New financial reporting shows how rough the unicorn’s downturn was
If you’re like me, this year’s chaotic news cycles have made it hard to track any single story well. So this morning I want to put together a financially focused chronology of Airbnb’s year, including the new data. Enough has happened over the past few months that any prior work we’ve done is too dated to use.
So, let’s rewind the clock and dig into the biggest financial moment from Airbnb’s 2020, capping off with the latest reporting, including details from the company itself on booking volume recovery as we go.
This should be easy, fun and useful. Let’s go!
Heading into 2020, Airbnb promised to go public in 2020. Given that there’s technical pressure from holders of Airbnb stock options for the company go public inside the year, the vow made sense. Airbnb was founded around 12 years ago, meaning that the company was already a bit aged for a private firm on an IPO path. Toss in the options issue, and if Airbnb wanted to hold onto its workforce, this was the year to go.
And Airbnb was well-capitalized heading into this year, so a direct listing was in the cards.
Enter 2020 and a few unexpected events. When COVID-19 hit Airbnb’s key markets it took the travel market with it, leading to this column asking on March 18th whether the company could go public this year given the state of its industry. At that point we knew that Airbnb’s cash balance was about $2 billion heading into the start of the year, and that the company had reported Q4 2019 revenue of around $1.1 billion (+32% YoY, per Bloomberg) and negative earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $276.4 million (+92.4% YoY, per Bloomberg).
The company’s persistent lack of profits heading into 2020 was the subject of our curiosity at the start of the year.
In late March, Airbnb announced that it would pay out $250 million to hosts to soften the blow of the pandemic’s travel declines. That was not a cheap move, and when the company expanded the policy this column wrote that it was “an intelligent if expensive way to help preserve user trust.”