When America’s tech leaders visit President-elect Donald Trump Wednesday to kiss the ring, Airbnb’s CEO will not be present.
But not because he wasn’t invited. According to the company’s head of global policy Chris Lehane, CEO Brian Chesky got the call, but will be out of the country on Dec. 14 due to a previous engagement.
The invitations to Trump’s penthouse were seemingly “non-transferrable.”
In Sydney on Tuesday, Lehane tried to put a good spin on what the future may hold for the share economy giant in Trump’s America. He thinks their message will win the day. Everyone else’s message? Um, maybe.
The president-elect’s attitude towards the technology industry is not entirely clear, but the early signs are seriously worrisome. Trump talked up blue collar jobs during his campaign not tech jobs. He has publicly criticised Apple and come out against net neutrality.
But then again, he clearly loves Twitter.
Airbnb meanwhile is billing itself as a platform built for the middle class, generating extra income for American families who rent out spare rooms or their home. Lehane thinks that’s a line that will continue to appeal.
“Whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, left, right, one of the issues both sides talked a lot about in the U.S. presidential election was the middle class,” he said. “President-elect Trump spent a lot of time talking about the quote unquote ‘dwindling middle class.’ And on the left, Democrats talked an awful lot about economic inequality.”
“I do think that we’re a distinct platform.”
In the U.S., Airbnb says that the typical single property host makes $7,530 a year from the platform.
Showing a slide deck that estimated 47 percent of current American jobs may be lost to automation within 20 years, Lehane was still firm that the company is not “the solution” to economic equality.
“But are we part of a solution to it? Yes.”
So far, so good. But no one seems able to predict Trump’s foibles, and as a hotel magnate of sorts, he may not be lining up to love a competitor.
Lehane was adamant the company would be able to work with elected officials at all levels. “Someone who has talked about ‘how do you help the middle class’ out there, I think we feel pretty good that our value proposition here is something that makes a lot of sense,” he said.
In any case, the president-elect won’t necessarily weigh in too closely. As Lehane pointed out, much of Airbnb’s regulatory activity takes place at the city level. It hasn’t had an easy time there lately, even in left-leaning, tech-friendly cities like San Francisco and New York.
Whether Airbnb finds a friend in Trump or not, Lehane drew a line between his company’s message and the rest of Silicon Valley.
The economic fears being felt across much of the U.S. will only increase as automation displaces more jobs, he suggested, but Airbnb is different.
“I obviously drink the Kool-Aid, but I do think that we’re a distinct platform,” he said.
“I do believe that we are really a platform that is using technology to help people and not to replace people. I do think that is going to increasingly become a bigger and bigger part of what our overall value proposition is.”