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Inside Airbnb, high-paying officials pushed it to become public.



SAN FRANCISCO – Last summer, several Airbnb employees wrote a letter to the founders of the startup online room rental.

On behalf of more than a dozen employees, they pleaded for them to sell their Airbnb options. As Airbnb is privately owned, its shares cannot be easily traded or treasured. Employees also asked the company to publish, a move that would allow them to sell their shares freely, said five people who had seen or were familiar with the document and were not authorized to speak publicly.

The letter is a sign of the tensions accumulated among Airbnb workers.

According to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees and investors, most of whom refused to be identified for fear of retaliation, Airbnb's 6,000 workforce is increasingly disturbed as it cannot earn money in equities the company received in compensation packages. Many say the expectation of a startup society is to become a growing source of stress, preventing some from making a career change, starting a family or continuing their lives.

Publicity issues rose to the top of an internal message board, where employees vote on topics that executives will address every few months, people said. Dissatisfaction is heightened as Airbnb, valued at $ 31 billion, has released two tranches of equity, which should begin to expire in November 2020 and mid-2021;

To make employees happy, Brian Cesky, CEO of Airbnb and other senior executives, made some adjustments, people said. They began offering long-term employee leave, expanded Airbnb's parental leave policy, and increased their retirement matching program. They have also created a program to provide low-interest, general-purpose loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars to employees. In the performance reviews this spring, the starter issued higher bonuses and promotions, one of the people said.

On Thursday, Airbnb took the biggest step of all: It released a one-sentence message saying it planned to publish next year.

"We are deeply committed to our employees and our focus on long-term assistance has helped us create a company that is extremely successful and true to our mission and values," Chris Lehan, Airbnb's senior vice president of policy and communications, says in a statement. He added that Airbnb was consistently ranked as a great place to work "because of the spirit, energy, values ​​and morale of our employees." He declined to comment on the staff letter.

Vivek Wagle, marketing executive who left Airbnb in 2014, according to a message on Thursday, "definitely welcome news for many of us early employees who may be wondering if we will be rewarded for our role in success

The situation at Airbnb illustrates the paradox of early-sleep. Many tech workers join fast-growing private companies in the hope of accumulating stock in companies and turning those shares into wealth when start-ups become public. But employees depend on the founders and the board of the company before it becomes a reality.

Mr. Cesky, who co-founded Airbnb in 2008, has been vocal about not rushing to publish it publicly. In January 2018, he published a letter saying that the company would have an "infinite time horizon". He is now exploring unconventional initial public offering by potentially ranking the shares directly or on the long-term stock market, which is backed by venture capital but is not yet operational, said three people familiar with the situation.

Doug Leone, a venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, one of Airbnb's supporters, said that while start-ups had an "indirect social contract" on going out at some time, there was no rush to do so. „I.P.O. is only a moment in time, "he said.

However, Mr Cesky's position became problematic as other high-profile startups of the same generation as Airbnb began listing their shares on the stock exchange. This year, the takeaway companies Uber and Lyft motorcycles, an online Pinterest pin company and Slack business software maker, are among those made public, which allowed their employees to earn money from their shares.

Employee tension is unusual for Airbnb, known for its weight Its mission is to "belong everywhere" and to promote the culture of kumbai among its staff. The company grew rapidly with more than seven million listings in 100,000 cities, with revenues exceeding $ 1 billion in the second quarter. in San Francisco, which has rooms that copy its well-known listings, and several former employees have said they are grateful for the plunge they will eventually receive from their shares.

Credit via Airbnb [19659018] But any remuneration from owning Airbnb shares is withheld. Beginning in 2011, when the young company tops the $ 1 billion valuation, Airbnb prohibits workers from selling shares, while allowing its three founders – Mr. Cesky, Nathan Blečarczyk and Joe Gebia – to make a total of $ 21 million.

In its early days, Airbnb paid employees partially in grants that would allow them to eventually buy – or exercise – shares in the company at a low price. Later, Airbnb began offering a different form of equity compensation called restricted shares that did not need to be bought.

Gabriel Cole, who worked at Airbnb's grocery department, said he spent his life saving to buy his shares after leaving the company in 2015. This imposed a $ 180,000 tax bill, which he could not afford.

"I return bottles to buy groceries," he said. He said he had asked the founders of Airbnb for help and was told that nothing could be done.

Over the years, Airbnb has been expanding the rules around exercising stock options to make "gold handcuffs" less tiring. In 2016, it allowed longtime employees who were still with the company to sell part of their stock. Those who sold had to agree to stricter restrictions on offering all other shares.

But not all Airbnb shareholders benefited from these changes. Some current and former Airbnb employees have tried to circumvent the bans by selling their shares in the shadow or aftermarket for private equity sales. In recent weeks, these Airbnb shares have been trading at up to $ 166, suggesting a fully diluted valuation of the company of $ 52 billion, said three people familiar with the aftermarket.

Investment firms also appeared to offer loans to former Airbnb employees. , using their stock as collateral, in what is known as a "variable prepayment agreement." Companies are aggressively suing former employees, often flooding them with stock offers as they change their LinkedIn job status.

Transactions typically involve a cash loan in exchange for a pledge of the buyer's shares at a negotiated price when the company becomes public, according to investment offers viewed by The New York Times. The companies charge 15 percent or more of the insurance fee. Former employees who made these deals said they exist in a legal gray area – not authorized by Airbnb, but not explicitly banned.

"Opportunistic brokers and companies are pushing them for their greasy fees," says Barrett Cohn, CEO of Scenic Council, which works with resale companies. "They are dangerous to buyers and sellers, and expensive."

When a small group of Airbnb employees sent their letter to Mr. Cesky and other senior executives last year, they did not receive a response, two of the people who watched or

At the same time, Airbnb has taken several steps that appear to signal that it is preparing for public offering. He added independent board members and hired Dave Stevenson, an experienced CFO, from Amazon to become its CFO. Current and former employees have said they have taken the move as signs that the company is finally set to reach the stock market.

In February, Mr Stephenson was injured in a ski accident. This delayed I.P.O. on Airbnb timeline, said two people who know about the situation. An Airbnb spokesman said the incident had no impact.

On Thursday evening, at an informal gathering of Airbnb alumni in San Francisco, the company's announcement that it would become public next year was the topic of travel. But attendees kept their excitement about it when the company officially applied for it, two attendees said.

Until then, one participant said in a text message, the general mood was "„. "


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