Joseph Gebbia Jr.
August 21, 1981
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Education||Rhode Island School of Design|
|Known for||Co-founder of Airbnb|
|Board member of||Rhode Island School of Design, Airbnb, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Tesla, Inc., Samara|
Joseph Gebbia Jr. (born August 21, 1981) is an American billionaire designer and a co-founder of Airbnb. Gebbia is the 286th richest person in the world according to Forbes, with a net worth of $7.9 billion, mostly due to his ownership of 53 million shares of Airbnb.
Early life and education
Gebbia was born August 21, 1981, in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Eileen, an independent health food sales representative, and Joe Gebbia of Italian ancestry. He grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia and has one sister, Kimberly.
As a child, Gebbia was passionate about aesthetic and design, music, and athletics, crediting his parents for their support. He was a ball boy for the Atlanta Hawks. 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.
Gebbia attended Brookwood High School in Snellville, Georgia, where he took classes in ceramics, photography, and jewelry metalsmithing. He also took classes in figure drawing and painting at the Atlanta College of Art on weekends. In high school, he also was a member of the Governor’s Honor’s Program, where he spent a summer taking college-level art courses. There, one of his professors encouraged him to go to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and he spent the following summer taking courses on the campus.
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. 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. 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. Around this time, Gebbia also became inspired by the work of Charles and Ray Eames and switched his studies from painting to industrial design. One of his first design-business ventures was CritBuns—soft, foamy cushions to keep art students’ pants clean during their hours-long critique sessions, known as "crits". He developed the idea at RISD and the design was selected as the senior gift for his graduating class of 800 students. After two years developing his sales pitch and story, the product was featured in I.D. and was sold by many retailers.
In 2005, Gebbia graduated from RISD with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design and Industrial Design. Gebbia took supplementary business-related classes at Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) while attending RISD.
After graduating from RISD, Gebbia moved to San Francisco to work as a designer for Chronicle Books. There, he was the only industrial designer in a company of 200 people who focused on graphic design. He also founded ecolet, a green-design website. His design focus also led to a surge in bookings after Gebbia offered free professional photography services from a community of over 2,000 freelancers.
In 2007, Brian Chesky, his classmate at RISD, moved in with him, and they both quit their jobs to start a company together. That same week, their landlord raised rent by 20%, to an amount they could not afford. Knowing that the Industrial Design Society of America conference was to be hosted in San Francisco and many hotels were fully booked, Gebbia came up with the idea of renting out airbeds in their apartment to conference-goers. They marketed the beds by creating a website called "AirBed & Breakfast” and emailed design blogs to garner interest. They received three bookings and were able to pay their rent to stay in the apartment. In 2008, another of Gebbia's roommates, Harvard graduate and technical architect Nathan Blecharczyk, became the third cofounder.
While struggling to find initial angel investors, Gebbia and Chesky created two boxes of cereals, Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s, to sell online before the 2008 election. 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, and placed the cereal into their boxes. The boxes, which cost $40 each, received coverage from CNN and Good Morning America; Katy Perry auctioned off an autographed box to her fans. The promotion netted Airbnb $30,000; sales were strong at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Impressed by the cereal boxes, computer programmer Paul Graham invited the founders to the January 2009 winter training session of his startup incubator, Y Combinator, which provided them with training and $20,000 in funding in exchange for a 6% interest in the company.
Gebbia helped early hosts present their listings. When the company was struggling to gain traction in New York City, Gebbia and Chesky booked with two-dozen hosts and discovered that many hosts were taking low-quality photos that did a poor job of presenting the listing. They rented a camera and took high-resolution photos of the listings; as a result, Airbnb's revenue in the city doubled and the Airbnb Photography Program was created.
In March 2009, the name of the company was shortened to Airbnb.com, and the site's content had expanded from air beds and shared spaces to properties including entire homes, apartments, and private rooms.
In May 2017, Gebbia launched Neighborhood, a modular designed office furniture business. The furniture was created for Bernhardt Design, a furniture company that has worked with emerging designers. It was launched at the ICFF furniture fair as a part of New York City’s design week. 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. 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.
In July 2022, Gebbia stepped down from his full-time operating role at Airbnb, while remaining on the board of directors in an advisory role.
Samara, formerly a research and development unit of Airbnb established in 2016, became an independent accessory dwelling unit (ADU) startup in 2022. Gebbia announced the launch of its first product in November 2022, a net-zero tiny house called Backyard.
Gebbia has invested in:
- The Helm, a female-founded venture capital fund
- Nebia, designer of shower heads to optimize home water efficiency
- Stark Bank
- In 2022, Gebbia acquired a minority ownership stake in the San Antonio Spurs, joining billionaire Michael Dell and San Francisco-based investment firm Sixth Street Partners as fellow investors.
In 2020, Gebbia served as executive producer on the documentary film Universe, which follows jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney, a protégé of Miles Davis, 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. The film premiered weeks after Roney died from complications of COVID-19, making it one of the very first films portraying the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gebbia also executive produced a documentary titled We Dare to Dream, in partnership with XTR, following the 29-athlete Refugee Olympic Team at the Olympics before, during and after the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Gebbia lives in Austin, Texas, where, in 2020, he bought a 6,000 square foot, $10 million home, designed in the minimalist style. Gebbia has a rescue dog named after the Airbnb logo, Bélo. He attended the 2023 Met Gala with Isabelle Boemeke, adding to speculation that they are in a relationship.
Gebbia is on the board of directors of Airbnb; Airbnb.org, a non-profit foundation; Samara, an accessory dwelling unit startup; the Rhode Island School of Design, his alma mater, as a "term trustee"; and Tesla Inc. He is also a member of The Style Council of Mr. Porter.
Gebbia has an interest in philanthropy, particularly refugee causes and housing support. Gebbia is among the youngest members to join The Giving Pledge committing to give more than half his wealth to philanthropic causes. Gebbia has made donations to service-led companies and projects, including Thorn and Educate Girls.
A former scholarship recipient, in 2014, Gebbia donated $300,000 to his alma mater, RISD, to create an endowed fund that will make the school accessible for students in need of financial assistance. Gebbia is a "term trustee" of RISD.
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. Park was featured on the front page of the style section of the The New York Times following the event.
In 2020, he and his team launched Airbnb.org, a non-profit that enables hosts on Airbnb to house people in times of crisis. Gebbia’s personal donation of $5 million helped start the fund’s efforts to temporarily house refugees and asylum seekers, including 20,000 Afghan Americans in August 2021.
In December 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gebbia made a $25 million donation to benefit two San Francisco charities working to end homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area: Rising Up - Larkin Street Youth Services and All Home.
In May 2022, while Gebbia was the graduation speaker at his alma mater, Brookwood High School, he pledged 22 shares of Airbnb stock to each of 890 graduates, a gift worth a total of $2.1 million.
In February 2023, Gebbia made a $25 million gift to The Ocean Cleanup, the organization's largest private donation to date. The gift expands climate health and ocean sustainability operations across oceans, rivers, recycling, and research. Funds particularly support deployment of the organization's System 03 cleaning technology in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
In February 2023, Gebbia committed to donating $25 million to Malala Fund over a period of five years. Gebbia is on the Leadership Council of the fund. Gebbia traveled with Malala Yousafzai to Kenya and Rwanda to work on girls’ education in refugee camps.
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