Nathan Blecharczyk: The road trip that helped create Airbnb

CNN StaffPublished 19th November 2015
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(CNN) — What makes a great road trip even better?
Good wheels.
Good tunes.
Great company.
And becoming a dotcom billionaire at the end of the journey.
That's pretty much what happened to tech wunderkind Nathan Blecharczyk when he left his U.S. East Coast home and headed west to hit the stunning Pacific Coast Highway.
Blecharczyk credits the journey he took with partner Elizabeth in 2006 as the key to his startup involvement in accommodation site Airbnb.
"My trip to California definitely changed my life," Blecharczyk tells CNN. "It opened my eyes to a new world."

Child computer prodigy

Different world: The U.S. West Coast.
Courtesy Nathan Blecharczyk/Airbnb
That new world was, of course, Silicon Valley -- the area extending from the southern end of the San Francisco Bay Area that in recent decades has been the crucible of internet entrepreneurship.
Blecharczyk, who has been Airbnb's chief technical officer since it was founded in 2008, was a successful programmer long before he hit the road.
Growing up in Boston, the son of an electrical engineer, he says he taught himself to program at the age of 12.
"In high school I had a business writing software programs," he says. "I made almost a million dollars this way -- it was the basis for my ongoing pursuit of entrepreneurship."
That led him to a degree in computer science at Harvard and, after some backpacking adventures in Europe, to work in the U.S. capital.
It wasn't long before he felt the call of California and the open road.
"I had heard a lot about the West Coast with my interest in entrepreneurship and technology. I heard that's where it all happens, but I actually knew remarkably little ...
"So, we did a road trip from San Diego, through Los Angeles, up through San Jose and to San Francisco, ultimately."
There he met up with friends working at emerging dotcom powerhouses like Facebook and Google who opened his eyes to the possibilities of Silicon Valley.

One week's notice

"My trip to California definitely changed my life."
Courtesy Nathan Blecharczyk/Airbnb
"It was a place that was inspiring to me and I felt that I could really fit in there, in a way I didn't feel in Washington, D.C."
Blecharczyk's journey landed him a job offer and soon he was packing his bags for good.
"Because of this trip and the perspective it gave me, I thought I'd go for it.
"One week's notice -- I packed up all my stuff and was now living in San Francisco."
Once there, pure chance led him to strike up the partnership that would create Airbnb.
"I needed a place to live," Blecharczyk recalls. "I met Joe Gebbia -- my co-founder -- through Craigslist, just by chance.
"Of course, that meeting would allow us later to start Airbnb."

'Embracing the adventure'

Nathan Blecharczyk
Driving to destiny: Airbnb has reportedly made Blecharczyk one of the world's youngest billionaires.
Courtesy Nathan Blecharczyk/Airbnb
Seven years on from the launch of the site, which now advertises stays in two million homes across the planet, Blecharczyk has notched up trips to 42 countries.
He describes his style of travel as "embracing the adventure" -- an experience that's about understanding different cultures.
Despite his extensive travels, he still views his California road trip as the most significant.
"If I hadn't have taken this trip to Silicon Valley, I don't think I would've had the context and the confidence to leave my job in Washington ... and transplant myself over to San Francisco.
"And really it's only because I did, that Joe and I met and would later start Airbnb together, so it's very fortuitous."