We have a culture crush on Airbnb

$2,000 travel stipends, "landing zones" instead of desks, a commitment to not "fuck up the culture," and a quirky cereal campaign to get out of debt: these are just a few of the reasons we've got a culture crush on Airbnb. 

A company that believes you can "belong anywhere." 

Belong Anywhere: if that doesn't scream aspirational to millennials, we don't know what does. 

It's a perfect alignment for Airbnb, which launched their Belong Anywhere tagline and campaign alongside their rebrand in 2014. This move helped Airbnb further amplify their mission to create a more connected world, infusing a theme of both travel and home into the DNA of their company.

From hiring employees with the wanderlust gene, to celebrating their hosts, to featuring unique homes and stories in Pineapple magazine, it's no doubt Airbnb is one of today's most adored companies among passport-holding millennials.

“For so long, people thought Airbnb was about renting houses," says Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky. "But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere.”

Fuelling the Employee Travel Bug

The company -- which was rated #1 in Glassdoor's Best Places to Work -- extends their Belong Anywhere mission into their employee experience as well. One of the most tangible ways they do that is by giving each employee a quarterly $500 travel credit to spend at Airbnb homes around the world. That's $2,000 each year to explore whichever corners of the earth they desire!

"Whether it's staying in an Airbnb far far away, or 20 minutes out of town for the weekend, we make the most of our travel credit," explained Airbnb UI Designer Kyle Pickering on Quora. "By design, the travel credit program encourages travel. Employees are given travel credit at the beginning of each quarter. The credit expires at the end of each quarter. If you don't use it, you lose it. I think this is a great system because it pretty much forces us to go on adventures at least 4 times a year. Many employees go on more."

Investing in the Employee Experience

Airbnb's Portland office

Airbnb's Portland office

Speaking of incredible employee experiences, the company recently overhauled its HR department to replace it with an Employee Experience department. 

Spearheaded by Mark Levy, Airbnb's Global Head of Employee Experience, the department focuses on traditional HR stuff like talent, recruitment, compensation and benefits, but also addresses learning and organizational development, facilities and environmental design, food programs, global citizenship, diversity, and, of course, belonging. 

“Your traditional HR roles are a part of the Employee Experience, but the team I lead is much broader than that," Levy explained in Jacob Morgan's Future of Work podcast. “Anything that’s setting up our employees to success, or has the opportunity to bring our culture to life, should all sit in the Employee Experience group.” 

In the podcast, Levy explained a new initiative they call Sustainable Performance, which he describes as "the intersection of wellness and ways of working." It addresses employee burnout, and looks to help people work smarter rather than longer hours, while taking better care of themselves.  

A Modern Take on Office Space

A snapshot of the employee experience at Airbnb

A snapshot of the employee experience at Airbnb

"We’re trying to create a workspace that feels like home, since what we’re trying to do is get people to open their homes," Levy explains. "By doing that, we’ve created what we call a 'Belong Anywhere Space' so people don’t actually have a desk, they have a landing zone where they can recharge their laptop, or hang their stuff, or lock their stuff up all night, but other than that, they have the opportunity to move around based on [their needs].

"If they need a quiet space, they can go to the library where people aren’t allowed to talk. If they’ve got a group of people they’re trying to get together, they can book a meeting room. If they want to have some energy to their vibe, then they can hang out in an open space that feels much more like you’re in an airport waiting for a plane to take off." 

Airbnb's Core Values

Wait. Cereal Entrepreneur?

Nope. That's not a typo. It's an homage to Airbnb's early beginnings, and one more reason to crush on the company. Back when founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbla were just getting started with then-named Air Bed and Breakfast, they launched a creative cereal campaign in an attempt to alleviate the $40k in credit card debt they'd racked up trying to launch their startup. 

"Both designers who graduated from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, the pair created fictitious cereals called 'Obama O's, the Cereal of Change,' and 'Cap’n McCain's, a Maverick in Every Box,'" Pando Daily recounts. "They designed the box artwork themselves and convinced a student at UC Berkeley to print 500 units of each box on the cheap."

Brian and Joe then sent them to the most influential tech bloggers in hopes of capturing their highly coveted attention. After that, they started selling them. At $40/box, it's expensive for cereal, but not for Obama fans, who were buying Obama O's in droves -- "so much so that they had to give out Cap’n McCain's for free with each purchase," according to Pando.

Their fundraising strategy worked, putting a big dent into their debt, with $30,000 in cereal sold.

Last But Not Least, "Don't Fuck Up the Culture." 

As a company run by the type of audacious millennials who would design their own political cereal, Airbnb has always been steeped in culture. Even as the company has scaled, its co-founders have been adamant about not losing the magic that led to their initial success. 

The apartment where it all started.

The apartment where it all started.

Here's an except from a letter Brian sent the entire team on October 21, 2013 (you can read the whole letter here): 

"After we closed our Series C with Peter Thiel in 2012, we invited him to our office. This was late last year, and we were in the Berlin room showing him various metrics. Midway through the conversation, I asked him what was the single most important piece of advice he had for us.

"He replied, 'Don’t fuck up the culture.'

"This wasn’t what we were expecting from someone who just gave us $150M. I asked him to elaborate on this. He said one of the reasons he invested in us was our culture. But he had a somewhat cynical view that it was practically inevitable once a company gets to a certain size to 'fuck it up.'"

This is when the co-founders realized they needed to prioritize culture about all else. 

"The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial. And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap."

What's your company crush?

There are so many companies doing innovative things culturally today -- we know there's no shortage of workplace creativity, revolutionary employee experiences, and bold engagement ideas. We'd love to hear who your company crush is, either on Twitter, in the comments below, or via email