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Airbnb Hire of ChangeTip Staff Sparks New Interest in Bitcoin and Blockchain for IoT

Airbnb has “acqui-hired” the majority of the team behind ChangeCoin, the blockchain company that developed the social Bitcoin tipping service ChangeTip, Quartz reported last week, citing “four people with knowledge of the deal” as sources.

“Acqui-hired” refers to hiring the key staff of a company in block, as opposed to purchasing the company and its intellectual property. 

ChangeTip, the flagship service developed by the ChangeCoin team, offers a fast and simple way to show appreciation with a Bitcoin micropayment via the main social networks. ChangeTip went viral soon after launch and was considered a Bitcoin killer app, which allowed the company to raise $3.5 million in venture capital in 2014. However, the company continued to struggle and, according to the sources mentioned by Quartz, had to put its intellectual property and software up for sale.

"We are thrilled to bring some members of the ChangeTip team on as a part of Airbnb and joining the engineering team working on building our infrastructure,” an Airbnb spokesperson told International Business Times. "We are not acquiring the assets of the company, nor do we have any plans to incorporate Bitcoin into the Airbnb ecosystem."

Airbnb, founded in August 2008 and headquartered in San Francisco, is a peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace for temporary lodging that connects hosts and customers all over the world. The service is especially popular with cost-conscious tourists or visitors who need accommodation for a brief stay. In 2015, Airbnb raised $1.5 billion in funding led by growth equity firm General Atlantic. Airbnb’s business model, based on collecting fees from hosts, is similar to Uber’s.

The “people as a service” business model of Uber and Airbnb has proved disruptive and spectacularly successful with providers and consumers alike, and threatened established service providers such as hotels and taxi companies. Despite the many regulatory attacks based, for example, on the employment status of Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts, it seems consumers want services like Uber and Airbnb, which, therefore, are likely to continue growing.

The official Airbnb statement seems to mean that Airbnb has no immediate plans to accept Bitcoin payments, which seems plausible since the company is often under regulatory fire for other reasons and, therefore, probably wants to keep things quiet on this front.

However, Airbnb has reasons to be interested in the blockchain technology upon which the Bitcoin network is based. 

“I think that, within the context of Airbnb, your reputation is everything, and I can see it being even more so in the future, whereby you might need a certain reputation [in] order to have access to certain types of homes,” said Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk in a recent interview with CityAM, in response to a question about Airbnb’s eventual plans to use distributed ledger technology to build trust in its network.

“But then the question is whether there’s a way to export that and allow access elsewhere to help other sharing economy models really flourish,” said Blecharczyk. “We’re looking for all different kinds of signals to tell us whether someone is reputable, and I could certainly see some of these more novel types of signals being plugged into our engine.”

That seems to indicate that Airbnb is looking beyond Bitcoin payment and hiring blockchain talent to prepare for next-generation applications of distributed ledgers, such as reputation systems and smart contracts. These “Bitcoin 2.0” applications are critical to “people as a service” business models such as those of Airbnb and Uber, centered on reputation and automatically executing agreements.

In November, Bitcoin Magazine reported that Slock, a German startup specializing in blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, will sell smart locks linked to the Ethereum blockchain, which can be unlocked automatically on payment for a rental car or house. Smart-lock technology could decentralize the sharing economy, empowering anyone to easily rent, share or sell anything that can be locked, which means disrupting the disruptors, including companies such as Airbnb and other intermediaries based around some form of physical access. 

“I use [Uber and Airbnb] and appreciate the progress they are making in bringing awareness to the sharing economy, but I would prefer a system that would allow me to deal directly with the owner without any third parties skimming off the top,” said Slock’s co-founder Christoph Jentzsch. 

International Business Times mentions speculation that Airbnb’s interest in blockchain technology could have been stimulated by Slock’s automated lock technology. It seems likely that Airbnb will consider blockchain-based plans to continue as one of the disruptors ‒ instead of becoming one of the disrupted.

Giulio Prisco

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