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They Ignored Or Deleted The Email From Airbnb. It Was A $15,000 Mistake

Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, is shown on an electronic screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York City on Dec. 10.
Mark Lennihan
Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, is shown on an electronic screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York City on Dec. 10.

The email began, "Hosts like you are a foundation of our company." Tom Krones, an Airbnb host based in Austin, Texas, swiftly discarded it. That was Nov. 16.

Now, Krones says, "I am totally kicking myself."

Since Airbnb made its public debut on the stock market Thursday, shattering expectations and doubling its offering price, regrets are piling up among hosts like Krones, who received the email last month with the less-than-enticing subject line "Airbnb's Directed Share Program."

It landed in the virtual trash heap of scores of hosts who figured it was inconsequential. Others, like Krones, procrastinated the decision that could have made them thousands of dollars richer in a matter of hours.

"You know, I should probably buy a couple shares just for fun," Krones, a software engineer, remembers thinking at the time he read it. "But part of me was just like, 'Aw, I'll do it later.' "

As is often the case, later came and went — and it became too late.

In Galveston, Texas, Airbnb host Sharon Milner Honza said she was interested in buying stocks, though the email did not seem urgent at the time.

"I got one email, and of course it was buried in tons of junk emails. I didn't know it was there until after the fact," Milner Honza said.

Sara Shea, who lives in Asheville, N.C., is a single mom with toddlers in preschool, a busy life in normal times and an even more crushing one amid the coronavirus pandemic. It wasn't surprising, then, that the email zipped right by her, she said.

"I get a ton of spam, a ton of stuff. And I saw it and I said, 'This is something I need to go back and take a closer look at,' but I didn't read all the details of it," said Shea, who uses the income she makes as an Airbnb host to supplement her marketing job.

When she did finally read and make sense of the email, she decided she wanted to invest. Yet the deadline had passed.

"This year has been really hard," Shea said. "So here is just another bowling pin that got knocked down by all of this," she said.

Thousands of hosts received the invitation to buy stock ahead of the initial public offering. And plenty of hosts didn't mistake the opportunity.

It was seen as an olive branch to some hosts who remain infuriated over Airbnb's decision to fully refund guests during the pandemic, overriding hosts' cancellation policies. The move sparked breach-of-contract legal battles and left hosts feeling shortchanged.

Whatever the reason, hosts showed their appetite for company stock.

The longer a host had been active with Airbnb, the more shares the host was eligible to purchase, at $68 apiece.

Originally, Airbnb said the maximum number of shares a host could buy was 275. Demand was so strong, however, that the company lowered the ceiling to 200 shares.

Airbnb host Jino Cabrera in Los Angeles did not waste any time after he was given the green light to purchase 200 shares. He bought all of them.

"Stocks are not my world at all. I haven't ever bought a single stock in my life," said Cabrera, who works in real estate. "My partner was kind of mad at me a little bit. He was like, 'How are we going to be able to pay for that?' And I said, 'We'll find ways. Don't worry about it.' "

It was a bet that paid off handsomely. When the stock price skyrocketed, Cabrera sold all of his shares at $144 a pop. He made nearly $15,000.

Airbnb host Jino Cabrera, left, and his partner, Scott Carnwath, on their way to Las Vegas after making nearly $15,000 from Airbnb's public stock market debut.
/ Courtesy of Jino Cabrera
Courtesy of Jino Cabrera
Airbnb host Jino Cabrera (left) and his partner, Scott Carnwath, on their way to Las Vegas after making nearly $15,000 from Airbnb's public stock market debut.

"It was overwhelming. I was blown away," said Cabrera. He is now celebrating in Las Vegas with his partner, an interior decorator.

On Thursday, Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky was left gobsmacked, literally unable to find any words when he was told by an anchor on Bloomberg that his company's price more than doubled ahead of trading.

To Krones, Chesky's astonishment provided him a bit of relief.

"It makes me feel a little bit better about the whole thing, seeing his face and being like, 'OK, if he didn't know, then I can't be expected to know either,' " Krones said.

Of course, it is cold comfort, Krones said, since he is not a dollar richer today than he was before the IPO.

The same cannot be said about Chesky, whose net worth after Airbnb went public increased by about $7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Airbnb declined to comment for this story.

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Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
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