Apparently, this is too much for the former facebook exec, inferring that still wanting that amount of control is slightly unreasonable since the founders are already vested for about 90% and the bankrolling is at $1.2B, where their dilution is quite minimal. Mr. Palihapitiya is also implying that handing out huge amount of dividends early in the game is a bad practice for a company as young as Airbnb, sampling the fact that tech giant Apple haven’t issued a single amount of dividend despite the company having more than $75 billion in cash.
Of course Mr. Palihapitiya was quite embarrassed with the leak and “is taking decisive action to address it.” But despite this, Chamad is still hopeful that things might change so that he might still invest in the company. On his recent facebook status, 15 hours ago during this post’s writing:
Lots of activity today regarding my email to Brian at Airbnb. I wanted to say a few things: 1) i'm embarrassed that this is public. 2) I really think the world of Brian and Airbnb which is why i wanted to invest in the first place. 3) I've done 60+ deals without any drama like this and hope this is a small bump in the road for both of us.
Here’s the original email, courtesy of AllThingsD:
Date: Sat, 1 Oct 2011 11:16:05 -0700
To: Brian Chesky
Subject: Airbnb financing…
Cc Marc, Reid, my deal team
Thanks again for giving me the chance to participate in your latest financing. I had a chance to review the docs at length yesterday and I wanted to follow up as, quite honestly, I’ve never seen a deal like this over ~60 investments I’ve done and I’m pretty concerned.
I’m all for getting the best valuation you can, minimizing dilution and maximizing control. We did this brilliantly at Facebook…all of our financings (except our first $$ from Peter Thiel) were done not out of necessity but opportunity. As such, our investors had virtually no control and it resulted in a much better outcome. As we’ve discussed, I generally don’t believe investors add much to a success story and so minimizing their impact is a great strategy when you are onto something that is working.
This said, while several of these concepts are reflected in the current deal, there is one big thing that I am fundamentally against and violates my principles and will prevent me from participating in your round. When I saw that you guys were taking $31M out of the company, I didn’t think much of it as I just assumed it would entirely be via a secondary sale.
But as I understand the deal, it seems that you are doing only $9.6M in secondary and $22.5M as a dividend to common (of which $21M goes to you and your co-founders). I am really uncomfortable with this and don’t think its in the spirit of building a good, long term business. Effectively, it is a strategy that allows you guys to take money out of the business and not dilute yourself — I’m not sure why this is such a big deal when you guys are almost 90% vested and the financing is at $1.2B where your dilution is marginal. Further, it excludes many of the employees that probably have helped you and your co–founders get the company to this place as most of these folks probably don’t have any stock but have unexercised stock options and thus won’t get a dividend.
My basic principle on this stuff is that if you want liquidity, that’s fine, but you should make it available to everyone. Otherwise, no one should get it. Your current deal is the farthest away from this principle that I’ve seen in a while…this strategy has been done once before — at Groupon. We can see how “well” they are doing and how short term the investor community is now viewing their motives. I really think you can do better than this…and that you are better than this.
Separately, when you look at successful tech companies, it seems that dividends are an approach used by cash rich operations to distribute excess earnings — in fact, the most successful, cash rich tech company in the world, Apple, hasn’t issued a dividend and they have more than $75B in cash! Again, while I think Airbnb will be a good company, this is nowhere near the truth now — you guys still need to scale and build this thing for the future.
I really think you are onto something but I would implore you to not take the easy way out. Treat your employees the same as you’d treat yourself. Do things that you will be proud of and can defend to anyone including your Board, employees, prospective hires etc. In such a competitive hiring market, you are competing with not just your obvious competitors, but also any successful tech company who is also looking for great talent. A principle that treats your employees as well as you’d treat yourself is a huge strategy for differentiation, retention and long term happiness of the exact types of people you will need to be successful. In contrast, if you are viewed as self-dealing and shady, it will only hurt your long term prospects…
In summary, I’m passing on this financing because I strongly disagree with what’s going on. I’m not sure who advocated this approach but I did mention this to Reid [Hoffman, another Airbnb investor via Greylock Partners] last night and he was of a similar mind to myself and surprised this was the approach being taken. If you want some good advice — I would ask that you consider pinging him about different ways to think about going about the liquidity portion.
If you change your mind on how to close this financing, let me know and I’d love to reconsider. Otherwise, good luck and lets keep in touch.