Airbnb Names First Independent Board Member



Airbnb announced that Kenneth I. Chenault, who is retiring as chief executive of American Express, would become an independent director, a position that helps provide outside supervision of a company. Credit Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Another of Silicon Valley’s biggest unicorns appears to be slowly edging toward the public stock markets — even if only by baby steps.

Airbnb announced on Thursday that it had named its first independent board member — Kenneth I. Chenault, the departing chief executive of American Express. Naming an outside board member is often an early step by a company that will eventually seek an initial public offering.

At the same time, Airbnb’s chief executive, Brian Chesky, wrote in a letter to the online room-rental service’s top hosts that he was building a company with an “infinite time horizon.”

The moves are the latest sign that another of the biggest privately held companies in the technology universe may be preparing to go public. These companies, typically valued at more than $1 billion by private investors, are known as unicorns. Dropbox, the file-storage provider, which was most recently valued at $10 billion, recently filed confidentially for an initial offering. Spotify, the music streaming giant, is pursuing an unconventional “direct listing” of its shares on the public markets.

Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, has publicly committed his company to going public as soon as next year. And other big private companies, like the ride-hailing provider Lyft, the gadget maker Xiaomi and the online polling company SurveyMonkey are all at least considering going public within the next few years.


Airbnb’s chief executive, Brian Chesky, left, at its headquarters in San Francisco. He told top Airbnb hosts in a letter that he wanted to build a company with an “infinite time horizon.” Credit Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

The number of these unicorns is growing as the stock markets continue to climb. But the companies must also work to overcome the skepticism of I.P.O. investors who have been burned over the past year by market debuts that have proved to be money losers, including those of Snapchat’s parent, Snap, and of the meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron.

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