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Interview

Tokyo Olympics to put Airbnb 'on the map' in Japan: CEO

Planned listing for shareholder liquidity, not fundraising, says Brian Chesky

"They don't have enough hotels to house everyone," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says of next year's summer Olympics in Tokyo. "Where are all these people going to stay?"

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Airbnb's chief executive is optimistic about the company's prospects in the year ahead, saying he expects next summer's Tokyo Games to provide a much-needed boost in Japan while the home-sharing service heads into its planned stock market flotation with a "very healthy balance sheet."

"We've been generating cash flow for a number of years in a row ... We're not burning money, and we have raised a sizable amount," Brian Chesky said in a recent Nikkei interview. "That is definitive: We do not need to raise more money," he added, through a public listing set for next year -- when Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics, which the CEO hopes will help grow Airbnb's Japanese profile.

Speculation has arisen among U.S. financial institutions that Airbnb might pursue a direct listing, with existing shares sold to investors rather than new ones being issued as with an initial public offering. The direct listing was used to great effect this summer by workplace chat app Slack. Chesky's comments appeared to lend credence to that idea.

"We want to make sure that our shareholders have liquidity," the CEO said, citing a public market listing as "the most efficient way" to do so.

Chesky said the tech industry was at a crossroads as expectations for how to "act in the 21st century as a public company" were evolving. CEOs would have to consider their companies' potentially complicated effect on society, he suggested. While in the past "the word technology ... may have been a synonym for good," tech players have begun to move past the widespread belief that "all progress was a step forward for society," said Chesky.

His words struck a different tone from the usual Silicon Valley refrains about using tech to better the world. Even here, in the American epicenter of information technology, more cautious views are gaining traction as companies like social networking giant Facebook have come under heavy criticism over problems such as lax safeguards on personal data.

Turning to next year's Olympic Games, Chesky expressed optimism that the event could "really help put Airbnb on the map" in Japan, where it is relatively new, and where it suffered a regulatory crackdown last year. He cited the company's strength in coordinating lodgings for major events, as well as heavy demand in the Japanese capital, as catapults for growth there.

"Airbnb was started for events," Chesky said, citing its one-week trial run in 2007 to serve a design conference in San Francisco, then gained momentum coordinating stays for the following year's U.S. Democratic National Convention in Denver, where the party nominated Barack Obama as its presidential candidate. Airbnb also helped provide housing for Obama's ensuing inauguration, Chesky continued, as well as other Olympic events including the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Hundreds of thousands of people, if not more, are going to come to Tokyo" for next year's games, the CEO continued. "They don't have enough hotels to house everyone. Where are all these people going to stay? You know, you're not going to build a hotel for a once-in-a-25-year event."

Chesky, 38, spoke about the difficulties he encountered getting his company off the ground. Family and friends were skeptical in the early days, he said, expressing hope that "this is not the only idea" he had in the tank. "People couldn't understand, or try not to understand," he said, recalling having gone to 20 investors without raising a dime.

"So much of success is just not quitting," he continued, citing inspiration from the words of famed inventor Thomas Edison. "Sometimes the most successful people are the ones that tried one more time than everyone else."

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