Business titans Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, and Ken Chenault, chairman and managing director of General Catalyst, took the stage Tuesday at the 2023 TIME100 summit to analyze Airbnb’s success and the type of innovation the business world needs today.
“We need to get back to the basics of what made Airbnb great,” Chenault said at the summit, during a panel moderated by former TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal. “Brian led Airbnb with a great deal of compassion, but also a great deal of decisiveness.”
Chenault’s company, General Catalyst, helps businesses grow and succeed through a framework they call, “responsible innovation,” a process that prioritizes people, transparency, sustainability, and innovating intentionally. A member of Airbnb’s board, he has known Chesky for about a decade. When COVID-19 began and affected the company, causing it to lose 80% of its revenue in eight weeks, Chenault advised Chesky, “this is your defining moment as a leader.”
Drawing on his experience working in the business world in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis, Chenault said what Chesky went through leading Airbnb was “10 times worse.”
The duo also discussed the impact of artificial intelligence on the future of humanity. Chesky said he thinks AI is the most powerful tool ever invented. “[We] might experience a hundred years of change in the next twenty years,” he said. “Every child in the world could have a tutor that’s better than the best teacher you’ve ever had. Imagine if everyone could have access to the most unbelievable medical care that you could ever imagine. It is the ultimate equalizer.”
Chenault said that it’s crucial to find a balance of engagement between the private and public sectors as companies integrate AI technology. “It can close the gap on a lot of inequalities that exist in our society, but it is going to require a new level of cooperation and on the part of companies, a new level of selflessness,” Chenault said. “The government alone can’t do it. The private sector alone can’t do it. No single company can do it.”
The two businessmen delved into the unintended consequences of AI, warning that it’s naive to believe that technology will only be used for good and noting the importance of combating misinformation and verifying identities online.
“As we spend more time connecting with people online, we’re actually not connecting offline in the real world,” Chesky said. “Our Instagram followers aren’t coming to our funeral.”
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