What Airbnb Gets About Culture that Uber Doesn’t

By Arun Sundararajan

Arun Sundararajan

For these new businesses that rely on non-employees to be the face of their nascent brands, nurturing the right platform culture ... is likely critical to their sustained success.

Last week, as Uber battled a media firestorm after a senior executive talked of investigating unfriendly journalists and a company manager actually used its “God View” feature to track the comings and goings of a reporter, Airbnb welcomed more than 1,500 of its most productive providers to its first-ever host convention, an immersive celebration one expert attendee likened to a Mary Kay event. The happy #AirbnbOpen sentiment of gift-wrapped programs, food drives, and a new company logo that doubles as a swing filled my Twitter stream, painting a stark contrast to the cynicism of the dystopian #ubergate tweets.

The contrast was especially striking given that Airbnb and Uber are together inventing a new organizational form: platforms that are firm-market hybrids, supplying branded service offerings without actually employing the providers or owning the assets used in provision. Crucial to their long-run success could be creating an appropriate platform culture — shared norms, values and capabilities among the providers. It’s the analog of an organizational culture, but without the directive authority or co-located social systems that traditional firms can take advantage of to manage their employees. The fact that these two market leaders are using such different approaches provides a useful testing ground for what works and what doesn’t.

Read the full article as published in Harvard Business Review.

Arun Sundararajan is a Professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences, NEC Faculty Fellow, and Doctor Coordinator of IOMS-Information Systems.