Soon after Taylor Scheftstrom began working for Airbnb she recognized a need for reaching out to Airbnb hosts in the Portland area. Debi Hertert of hostingyourhome.com talks with her about working at Airbnb and Taylor’s efforts to build personal relationships between hosts and Airbnb staff.
Taylor grew up in southern Oregon in a tiny town of Rogue River. She was a sports girl, especially horses, and was interested in travel from when she was young. She traveled to Italy in high school, and at U of O studied photography and political science. And she took several – in her words – “hair brained” trips including one walk across England in a summer of endless rain. They were broke so had bought tourist cartoon maps instead of the real maps, got lost over and over, and eventually all their equipment got destroyed by rain. But she still wanted to travel!
After college, she lived in Turkey for 3 months, and then moved back to Portland. There, a friend who was already working at the new Portland Airbnb office encouraged Taylor to apply. She hired on in September, 2014 just as the office was building out and the service was growing very fast. She was recruited for the Trip Experience team. That team takes calls from hosts who have problems or questions during on-going stays. The answering team might be in Portland or other cities depending on the time of the call.
Now, Taylor does more of the community outreach. She recognized a need for official outreach from Airbnb office to local hosts to bridge the disconnect. It wasn’t happening and she felt it was a need. So she and colleagues came up with the first host dinner at Airbnb in October of 2015. That dinner was the first time the office had officially – but personally – reached out to local hosts. Debi recalled starting the Meetup.com group in November of 2014, on the way to SF, because she wanted to connect with other hosts who were going to the SF Open and there was no way to communicate on the Airbnb platform. Taylor talked about how much progress has been made since then, and Debi complimented her on how great a job she has done in her outreach efforts.
Debi asked Taylor if she has traveled with Airbnb, and the answer is that she loves it. Paris, all over Iceland, SF, Oregon including Allan and Dabney’s lookout tower, other fire lookout in Bend; Washington, a B&B in Palmer Alaska, run by an older man by himself with a full breakfast every day, and British Columbia. Debi asked her if it’s rewarding to see how well it works, and Taylor does love seeing that. She doesn’t mention she works at Airbnb unless it comes up. She likes hearing stories from the hosts she stays with. She also loves the (NPR) Moth story telling event and podcast, and thought it would be cool to have Portland Airbnb hosts also tell stories. So, she organized Host Story dinners at the Airbnb facility. Things can be stressful for the Portland Airbnb employees because they often hear the problems people are having. So these opportunities to hear positive stories from Hosts are fun for them. Debi encouraged her, when she travels and uses Airbnb homes, to let hosts know she works for Airbnb. Debi loves it when Airbnb employees stay with her, feeling like it is a compliment that they chose her space.
Officially, Taylor is the Airbnb Portland community point of contact. She works on community events, works with Dave Mathews on mobilization efforts, and brings together Hosts and guests to join employees in citizenship efforts. And lately, she has been trying to connect hosts with local small businesses. An example of Host outreach is Portland’s new Biketown rental system – Taylor has been contacting Hosts and organizing free informational rides where the Biketown rep comes and teaches the Hosts how they and their guests can use the system. It is really great because Hosts don’t need to own bikes.
Debi asked Taylor about job flexibility, and Taylor said if you have a good idea that you are really excited about, you can make it happen. It is a really cool part of working there. She still works part time with the Trip Experience team. Deb describes the office building and how cool it is – Taylor said all the rooms are employee-designed, like the “Ship Room” that this interview is taking place in. Employees came in one night and set it all up. It is a fun-loving environment. The building is an open plan and you can work on a different floor, lounge on a couch, use one of the meeting nooks or whatever. There are shift schedules with people coming and going at different times, and there are many little “landing rooms”, and “listing rooms” which are based on a listing the team likes somewhere in the world and recreates it for their team meeting spot. Taylor said they are now going to build out the 4th floor and there will be 20+ listing rooms overall. They talked about the themed ladies rooms and how fun they are.
Debi’s daughter and others are jealous of their friends who work at Airbnb, often because of the food! Taylor is super complementary of their food program and told Debi about how hard the team works on sourcing locally and ethically. The Food Service Team makes it a goal, not only to serve healthy and delicious food, but at the same time to economically support local agriculture and farms. “Our Table” in Sherwood, Oregon is one cooperative they support and buy food that is ethically and locally sourced. It’s a small farm cooperative, really focused on the local community.
Debi asked Taylor about challenges at work. Taylor said it’s hard because the company has grown so quickly. The service has become so popular that you are always playing catch up. All the team members want Hosts and guests to get it, and sometimes feel bummed if they can’t get it perfect. They all believe in the mission (and, she notes, millions of other people do as well), so when it isn’t perfect, they often feel stressed.
Debi asked Taylor about living here without a car. How does that work for her? Taylor said her fiancé Patrick has a car, but she bikes to work and has always hated car commuting. Taylor said she still meets local hosts for the first time and really wants all area Hosts to know that she is interested in meeting them and building up communications. She can’t give her email out but listeners who want to contact her can go through Debi via firstname.lastname@example.org .
Debi mentioned frustration that people have, not being able to find an email address or a phone number for Airbnb. Taylor says it is hard to find the number on the website, because the system wants to answer phone calls for people who are really in a bind. But she says the phone number is always on the booking so you can find it there. And you can go to past trips, and find it. The number is 415-800-5959. The toll free number is 855-424-7262, (855-4-Airbnb). And you can always just Google the Airbnb customer service number. There is a special number for Superhosts (note that if you dial that number and are not a Superhost, you will eventually get disconnected L )
Be sure to see information about the farm cooperative “Our Table” at http://www.ourtable.us/