A Week in the City of Light and Love
Yesterday I arrived back in San Francisco, along with 200 of us, from one of the longest and most emotionally draining weeks since we started Airbnb.
The week began last Sunday when I landed in Paris for the Airbnb Open, arriving at a charming 6th floor attic apartment in Saint Germain. The Airbnb Open began Thursday morning in a large arena tent that housed nearly 5,000 hosts and 645 employees. Hosts had taken the pilgrimage from nearly 110 countries, and their enthusiasm was effusive as smiles beamed from their faces.
Friday evening, I joined my family at an early employee reunion dinner at a beautiful Airbnb with our first 40 employees. It was an emotional beginning of the evening. Joe gave a toast, and we reflected on the last four and a half years together.
At 9:45pm, news started coming in of an attack in Paris. At first, we thought it was an isolated incident, so we only occasionally checked Twitter. By 10:30pm, it was clear that they were a series of coordinated attacks. Once we learned that 100 people were taken hostage in a theater, fear struck over the dinner. Our phones started buzzing with friends and loved ones wondering if we were okay. Immediately, we started thinking about our employees and hosts who were distributed throughout the city while a series of coordinated attacks were transpiring. Most remarkably, for many, the first person that contacted us was our Airbnb host.
Michael, our head of security, took over central command, and a handful of employees stayed up throughout the night so could account for all 645 of our employees. Some were just a couple doors from the attacks, and had witnessed much of the horror. We knew that one of our groups were at the stadium where an attack occurred, and we were worried they would be caught in a stampede. Others were hiding under tables in restaurants, whose metal gates were locked with the lights dimmed.
The city went into lockdown. At that point, it was clear we were going to be barricaded in our house. We set up a mini communication hub in a walk-in shower (since there was no other private space in our Airbnb) where I could communicate with central command. There were tons of quick decisions to make — how do we find everyone, do we cancel the following day’s events, how can we get the community to open their homes without putting them in harm’s way?
By 3:00am, we were informed that the lockdown would not be lifted, and we would likely be spending the night in the house. Imagine that we had 50+ people in a 2 bedroom Airbnb loft. We cleared out the furniture, and set up pillows and blankets on the floors so people could get some sleep. When we got word that we had tracked down the final people and had no one left unaccounted for, we let out a sigh of relief and quiet cheer.
The following day, I felt like a zombie. Like many, we were jittery, and not quite feeling ourselves. Our Paris office, including some of those most affected, held strong and supported everyone.
Yesterday morning, nearly 100 of us boarded a United Airlines flight back to San Francisco. Stepping on the plane, it was clear that everyone was just happy to be returning home. As we landed in San Francisco, we were greeted with a surprise welcome from over a dozen Airbnb employees who dedicated their Sunday to welcoming us back with hospitable fanfare, handing out water and warm cookies. It once again reminded us of how warm and caring people can be, and made us feel completely supported. They made us feel so special.
Reflecting on this week, two things come to mind — light and love.
First, Paris is known as “The City of Light” for it’s early adoption of gas lamp street lights. This week I saw a different kind of light radiate the sky. In the face of unspeakable atrocities, the city of Paris, and our community, rose up with resilience and optimism. When each of you stood up, a light of warmth switched on, and the city got a little bit smaller. This light will not leave Paris anytime soon.
Second, Paris is also referred known as “The City of Love.” This is more appropriate. The unspeakable acts that we witnessed yesterday represent the worst of humanity. In the face of this tragedy, I saw the very best. Our community cared for one another, and came together to honor our highest ideals.
Crisis has an unfortunate way of bonding people together, and our bond was forged not just through shared experience but a deep care and love for one another. In this hour, we can say that we have never felt closer to our community and teams. You’re not alone now, or ever. We are here to support and care for every one of you, as you have done for each other. Dr King once said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Let there be more light and love.