. Bob Hawkes

    About The Author — Bob Hawkes

    Domain analyst, writer and informal educator, with particular interests in domain name phrases and non-business uses for domain names. I am a risk averse domain investor who only invests modest amounts in a variety of extensions and niches. Don't hesitate to contact me - I like to help!

    This is Bob Hawkes's 59th blog post on NamePros. View all blog posts

    Home Page:
  5. Comments (28)

  6. NickB

    NickB VIP

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    8,012 - developed website already though......
  7. TauseefKhan

    TauseefKhan Established Member

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    @Bob Hawkes - quite an encouraging article especially for entrepreneurs. Thanks for conceptualizing, writing, and sharing this great stuff. Well, I think ABB or ABAB a shorter version will be good. But, a company name that has an 'AND' in their name should not go with acronyms. So, I think it can't be better than AIRBNB. A semi-acronym based name
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
  8. pb

    pb Established Member ★★★★★★★★★★

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    Every great business starts with one tiny idea that makes the world a little bit better.
  9. Keith DeBoer

    Keith DeBoer PRO VIP ICA Member

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    Hats off to the founders for overcoming a horrible brand decision and turning their venture into a raging success in spite of their misguided name.
  10. Ostrados

    Ostrados VIP

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    I always considered this unicorn odd and wondered how they succeeded with such a bad name! AirBnB it is not a creative name, not memorable and not pleasant.

    Maybe they should have shortened the name to just BnB.
  11. MadAboutDomains

    MadAboutDomains Top Contributor VIP ★★★★★★★★★★

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    I quite like the Airbnb name, it's memorable and their website is beautiful.

    It would be interesting to know how much they think that their name change affected their success.

    It could be a naive to think that the name is the key to the success instead of the hard work and dedication.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
  12. FolioTeam

    FolioTeam VIP

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    ABB will suit them better if they want to go shorter
  13. Brands.International

    Brands.International formerly lolwarrior VIP

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    Well, not going to comment on AirBnB, as this is their decision to be named/branded this way.

    But for a startup in this vertical, to have a unique, easily memorable, modern, reasonably generic, keyword-rich name/brand, which is also 100% identical with its website address (domain), in addition to nice alliteration and radio test pass, would be really advantageuos.

    For example, one of my names:


    with this nice logo :)

  14. Sutruk

    Sutruk Top Contributor VIP

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    I wouldn't rename, it is already very short, catchy and already their very well-known worldwide brand.
    I think they did a very good move when shorting their original to
  15. vindo

    vindo Established Member

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    Yes, I think there is no need to change/shorten the name. Well said @Sutruk
  16. Domaining Ocean

    Domaining Ocean Top Contributor VIP

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  17. CraigD

    CraigD VIP

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    @Bob Hawkes

    Thanks for the informative background info. I was always a bit puzzled about the odd name choice but now it all makes sense.

    Incidentally, I've slept on a few air mattresses in my time and it's annoying to wake up on a cold hard floor after they have sprung a leak during the night - they sure don't make them to last these days!
  18. passini

    passini Established Member ★★★★★★★★★★

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    I used their website many times in the last 5 years. I don't like the name and I never bothered to check the story of the company so I didn't know why the word air was in the domain.

    They are now a powerful brand so it will be crazy to rebrand. would be a perfect domain but there is no point and need. They will not bring any more value to the company changing the name.

    For example Ebay, the "e"before a world is so much 90's... They started as a Pez dispenser collectible site so I guess they hand regged the name. They can now afford to buy (a better name for sure) but it makes no sense...
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2020
  19. sharastar

    sharastar Established Member

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  20. CraigD

    CraigD VIP

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    It is probably the oddish name that helped brand recognition and traction. If they had initially started out with a more generic type of 'accommodation' name, would they be as well known today?
  21. TCK

    TCK VIP ★★★★★★★★★★

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    Nice write up @Bob Hawkes

    They have invested so much in marketing the name and it seems to stick in the minds of people. It's short, 6 letters, 2 syllables. Changing it would be a risk to the brand now unless they have an amazing alternative.
  22. Cannuck

    Cannuck VIP

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    Fine 420 and fresh sheets... (domain to boot :xf.wink:)

    BBNB - Bed, Bud 'n Breakfast
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
  23. MadAboutDomains

    MadAboutDomains Top Contributor VIP ★★★★★★★★★★

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    4 syllables, surely? :pompous:
  24. Top Contributor VIP

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  25. WatchDogue

    WatchDogue Top Contributor VIP

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    Learned quite a bit about this famous company by a read of this blog so for that well presented info, thanks Bob.

    Now that I have an understanding of the founding and the history of the company, the name becomes meaningful.

    As a non - B & B type traveler I never paid too much attention to the Company or the name other than finding it a bit unusual when seen on TV or in articles.

    Now that I know the background the name is quite fitting.

    AirBnB is obviously a great success regardless of having a domain name that might a bit unclear or memorable to some, however, to " B n B " travelers and others, once one realizes what the concept is, the name surely becomes descriptive and memorable.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2020
  26. CraigD

    CraigD VIP

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    5 syllables when you pronounce it Air Bed and Breakfast
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2020
  27. Cannuck

    Cannuck VIP

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    I set up my own little BBNB, built an off-grid Tiny Home in a quaint little eastern village. When Canada legalized cannabis, I thought it would be a nice retirement lifestyle (but that was pre-Covid). :xf.sick:
  28. justsand

    justsand Established Member

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    Thank you very much for sharing this inspiring story :)
  29. LoodeX

    LoodeX Established Member

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    I’d rename it 🙄 lol
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