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 AirBedAndBreakfast.com, 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 AirBnB.com, 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 AirBnB.design in somewhat similar fashion to how Facebook.design and Amazon.design are used. They use a few other new extensions, mainly for redirection purposes, such as AirBnB.link. 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 UDRP.tools 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 airbnbb.com and air-bnb.org. 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? 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? 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? 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. 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. It takes time. Like many companies, it took many years for AirBnB to become profitable. In domain investing too, don’t expect overnight success. 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. 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.