Facebook is banned in China. Google is also banned. But Airbnb isn’t. I wanted to know why China allows Airbnb to operate when it’s banned so many large American tech companies, so I dug into the history of Airbnb and their operations in China to figure out what it takes to grow a truly global tech company in the 21st century. What I found really surprised me.
Airbnb is a great lens to view US-China relations and in this video I’m going to show you the China loophole, how it relates to Airbnb’s history, and what it means for the future of American technology companies in China. The Chinese economy is expected to be the biggest in the world in a few years after all, so this is important stuff.
If you’re traveling to China, you’d probably need a VPN just to read this post. That’s because most websites are blocked by the Great Firewall, which prevents anyone in China from accessing basically any website or app that the government doesn’t have control over. Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat are all blocked, but Airbnb isn’t. Which struck me as odd, since Airbnb is a very typical American tech company. They were founded in the Bay Area, are listed on the NASDAQ, and all three founders are American citizens.
But Airbnb has employed a few key strategies to allow them to succeed in China where so many tech startups have failed before, and understanding the choices Airbnb has made shines a light on how the Chinese Communist Party views relations with American companies as a whole. Let’s figure this out together.