Airbnb is putting down permanent roots in Seattle with a major new office that makes the vacation rentals company the latest well-known tech brand to grow rapidly in the region after establishing an initial beachhead.
The company signed a six-year lease for two floors at the 8th + Olive building in downtown Seattle, totaling 40,000 square feet with room for approximately 300 people, Airbnb’s Vice President of Engineering Mike Curtis tells GeekWire. The announcement comes less than a year after GeekWire reported on Airbnb’s initial Seattle presence at the WeWork office in Westlake Tower.
The expansion in Seattle gives Airbnb greater ability to poach people from a large number of companies, including one of its competitors, Bellevue, Wash.-based travel giant Expedia Inc., which acquired HomeAway in 2015 and has been positioning the Austin, Texas-based company as more of a direct rival to Airbnb. Expedia is planning its own move to the downtown Seattle waterfront in the coming years.
As of now, Airbnb has about 50 people working out of WeWork in Seattle, and Curtis said the company plans to start building out the new space toward the end of the year. As Airbnb’s Seattle office grows, the company wants to base entire projects out of the office.
“We are trying to find parts of the technology and products we are building that we can actually have live here, instead of just being extra people working on something that’s primarily being driven in San Francisco,” Curtis said. “We want to have it so that this office can be a true technology center, where we can have big parts of what we need to build actually being driven and run from Seattle.”
That is already happening to a point. A couple examples of work being done in the Seattle office include the infrastructure behind the company’s customer service operation as well as messaging between guests and hosts.
In order to grow the number of projects based in the Seattle office, Airbnb is ratcheting up hiring not just for engineers, but also for product, design, data science and many other roles in the Seattle office. Curtis said the depth of talent in the area makes it possible to build an office with a variety of disciplines.
Airbnb has expanded its ambitions greatly in the last year or so. The company’s bread-and-butter is acting as a place for travelers to connect with hosts renting out a room, house or apartment. In November, Airbnb announced Trips, which allows travelers to book activities, take guided audio tours, get recommendations from locals and more using the Airbnb app. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said last year the company also plans to add flights, car rentals, and other services to the app, signaling the company’s big ambitions to become a one-stop travel shop.
“Airbnb eventually wants to be able to offer the entire trip, not just the place that you stay,” Curtis said.
On the backend, Airbnb is investing heavily in machine and deep learning capabilities to improve how it matches travelers with hosts.
“When you think about Airbnb, it’s a two-sided marketplace, where every guest is completely unique and has unique and distinct needs for what they want to get out of a travel experience,” Curtis said. “On other side, you have hosts, be they home hosts or experience hosts, who offer completely unique experiences. In the center of that, the huge amount of technology that we’ve built and everything that we work on, is how do you create a great match between that traveler and the host that is going to provide that great experience for them.”
Airbnb is headquartered in San Francisco, and along with its Seattle office, it has engineering centers in Portland and Beijing. The Seattle office is led by Airbnb engineering manager Ari Steinberg, who oversaw Facebook’s Seattle engineering office before launching a travel startup, Vamo, that was acquired by Airbnb in 2015. Ian McAllister, who founded and led the AmazonSmile charity program as part of his long tenure at the Seattle-based e-commerce giant, co-founded the Airbnb Seattle office but has since gone back to Amazon, where he is now director of international expansion for Alexa.
The 8th + Olive building has become a popular destination for several tech companies after an extensive renovation by owner Talon Private Capital. Legal advice startup Avvo is one of the largest tenants in the building, and last year GeekWire got a chance to check out its 110,000 square-foot offices that takes up seven floors