Brian Chesky Forbes Journal Top 100

Brian Chesky didn’t take a traditional route into the tech world: He’s a former hockey player who studied industrial design in college.

He and cofounder Joe Gebbia had the idea for Airbnb in 2007: When a design conference came to town and all the hotels were booked up, they decided to rent out their apartment for those who needed a place to stay.

Airbnb, then called, officially launched in August 2008. Now, 12 years later, Airbnb is headed toward an initial public offering. 

Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO, is worth an estimated $3.1 billion these days.

Brian Chesky didn’t know much about tech before starting Airbnb.

The now 39-year-old CEO majored in industrial design in college, and dabbled in hockey and bodybuilding in his 20s. But now, he’s grown an idea that stemmed from overbooked hotels into a multi-billion-dollar startup, and has become one of Silicon Valley’s key players.

Now, Airbnb is on the cusp of one of the biggest initial public offerings of the year: as of Thursday morning, its shares were indicated to open at $150, more than double it IPO price. 

Here’s how the Brian Chesky, an upstate New York native, became one of the richest young tech founders in America.

Chesky grew up in Niskayuna, New York, north of Albany. He was into hockey, and he also liked to draw and design new versions Nike sneakers, which turned into an interest in art.

Niskayna NY
Niskayuna, New York. 

Chesky’s high school yearbook quote was “I’m sure I’ll amount to nothing.” He thought it was funny — his dad didn’t.

In 1999, Chesky attended Rhode Island School of Design, where he served as captain of the hockey team and studied industrial design.

Rhode Island School of Design campus
Rhode Island School of Design. 

Source: Fortune

At RISD, Chesky met Joe Gebbia, with whom he would eventually cofound Airbnb. Right before graduation, Gebbia reportedly pulled Chesky aside and said: “Before you get on the plane, there’s something I need to tell you. We’re going to start a company one day, and they’re going to write a book about it.”

Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia. 

In his early 20s, Chesky was a competitive bodybuilder. He was described in a 2014 profile as still having “16-inch biceps.”

brian chesky airbnb
Brian Chesky, on the left. 

In a 2014 Fast Company profile, Chesky is described as an imposing figure: “A former hockey player and bodybuilder with 16-inch biceps, the CEO commands attention. His boomerang grin and slant nose work to sharply focus his attention on you. Rather than turn his head toward me, he physically picks up his chair and pivots it directly so we’re eye to eye.”

After graduating from RISD, Chesky moved to Los Angeles to work as an industrial designer, for which he made $40,000 a year.

los angeles
Los Angeles, California. 

But shortly thereafter, he moved to San Francisco and in with Gebbia. The two unemployed grads soon ran out of cash. When a design conference came to town in October 2007 and caused all the hotels to sell out, Gebbia pitched Chesky the idea of renting out their space to those who couldn’t find a place to stay — a “designers bed and breakfast.”

The roommates ended up housing three people that weekend, offering up air mattresses and floor space, as well as Pop-Tarts for breakfast.

Brian Chesky

A few months later, Gebbia and Chesky were joined by their engineer friend, Nathan Blecharczyk. Together, the three guys started what was at the time called in August 2008. Chesky “gravitated naturally to the role of leader,” Fortune wrote in 2015.

Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, airbnb, sv100 2015
From left: Airbnb cofounders Joe Gebbia, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Brian Chesky. 

Source: Fortune

Since then, Airbnb has not only shortened its name, but has listings in more than 191 countries worldwide. The company has served an estimated 800 million guests since its 2008 launch. Airbnb was last valued at $18 billion, making it one of the most valuable startups in the US.

Airbnb employees

Source: Airbnb, Business Insider

Now 39, Chesky’s net worth stands at $3.1 billion. It’s unclear how much of a stake Chesky owns in Airbnb, but it’s estimated at just under 15%.

brian chesky

Source: Forbes

In 2015, Chesky was named to the Time 100 as one of the most influential people alive. Apple’s former design chief, Jony Ive, wrote at the time that Chesky’s “audacity is fabulous.”

Brian Chesky Airbnb
Brian Chesky, Chief Executive Officer of Airbnb smiles during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 23, 2014. 

Source: Business Insider

Chesky is not married, though he was previously in a relationship with artist Elissa Patel. Chesky has a golden retriever named Sir Richard Parker who hangs out at Airbnb headquarters and accompanies him on road trips.

In 2016, Chesky, as well as Airbnb’s two other cofounders, all publicly signed the Giving Pledge, a philanthropic initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. By doing so, they promise donate more than half of their wealth within their lifetimes.

founders airbnb Joe Gebbia Brian Chesky
From left: Airbnb cofounders Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Joe Gebbia. 

Up until 2016, Chesky was still renting out his couch in his San Francisco apartment on Airbnb. But after getting caught flouting a San Francisco law that requires hosts to register with the city, Chesky was forced to take the listing down.

Brian Chesky, co-founder and Chief Executive of AirBnb, attends the Reuters Global Technology Summit in San Francisco June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Chesky, co-founder and CEO of AirBnb, attends the Reuters Global Technology Summit in San Francisco 

Source: Business Insider

While he remains CEO, Chesky handed over daily operations of the company to Blecharczyk in 2014. These days, Chesky remains focused on Airbnb’s future moves.

Brian Chesky
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky 

Source: Vanity Fair

Airbnb announced in September 2019 that it planned to go public in 2020.

brian chesky

Source: Business Insider

But its IPO was a question mark for much of 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic hit: in early March, Airbnb’s revenue plummeted 80% due to virus-related travel restrictions. Airbnb burned through its cash reserves and opted to raise $2 billion in debt and equity financing to stay afloat. Its valuation, previously $31 billion, slipped to $18 billion.

Brian Chesky Airbnb

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider

Airbnb laid off 1,900 employees, about 25% of its full-time staff, and hundreds of contractors. The move was met with frustration from employees who said they felt betrayed by the decision, but Chesky was also praised for his handling of the layoffs: employees were given generous severance packages and Chesky offered to help find them jobs elsewhere.

Employees at Airbnb’s headquarters. 

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider, Brian Chesky/Twitter

Over the past few months, things have started to turn around for Airbnb as people have begun to rethink how they travel. Though the pandemic decimated Airbnb’s business in the first several months of the year, the company is forging ahead with its IPO.

Brian Chesky

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider

Airbnb will list on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “ABNB.” It priced its IPO at $68 per share, but on Thursday morning, its shares were indicated to open at more than double that price: $150 per share.

airbnb cofounders Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky
Airbnb founders Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia, and Brian Chesky. 

Source: Business Insider, Reuters

Chesky found out about the potentially skyrocketing share price during an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Emily Chang. He was momentarily speechless before telling Chang: “That’s the first time I’ve heard that number … I’m very humbled by it.”

brian chesky
Brian Chesky. 

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