What technology company do you think is the most important and impactful to the world today?
It's an annual tradition to quiz the Silicon Valley Dunlap on such things. Some relatives are curious consumers looking for the next gadget or braggable trend, a few are looking for stock tips, and thanks to a Trump-tweet-filled 2017 (or Black Mirror Season 4 on Netflix), all of them share a fresh level of nervousness at how much tech can quickly upend their status quo.
As I pause for effect, there are plenty of suggestions yelled across the table with beer-infused enthusiasm:
Apple will be worth $1 trillion soon and the iPhone X is amazing! Have you seen the poop animoji?!?
Google AI is incredible and my Nestcam can now tell the difference between my two dogs!
The Tesla Model 3 changes everything about the auto industry! Only 99% more auto sales penetration to go!
Facebook now connects over half the of the adult world...to cat gifs!
Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) is the richest man in the world now! And he actually found a way for Whole Foods to lower their prices!
Bitcoin just hit $18,000 and I still don't know what it is!
Yes, yes...all good suggestions. But to get at the core of the question, you really need to ask "what technology company has impacted me personally, and connected me in a positive way to the world around me?". For me, there is an easy answer:
It's Airbnb. Hands down, no question.
[Cue the collective gasp!]
Then I explain why. Technology is most powerful when it changes a simple habit - in this case, staying with locals instead of a hotel room when traveling because of the trust created through their platform - and over time drives larger global change. The hardest part about this is to make the change drive a collective good, instead of a personal good (a digital vice, in effect). I am certain that Airbnb is doing this, and you can feel it with every experience.
I then tell them about my varied stays over the last few years. The newlyweds in Texas using Airbnb to build a backyard where they will get married, and helping them measure and cut lumber over breakfast. The the drone pilot in Switzerland who let me sleep in his "pilot room" before the Sierre-Zinal 30k, then having to run the race hungover thanks to all of his local athlete friends taking me out the night before. Or my fabulous host in Moab, who created such a fun youth hostel environment, I got holiday cards from nearly all of the other guests, even though they live in New Zealand, Arizona, and Washington. I just recently booked with a brand new host in Florida for this weekend, and she's already asking what kind of local delectable pool snacks I might prefer for a post-marathon chill with their neighbors (apparently alligator and queso is a thing). Japan is on our radar this summer...who knows what cultural divides that will bridge.
REAL connections, face to face, with REAL people in their own homes. All of them in walks of life I wouldn't normally tread. A technology platform that builds trust and friendships beyond the transaction...it's the most powerful movement for global citizenship I have ever experienced.
Contrast that to uncontrolled-fake-news-that-divide-us-to-feed-us-ads Facebook, Twitter the placebo-for-actual-action hate machine, Apple the global-income-disparity-black-hole-that-eats-everything-in-its-path, or the Google and Amazon see-and-hear-everything-you-do-inevitable-personal-security-mightmare. All are great stock picks for sure, but honestly, when you use these products, do you feel closer to your fellow global citizens? Or just feel better about yourself in relation to others?
Then dig into what Airbnb does with its success (and it is succeeding in a HUGE way, doubling every year and already worth more than Hyatt and Hilton combined). They acquire Accomable, to bring "Airbnb" for disabled people to a more global audience. They created "Open Homes", a project that allows people to open their homes to those in an emergency, such as wildfire victims, those in refugee crisis, and more (we could have used that at the 2013 Boston Marathon). They allow hosts to create "Experiences" to give tours only locals would know. When President Trump talks about "sh*thole countries", Airbnb responds with millions of stays and a #weaccept hashtag that gathers the world. They invest in sustainable tourism, the living wage, female entrepreneurs in India, building local meeting places in receding rural areas, affordable apartments...the list goes on. Yet the core of what they do is simple - they give us a great excuse to connect to new people and places, and give hosts legal access to income with just a room. Undeniably powerful, and undoubtedly expanding our collective understanding of the world. Take it from a product guy, there are so many other ways they could play this, many to greater profits. But they remain true to their core of building trust across the globe.
I'll spend the next few weeks arguing over email with my family about this choice (and explaining Bitcoin, naturally), but I encourage all of you to try out Airbnb this year if you haven't. I assure you, it will be an experience you will cherish in remarkable ways. I'm going to make a point to book all my travel this year through Airbnb, both to connect to the world, and share our wonderful sport.
To the good folks at Airbnb, thank you for your tireless ambition to bring the world together. You are a shining beacon in a powerful and increasingly foggy Silicon Valley. As we say in the ultra running world - run when you can, walk if you must, but never, ever stop!
Happy New Year, everyone!