Style Council Spotlight: Mr Joe Gebbia

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Style Council Spotlight: Mr Joe Gebbia

Words by Mr Chris Elvidge

22 September 2021

It’s been nearly a decade since Facebook’s mega-IPO sounded the klaxon for the Silicon Valley gold rush. In that time, the image of a successful tech entrepreneur has become fairly well established in the collective consciousness. You know what we mean: child coding prodigy, founded their first company at the age of 14, studied computer science at an Ivy League, dropped out. Mr Joe Gebbia? He doesn’t really fit that description. In fact, none of the above applies to him. But as co-founder of Airbnb, the online holiday rental marketplace that has revolutionised the hospitality industry, he’s as successful a tech entrepreneur as you’re likely to meet.

And that’s just one of his hats. An artist by training, Gebbia is also a philanthropist and chairman of airbnb.org, a not-for-profit that helps people find shelter in times of crisis and whose charitable work extends to initiatives supporting refugee relief, education and empowering future entrepreneurs. On top of that, he’s also one of the youngest members of Messrs Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s The Giving Pledge, a campaign to encourage wealthy people to donate most of their money.

He’s not just a hard man to define, but a hard one to pin down, too, having left footprints all across the US. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, where he majored in graphic design and industrial design, Gebbia’s family hails from Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from RISD in 2005, he made his way to San Francisco, California, where he moved into an apartment with a friend from college, Mr Brian Chesky, with whom he went on to found Airbnb. He has connections to Texas, too. The pilot trial for the company, which back then was called airbedandbreakfast.com, was held at the SXSW festival in Austin, a city that remains close to Gebbia’s heart.

As we introduce Gebbia as the newest member of the MR PORTER Style Council, our directory of the world’s best-connected men, it’s another city that’s up for discussion: New York. “Both sides of my family can trace their history in the United States back to NYC and Ellis Island from the early 1900s,” says Gebbia, who has just spent the summer in the city. “My parents only moved out of NYC to Georgia the year before I was born because my dad got a new job.”

It’s a homecoming of sorts, then, as we welcome Gebbia on board by asking him to share his highlights of the city that never sleeps.

What are your earliest memories of New York?

Every summer, our family would take a road trip from Georgia to NYC – a long drive – to visit family. I always remember the top of the World Trade Center was the first glimpse of the city and it was always so glorious.

What brought you back as an adult?

As an adult, Airbnb brought me back to NYC because early on in the business I would be here meeting with hosts and guests, working towards fostering a community among our initial users. We were lucky enough to have a great initial presence in NYC, people are always traveling here – and we got a lot of local NYC press in Manhattan.

What’s your favourite neighbourhood and why?

NoHo – it combines the best of SoHo and the Lower East Side: the street life of SoHo and the grit of LES.

As a design graduate, what in particular appeals to you about New York?

I’m so attracted to cast iron lofts and old brick work. A good example is the warehouses on Crosby Street.

Over the course of your life, you’ve spent time in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the south. How would you sum up NYC’s sense of style when compared to your other reference points?

Compared to other places I’ve spent time, NYC style never stops. It’s always evolving, eclectic and interesting. It inspires me to keep upgrading my personal style – even while working from home. I still want to look my best behind the Zoom camera.

What are your food and drink highlights in NYC?

Saturdays on Crosby Street, Carbone, Wayan, Frenchette.

What do you carry to the office?

A bottomless inbox, three cups of coffee, great start-up memories, Master & Dynamic headphones and a Porter-Yoshida & Co briefcase.

What to wear – and where