Joe Gebbia

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Joe Gebbia
Joe-gebbia-airbnb-miller-mobley (cropped).jpg
Joe Gebbia in 2021
Joseph Gebbia Jr.

(1981-08-21) August 21, 1981 (age 40)
EducationRhode Island School of Design
OccupationDesigner, entrepreneur
Known forCo-founder of Airbnb
Board member ofRhode Island School of Design, Airbnb, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Samara
WebsitePersonal site

Joseph Gebbia Jr. (born August 21, 1981) is an American billionaire designer and Internet entrepreneur. He is a co-founder of Airbnb,[1] and is chairman of Samara, Airbnb's design studio, and of, the company's non-profit foundation.[2] As of October 2021, his net worth was estimated at US$11.4 billion.[3]

Early life[edit]

Joe Gebbia was born August 21, 1981, in Atlanta, Georgia,[4][5] the son of Eileen and Joe Gebbia.[6] He grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia and has one sister, Kimberly.[6] He pursued sports, music, and art throughout childhood, and worked several jobs including as a ball boy for the Atlanta Hawks.[7]


Gebbia attended Brookwood High School in Snellville, Gwinnett County, Georgia. He graduated in 2005 from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design and Industrial Design.[8][9] It was at RISD that he met Brian Chesky, who would later become his roommate and co-founder of Airbnb. While studying in the Northeast, Gebbia complemented his creative pursuits and studies at RISD with business coursework at Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[10]


After graduating from RISD, Gebbia moved to San Francisco.[11] He convinced his friend and future cofounder, Brian Chesky, to join him in San Francisco to start a company together in 2007.[12] Both quit their jobs to start something together and that very same week, their landlord raised rent by 20%, rendering them unable to afford the apartment.[13] They knew the Industrial Design Society of America conference was coming to San Francisco and many hotels were already fully booked.[14] Gebbia believed they could rent out airbeds in their apartment to conference goers. They marketed this idea by creating a website called "AirBed & Breakfast” and emailed a few top design blogs to garner more interest. They received three bookings and were able to pay their rent to stay in the apartment.[13] In 2008, another of Gebbia's roommates, Harvard graduate and technical architect Nathan Blecharczyk, became the third co-founder.[15]

While struggling to find initial angel investors for Airbnb, Chesky and Gebbia came up with a Hail Mary idea to put the “breakfast” in what they were calling AirBed and Breakfast. They created two Airbnb-branded cereals, Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s, to sell online during the height of the 2008 election fever.[16] They found a small manufacturer in Berkeley who agreed to fabricate 1,000 cartons in exchange for a cut of the royalties. The team bought generic Cheerios and Chex, transplanted the cereal into their own boxes, and hot-glued the tops. The boxes, which cost $40 each, received national coverage from CNN and Good Morning America; Katy Perry auctioned off an autographed box to her fans.[17][18] The promotion netted Airbnb $30,000, enough to keep the company afloat until Paul Graham and Y Combinator decided to invest.[18][19]

Gebbia’s design instincts were essential to helping early Airbnb hosts accurately present their listings.[20] Early on, Airbnb was not getting much traction in New York.[21] So, the team flew out and booked rooms with two-dozen hosts to learn why.[21] They learned users were taking low-quality photos that didn’t represent their space, so they rented a $5,000 camera and snapped high-resolution photos of as many New York host apartments as they could. As a result, Bookings soared.[21]

In March 2009, the name of the company was shortened to, and the site's content had expanded from air beds and shared spaces to a variety of properties including entire homes and apartments, private rooms, and other properties.[22]

In May 2017, Gebbia launched a modular office furniture business called Neighborhood. The furniture was created for Bernhardt Design, a furniture company that has worked with emerging designers.[23]

On December 10, 2020, Airbnb became a public company via an initial public offering, raising $3.5 billion.[24] As of November 2021, Gebbia’s net worth was estimated at US$11.4 billion.[25]

He holds board and advisor roles as a member of the board of directors at Airbnb,[26] a member of the board of trustees at Rhode Island School of Design,[27]

Gebbia is a Mr. Porter Style Council member.[28] He has spoken about his passions for entrepreneurship and impact at the Clinton Global Initiative.[29]


Gebbia has had a longstanding passion for aesthetic and design. He credits his childhood and parents for supporting his well-rounded childhood pursuing art, athletics, and music.[30] Gebbia was known as the “art guy” in grade school when he started his first business selling illustrations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to his classmates.[30][31]

While in high school, he pursued classes including ceramics, photography, and jewelry metal smithing, while taking classes in figure drawing and painting at the Atlanta College of Art on weekends.[32] During high school, he also gained acceptance to the Governor’s Honor’s Program, where he spent a summer taking college-level art courses.[33] There, one of his professors encouraged him to go to RISD, and he spent the following summer taking college art courses on the campus.[33]

In one of his first courses at RISD, Gebbia took a 3D foundations class with a semester-long project aiming to produce 12-inch scale works of a famous artist or designer.[30] Gebbia decided he wanted to create life-size models so he could use them afterwards, but his professor dismissed the idea and told to stick to the achievable.[34] Gebbia set out to prove his professor wrong and produced sixteen full-sized chairs for his final project. He refers to this anecdote as one of several examples that allowed him to transcend beliefs of what was possible and pushed him to redefine his own success. Around this time, Gebbia also became inspired by the work of Charles and Ray Eames and switched his studies from painting to industrial design.[35] He emphasizes the importance of his design background in preparing him for entrepreneurship. One of his first design-business ventures was CritBuns—soft, foamy cushions to keep art students’ pants clean during their hours-long critique sessions (dubbed “crits”). He developed the idea early at RISD and the design was selected as the senior gift for his graduating class of 800 students.[30] Following graduation, CritBuns became a crash-course in entrepreneurship for Gebbia.[36] After two years of persistence and development of his sales pitch and story, I.D. Magazine included CritBuns for their Best of 2006 Issue which created awareness in other countries. Designboom accepted CritBuns into their giftmarts during ICFF, and Tokyo Design Week. Gebbia got CritBuns on the shelves of the prestigious MoMA Design Store.[36] CritBuns was also featured in the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial.[37]

Prior to Airbnb, Gebbia worked at Chronicle Books where he was the only industrial designer in a company of 200 people who had focused on graphic design for over 40 years.[38] In that context, he learned to explain industrial design to others in a way that fits into their world view. He also founded ecolet, a green-design website.[37]

His design instinct and focus also influenced the many successes of Airbnb, leading early on to Airbnb’s surge in bookings after Gebbia ideated offering free professional photography services from a community of over 2,000 freelancers.[39]

In 2017, Gebbia also launched his own collection of modular office furniture, called Neighborhood, at the ICFF furniture fair as a part of New York City’s design week. He created the collection for Bernhardt Design, a furniture company known for working with international and emerging designers.[40] The LEGO-like collection earned featured recognition in publications like Designboom, the first and most popular digital magazine for architecture and design culture, Quartz, Dezeen, and Interior Design.[41] Gebbia supported the newly formed Eames Institute for Infinite Curiosity, aimed at broadening the influence of Ray and Charles Eames through exhibitions from the Eames Collection.[42]

Social impact[edit]

Gebbia has long-established a philanthropic tenure.[24] Refugee relief and housing support are a distinct through-line of Gebbia’s reach.[24] In 2020, he and his team launched, a non-profit that enables hosts on Airbnb to house people in times of crisis.[43] Gebbia’s personal donation of $5 million helped kick off the fund’s efforts around refugees and asylum seekers. has helped to shelter more than 75,000 people in 70 countries displaced by natural disasters, including during tsunamis in Japan, earthquakes in Mexico and wildfires in Canada. Their hosts helped house frontline workers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and are providing temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees in the United States.[44]

In December 2020, Gebbia, dedicated to using his wealth to give back to his community, also made a $25 million personal donation to benefit two San Francisco charities working to eradicate homelessness, Rising Up - Larkin Street Youth Services and All Home. Both organizations aid individuals facing economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[45] Gebbia also has made a personal donation to the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation which was used to redevelop basketball and tennis courts at the Hayes Valley Playground in San Francisco – marrying his passion for design, philanthropy and athletics, becoming one of his favorite projects.[46]

He serves on the Advisory Council for United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees and traveled with the group to Jordan to further educate himself on refugee conditions.[47] He also is immersed in the Malala Fund, a global initiative to promote and finance equal opportunities for learning among women and girls, as an engaged member of the Leadership Council. Gebbia traveled with Malala Yousafzai to Kenya and Rwanda to work on girls’ education in refugee camps.[48]

In 2017, Gebbia brought Yeonmi Park, a North Korean refugee as his guest to the Met Gala to bring attention to the issue of global-refugee security.[49] Park landed on the front page of The New York Times’ style section following the event.[49]

Gebbia is also among the youngest members to join the Giving Pledge, created by Bill and Melinda Gates with Warren Buffett. The group signifies a commitment from wealthy individuals to give more than half of their wealth towards philanthropy.[50] Gebbia has made donations to service-led companies and projects, including Thorn, Educate Girls, Salk Institute Harnessing Plants Initiative, and the TED Audacious Project.[51]

Gebbia sits on the board of trustees of his alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). A former scholarship recipient himself, Gebbia pledged $300,000 to his alma mater RISD to create an endowed fund that will make RISD accessible for talented students in need of financial assistance. [52][53]

On May 25, 2022, Gebbia was the graduation speaker at his alma mater, Brookwood High School, and pledged 22 shares of Airbnb stock to all 890 graduates, a gift worth $2.1 million.[54]

Documentary work[edit]

In 2020, Gebbia served as executive producer on the documentary film “Universe,” which follows gifted jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney, Miles Davis’s protégé, as he convenes an orchestra to perform a rediscovered orchestral jazz suite by Wayne Shorter—written in 1966 for Miles Davis but never before performed.[55] The film premiered weeks after Roney died from complications of COVID-19, making it one of the very first films to be shaped by the 2020’s global pandemic.[55]

Gebbia also executive produced a documentary, in partnership with XTR, following the Refugee Olympic Team at the Olympics before, during and after the 2020 Tokyo Games.[56] The Tokyo Refugee Olympic Team consisted of 29 athletes, originating from 11 countries and residing in 13 host nations.[56]


Gebbia is an investor in female-founded venture capital fund, The Helm.[57] In 2022, Gebbia joined the San Antonio Spurs investor group as its newest strategic partner. In this position, Gebbia is a minority owner, joining billionaire Michael Dell and San Francisco-based investment firm Sixth Street as fellow investors.[58] He is an investor in Nebia.[59]


In 2009, Gebbia was listed in BusinessWeek's Top 20 Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs.[15] In 2010, he was named in Inc. Magazine's Thirty under Thirty, and 2013, he was named in Fortune Magazine's Forty-under-Forty.[60] Gebbia was also named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People.[61] Gebbia is also included in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2021 list of America’s 50 Biggest Charity Donors, alongside Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott, and Michael Bloomberg.[62]

Personal life[edit]

He lives in San Francisco, California and New York City.[53][3] Gebbia has a rescue dog named after the Airbnb logo, Bélo.[63]


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External links[edit]