Airbnb’s stockmarket debut will be a hit. Never mind its murky prospects
爱彼迎在股市的亮相会很轰动,尽管它的前景并不明朗

公共假期 Public holidays-书迷号 shumihao.com

TALK ABOUT terrible timing. When the pandemic hit in March, Brian Chesky had just put the finishing touches on the paperwork for Airbnb’s much-awaited public listing. Instead of travelling to New York to ring the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange, he found himself spending days (and nights) on Zoom in his home office in San Francisco, fighting to keep his online holiday-rental marketplace alive. “It was like you are going 100 miles an hour and suddenly have to hit the brakes,” Airbnb’s boss recalls.
时机可真是糟糕啊。3月疫情来袭时,布莱恩·切斯基(Brian Chesky)刚刚为爱彼迎(Airbnb)备受期待的挂牌上市做完最后的文书润色工作。他没能去纽约敲响纳斯达克的开市钟,而是在旧金山家里的办公桌前熬了几天(和几夜),在Zoom上努力让他的线上度假短租平台活下去。“就好像你正在以100英里的时速开着车,可是突然得猛踩刹车。”这位爱彼迎的老板回忆道。

This time around Mr Chesky might be luckier. On November 16th Airbnb unveiled its prospectus, putting it on track for an initial public offering (IPO) in December, just as the first doses of the covid-19 vaccine may become available. The IPO could value Airbnb at more than $30bn. The firm’s longer-term prospects are harder to divine.
这一次,切斯基可能会走运些。11月16日,爱彼迎发布了招股书,这让它有望在12月上市,届时可能恰逢第一批新冠疫苗上市。此次IPO对爱彼迎的估值可能超过300亿美元。这家公司更长远的前景却更难窥测。

The vaccine is not the only thing that makes this an opportune time for Airbnb to go public. The window for tech IPOs has not been open this wide since the dotcom bubble 20 years ago. More than 50 tech startups have floated this year, raising a total of $26bn, according to Dealogic, a data provider. Many of Airbnb’s employees want to cash in on the shares they have been awarded before their right to do so expires. And the firm needs money, on top of the $2bn it raised earlier this year to tide it over—hence its decision to scrap earlier plans to list shares directly without drumming up fresh capital.
疫苗并非爱彼迎上市恰逢其时的唯一因素。自20年前的互联网泡沫以来,IPO的窗口还从未对科技企业如此敞开过。数据供应商Dealogic称,今年已有50多家科技创业公司上市,共募集资金260亿美元。许多爱彼迎员工都想在认股权到期前兑现公司奖励自己的股份。而爱彼迎除了今年初筹集的20亿美元之外,也还需要更多钱来渡过难关,因此它决定放弃早些时候不筹集新资本而直接上市的计划。

Mr Chesky has a good recovery story to tell, too. In the painful second quarter the number of nights booked on Airbnb fell to 28m, from 84m a year before. Gross bookings collapsed by two-thirds, to $3.2bn. In the next three months, though, the numbers rebounded, to 62m and $8bn, mainly thanks to what Mr Chesky calls “travel redistribution”. Guests eschewed virus-hit foreign cities, formerly Airbnb’s stronghold, for domestic and rural destinations. Stays less than 500 miles (800km) from home rose by more than 50% this summer.
切斯基也有一个很好的复苏故事可讲。在艰难的第二季度,在爱彼迎上预定的住宿天数从一年前的8400万降至2800万。预定总额暴跌三分之二,至32亿美元。但在接下来的三个月里,这两个数字分别回升至6200万和80亿美元,主要是由于切斯基所说的“旅行再分布”。旅客避开了受病毒侵袭的国外城市这些从前爱彼迎的重要据点,转而选择国内游和乡村游。今年夏天,离家800公里之内的住宿订单增长了超过50%。

Mr Chesky has also made Airbnb leaner. Before the pandemic the firm had sunk money into new businesses, including flights and a television studio, to pad revenues ahead of the listing. Since then his motto has been “back to the roots”. He has fired around 1,800 employees, a quarter of the workforce, shut down most of the new activities and radically cut online advertising (more than 90% of guests now book directly on Airbnb’s site). As a result, though the firm lost $916m in the first six months of the year, it turned a net profit of $219m in the third quarter.
切斯基还让爱彼迎成功“瘦身”。疫情之前,这家公司把资金投入到航班和电视演播室等新业务中,以求在上市前做大营收数字。疫情爆发后,他的座右铭一直是“回归本源”。他裁员约1800人,占到员工总数的四分之一,关停了大部分新业务,并大幅削减线上广告支出(现在超过九成客人都直接在爱彼迎网站上预订)。因此,虽然爱彼迎今年前六个月亏损了9.16亿美元,却在第三季度实现了2.19亿美元的净利润。

Can Airbnb keep this up? Even before the pandemic growth had begun to slow. Once things are back to normal, room for further expansion may be limited, at least in the company’s core market. Bernstein, a research firm, expects annual growth in private rentals to slow to 7-8%, from around 20% in the past few years. And Airbnb’s operating margins lag behind those of its closest rivals, Booking.com and Expedia (which operates VRBO, a site that lists mostly holiday homes).
爱彼迎能把这样的势头保持下去吗?早在疫情之前其增长就已经开始放缓。一旦整体环境恢复正常,它进一步扩张的空间可能有限,至少在它的核心市场是这样。研究公司盛博(Bernstein)预计,私人租赁业务的年增长率将从过去几年的20%左右放缓至7%至8%。而爱彼迎的营业利润率也落后于最接近它的竞争对手Booking.com和亿客行(Expedia,旗下的VRBO网站以提供度假房源为主)。

Airbnb’s future also depends on its ability to police its service and meet a growing list of legal requirements across many jurisdictions where it operates. As with other big online firms, renters have found ways to abuse the platform, for instance by using rental properties for parties; in July police in New Jersey broke up a rowdy event with 700 people. As for regulations, the firm says in its prospectus that by October 2019, 70% of its top 200 cities by revenue had imposed restrictions, such as limits on how many days a year residential properties can be rented out.
爱彼迎的未来也取决于它监督自身服务的能力,以及在它有业务的许多司法辖区满足越来越多法律要求的能力。同其他大型网络公司的遭遇一样,租客已经找到了滥用平台的方法,比如用出租房产举办派对;7月,新泽西州警方驱散了一起700人参与的喧闹的活动。至于规管,爱彼迎在招股书中称,截至2019年10月,在其营收列前200位的城市中有70%实施了诸如限制住宅地产一年可出租天数的规定。

Mr Chesky’s biggest task, however, will be to work out what Airbnb, now entering its teens, should be when it grows up. He has said he would like to see it evolve like Apple or Disney—firms that have adapted over time and outlived their founders. The pandemic has been a setback for its new lines of business. “Either we keep doing new things as the world changes,” he says, “or we stop doing new things—and we won’t exist in the future.” Even if, occasionally, doing new things means sticking to the old ones. ■
但是,切斯基最大的任务将是想清楚目前进入少年阶段的爱彼迎长大后该是什么样。他曾说过希望它像苹果或迪士尼那样进化——随着时间推移不断调整适应,比公司的创始人更长寿。疫情打击了爱彼迎的全新业务。“我们要么在变化的世界中继续做新东西,”他说道,“要么停止做新的——那样的话未来我们也就不存在了。”即便,有时候尝试新事物意味着要坚守旧的。