Airbnb CEO: ‘Spirit of entrepreneurship in Nairobi similar to Silicon Valley’

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You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to build the next great company, you could do it in Africa.

This is according to Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of online home-rental platform Airbnb that has disrupted the global hospitality industry. Established in 2008, Airbnb is worth an estimated $25bn and has been used by over 40 million people in more than 34,000 cities across 192 countries.

Speaking to entrepreneurs in Nairobi last week, Chesky said many of the world’s biggest companies were started in the US, but the tide is changing.

“I think the next great companies could come from anywhere,” said Chesky.

“This is an incredibly exciting time to start a company. You certainly can have African companies that can be huge, not only in Africa but [globally]. Just because you are in Africa doesn’t mean you are an African company, you can be a global company.”

“The spirit of entrepreneurship here in Nairobi is actually very similar to where I live in San Francisco, in Silicon Valley. I actually don’t see a lot of differences. I think it is newer here and more nascent, but in some ways that is more exciting too,” Chesky told a packed room of entrepreneurs.

“Customers around the world do not care where you are from. All they care about is that you made something that they need, or they want. I think you guys have the ability to build the next great companies. This environment here in Nairobi is as passionate and intense for an entrepreneurial culture.”

Huge success has a downside

Chesky however warned entrepreneurs that sitting at the helm of a big global business has its downsides too. His greatest challenge today is managing a 2,000 workforce while keeping the start-up attitude alive.

“When you build a big company… the next problem you have is you are now a big company. The problem with big companies is they are not nimble, they are slow, they become bureaucratic. Airbnb became successful because these big companies were too slow to do what Airbnb did. There is no point of growing to becoming something that someone else should disrupt. So we need to stay a start-up.”

And as a CEO there is also the threat of becoming disconnected from your customers.

“The more successful you get, the lonelier you get because there [are] fewer people who have done what you have done. There are more people that will ‘edit’ themselves around you and may be less likely to tell you the truth,” Chesky said.