SVAngel's Ron Conway on Airbnb, diversity and the next company to watch

STATION F's team (virtually) seat down with Ron Conway, founder & co-managing partner at SV Angel to discuss investing in Airbnb, diversity in tech and more

Ron Conway has helped numerous incredible companies, including Google, Square, Pinterest and Airbnb. However, when Airbnb went public in December 2020, Brian Chesky (CEO of Airbnb) named Ron as one of they key people in the company’s development. Together they announced the Airbnb Economic Empowerment Award to support entrepreneurs who “create economic opportunity for regular people through their business model”. We catch up with Ron in order to learn more about this award.

You have worked with numerous top startups, so it’s no surprise that Brian Chesky called you out for your role in making the company what it is today. But from your perspective, what did you do that really helped Airbnb in the early days? What sets you apart from other investors and shareholders?

I gave business advice constantly using my pattern recognition of advising founders for 30 years. However, I also helped with the “gnarly” problems – like government relations with cities who were learning about best practices for the sharing economy. In addition, I introduced them to strategic advisors and assisted in recruiting members of the management team, especially Belinda Johnson (who ultimately became COO of the company and is now a board member). And obviously I helped in fundraising rounds and many other efforts.

When we announced the Airbnb Economic Award, (Airbnb CEO) Brian (Chesky) published a post that goes into a bit more detail from his perspective.

Looking back on Airbnb from an investor perspective, what were some of the defining moments for the company and the founders?

Well, obviously raising the VC rounds were defining since they allowed the company to hire and grow. Given Airbnb’s business, there were also lots of trust and safety learnings along the way.

Defining moments probably also include when the company hired key executives to help build the infrastructure. We also came to recognize that not only the business model was unique, but the platform brought communities together and allowed millions of people per night to treat people civilly.

With regards to the investment, it was Brian’s dogged persistence that made us invest. Even in the very early days, the company started growing fast and meeting its forecasts.

h

How did the idea for the Economic Empowerment Award come about and what it is exactly?

As mentioned above, Brian announced the Award in December when the company went public.

The Economic Empowerment Award will provide mentorship and financial assistance to one company each year that is working to create economic opportunity for regular people through their business model. One of the things that I have always loved about Airbnb is the way the platform creates was for regular people to make some extra money. At a moment like this, I think companies like Airbnb that create opportunities like this are important — and I want to make sure we are supporting future entrepreneurs with similar missions.

You’re strongly supporting Racial Equity initiatives but currently people coming from diverse backgrounds represent a very small amount of fundraising. How can we really change that?

We need every VC in America to adopt and mentor a VC firm of color so that we find, nurture and grow the next generation of founders who are diverse. We can do this if we set our minds to it. For example, I have adopted and mentored Slauson and Co, a new VC led by GPs of color who will build great companies with founders of color. That’s how we solve the systemic issues and make sure the next Google and Facebook are led by founders of color.

We see more and more companies and investors moving from SF to Miami – do you think that this can be a real shift or is it just a passing trend?

In my opinion, this is just a passing trend. Silicon Valley’s infrastructure for founders is unmatched.

If you had to name a company to watch who will be the next Airbnb?

The one to watch is Coinbase. The company has a retail presence just like Airbnb. However, Airbnb is really unique since it is very mission driven.