Airbnb Says It Plans to Go Public in 2020

SAN FRANCISCO — Airbnb said on Thursday that it planned to go public in 2020, becoming one of the last of a generation of prominent technology start-ups to aim for the stock market, even as some of its brethren have struggled since listing their shares.

The online room rental company gave little detail about when in 2020 it planned to go public, beyond a one-sentence announcement. On Wednesday, Airbnb reported second-quarter revenue of more than $1 billion and said that it had more than seven million listings in 100,000 cities around the world.

When it goes public, Airbnb, valued by private investors at $31 billion, will be one of the most highly valued public offerings to hit the market since this spring, when a rash of hot start-ups, including Uber, Lyft, Slack and Pinterest, listed their shares.

Making a public statement about going public in a particular year is unusual among technology start-ups, which typically keep their plans secret. But Airbnb made the move as it explored offering equity to the “hosts” who list their homes on its site, according to three people familiar with the situation, who declined to be named because the plans were confidential. Under securities law, Airbnb has to unveil its plans to go public before it can offer shares to the hosts.

Airbnb is considering several nontraditional approaches to its public offering, including a direct listing, the people said. In a direct listing, a company lists shares on a public market without raising any additional capital. The method has gained traction in recent years as the streaming service Spotify and Slack, the business software company, have adopted it.

This year, some of the most prominent start-ups — known as unicorns because they were valued at $1 billion and more by private investors — have run into trouble as they tried to reach the stock market or after they went public. The stock prices of the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have plunged, as has the share price of Slack. All of the companies, which are unprofitable, had been hugely hyped on their way to listing their shares.

This week, WeWork, another deeply unprofitable start-up, postponed its initial public offering altogether after a cold reception from investors. The shared office space giant has faced deep skepticism about its business model and corporate governance.

In the past, public market investors have often overlooked the losses of hot tech start-ups, as long as they were growing quickly. But many of the unicorns are maturing, and their growth is beginning to slow. This has raised questions about whether public market investors are missing out on the gains that venture capitalists have experienced.

Airbnb’s public offering will cap off a decade of start-up growth driven by the spread of mobile phones, cheap cloud computing and gig economy workers. The company, founded in 2009, has raised more than $4 billion in venture funding, according to Crunchbase.

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