A Lesson From Airbnb: Why Losing Culture Is the Biggest Threat to Your Company (and How to Fix It)

In the light of the recent PR disaster at Uber, I recalled a blog post by Airbnb founder Brian Chesky on the importance of culture.  He once asked Peter Thiel, one of his main investors, for his most important advice. Peter’s answer was short and simple:

“Don’t fuck up the culture.”

I really like Brian Chesky’s conclusions from this advice, so I will quote him without additional comment:

This wasn’t what we were expecting from someone who just gave us $150M. I asked him to elaborate on this. He said one of the reasons he invested in us was our culture. But he had a somewhat cynical view that it was practically inevitable once a company gets to a certain size to “fuck it up.

Why culture matters

Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial. And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap. Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes.


How to build culture

So how do we build culture? By upholding our core values in everything we do. Culture is a thousand things, a thousand times.


Some final words by Fred Wilson


Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures also wrote a great blog post on the #Ubergate and the importance of values and culture. I want to close using his words:

Values and culture matter more than anything. They seep into the product, the user experience, the brand, and ultimately define the company in the market. And all of this comes from the top.