When airbnb glided into our lives a few years ago, little did we know that we'd be using it epithetically to explain the business models of other companies. For those who don't know (seriously?), airbnb lets home owners 'rent out' their spare rooms (or entire property) to its users. There's more to it than that, but essentially it makes monetising your spare capacity easy to do on the fly.
Airbnb has grown rapidly, claiming rentals in over 19,000 cities in 192 countries. This has, of course, spawned direct clones (see an interesting article by Fast Company's E. B. Boyd on clones). There were other startups doing the same thing at the same time; airbnb recently acquired one - Crashpadder. There does seem to be a decent market to go after, at least for now.
When writing a business plan, especially the 'elevator conversation' hook, it's usually not a good idea to explain your paradigm in relation to another company's model, i.e. LOVEFiLM would never describe themselves as "the UK's NetFlix" (especially now that NetFlix has arrived in the UK). This would imply that your business model is not unique and merely piggy-backing someone else's success. We are now so familiar with the airbnb concept that the media use it to frame other companies' business models. For example, take ParkatmyHouse. This is a hot, new-ish platform that lets home-owners rent out their empty drive ways, useful for commuters with no office parking and concert goers etc. I've seen numerous articles explaining it as "the Airbnb of parking". The same is true for Comuto, which TNW's Martin Bryant referred to as "airbnb for car journeys". A similar epithet is used for goCarShare. Basically, the peer-to-peer market can be referred to as 'the airbnb for [insert whatever you like]'.
What does all this mean for airbnb? It's obviously tremendously flattering. It's also a mega-opportunity, in my view. The fact that the media and consumers use you to understand your competition is something to leap on. Airbnb should be renting out driveways; garages; seats in cars; seats at dining tables. If they do this in the future; many of their competitors will have no chance.
All this talk has got me thinking. I'm off right now to register a new domain: RoomInMyWomb.com - the "airbnb for surrogacy".