In the slide deck Airbnb's lead policy wonk, Chris Lehane, presented during Airbnb's post-election victory lap in San Francisco yesterday, there is one particularly disturbing statistic: there are more people in San Francisco who have used Airbnb than people who actually bothered to vote in Tuesday's election.
This tidbit sheds light on how it was that the company managed to handily defeat Prop F — the San Francisco ballot initiative that placed limits on short-term rentals like Airbnb, saying hosts could only rent out their space for a maximum of 75 days each year — even after pissing off the Internet with a shockingly tone deaf ad campaign. An army of volunteers + an invested voter base + a cool $8 million in campaign spending = a pretty damn good formula for winning.
And after Tuesday's victory, Airbnb has realized just how good a formula it is.
“We began to think about this election in a little bit of a different way,” Lehane, a Clinton-era political operative, said during the post-election debriefing. “Was there something we could do? We had this big base of support, the light bulb went off in our heads. Could we actually organize and activize this community and change what the voter pool in San Francisco was going to look like?”
Lehane said the company plans to organize the voting masses across the U.S., forming a network of home-sharing “guilds” that the company has dubbed “100 Clubs.”
"We’re going to use the momentum of what took place here to do what we did in San Francisco around the world,” Lehane said.
Airbnb now has over 4 million members in the U.S., including both hosts and guests. And it is currently entangled in regulatory battles in cities from California to New York and beyond. In many of those cities, users make up a significant portion of the voting population. This is Airbnb's new strategy for winning: empowering the people to fight the fight for it.
Airbnb has called Prop F a "people-to-people movement" and it's defeat a "victory for the middle class.” It recalls Uber’s aggressive campaign earlier this year against ride-hailing caps in New York.
It is an interesting moment in which Silicon Valley companies like Airbnb and Uber have found a convenient alliance with the grassroots masses, if not those who regulate it. An alliance, at least, for now.