Inside Airbnb’s IPO pitch

Prospectus reveals it lost $700M through September, more than in all of 2019

National /
Nov.November 16, 2020 08:21 PM
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (Getty)

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (Getty)

Airbnb is pitching investors with a story of resilience, despite steep losses and an uncertain path to profitability.

The S-1 prospectus of the home-share startup was made public Monday, 12 years after the company debuted and quickly turned the hospitality industry on its head. In it, the company said it will trade under the ticker symbol “ABNB.”

The public offering represents a remarkable turnaround for Airbnb, which lost $1 billion in bookings overnight in March and secured a $2 billion lifeline last spring. In August it filed confidentially to go public.

The 349-page document gives prospective investors their first peek under the hood of Airbnb, revealing details of its finances, ownership structure and more.

Here are some of the highlights:

Revenue was soaring … until Covid. Airbnb’s gross bookings totaled $38 billion in 2019, up 29 percent year-over-year from $29.3 billion in 2018. Its revenue last year was $4.8 billion, compared to $3.7 billion in 2018 and $2.6 billion in 2017.

As of Sept. 30, bookings totaled $18 billion, a 39 percent year-over-year drop. Revenue for that period dropped 32 percent, to $2.5 billion.

Airbnb’s still chasing profits. The company had lost a total of $2.1 billion as of Sept. 30, including $674.3 million in 2019, $16.9 million in 2018 and $70 million in 2017. It lost $696.6 million during the first nine months of this year, more than twice the $322.8 million it lost during the same period in 2019.

In the S-1, Airbnb acknowledged it may not be able to achieve profitability, a detail that could spook investors.

“The rules have changed in the IPO market,” Santosh Rao, the head of research at Manhattan Venture Partners, told The Real Deal in September. “Investors want private companies to be profitable or have a clear path to profitability.”

March was madness. Pre-pandemic, Airbnb had gross bookings of $3 billion in February 2020. But refunds to customers pushed that number down to negative $900 million in March, the S-1 shows. Monthly bookings were back up to $1.1 billion in May and $2.5 billion in September.

The third quarter was profitable. For the third quarter, Airbnb reported $219 million in profit, after a $575.6 million loss the prior quarter. But revenue was $1.3 billion — an 18.4 percent drop from $1.6 billion a year prior. Airbnb cut costs in that quarter by laying off staff and reducing marketing.

There’s good in bad news. In line with Airbnb’s media messaging of late, its prospectus goes heavy on a story of resilience in crisis, detailing how the company’s business started to rebound after the worst of the pandemic. The other challenges it lists include violent party houses and a raft of “complex, evolving, and sometimes inconsistent and ambiguous laws and regulations.”

Its growth plan is vague. The word “growth” appears 135 times in the filing, but the company’s plan is quite general. Airbnb wants to build its host and guest community, invest in its brand and design new products. Many Airbnb hosts soured on the company after it changed its cancellation policy early in the pandemic, and the S-1 notes that if it can’t retain hosts or attract more, its “business, results of operations, and financial condition” would take a hit.

Investing early paid off. Airbnb backer Sequoia Capital led a $600,000 funding round in 2009. It’s the company’s largest shareholder, with 81.3 million shares and a 16.6 percent stake, the S-1 shows. If the company’s valuation were $30 billion, as reports have estimated, Sequoia’s stake would be worth $5 billion. Airbnb execs control 43.8 percent: Chesky owns 76.9 million shares for a 15.4 percent stake. Co-founders Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia each have a 14.2 percent stake.

The CEO comes cheap. Sort of. Last year, Chesky’s base salary was $110,000. He gave that up after the onset of Covid, and starting this month will have a base salary of $1. But per the S-1, over a decade the CEO could get a stock award totaling $120 million. (The shares vest only if Airbnb stock hits certain milestones, and could reach $12 million a year for 10 years.) Chesky, however, “intends to donate the net proceeds from this award to community, philanthropic and charitable causes.”

Fun fact: Chesky has a security detail. This includes a car and driver, and cost the company $307,797 last year, according to the S-1.











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