• Hani W. Naguib

Mentor Journey: What Is Your 90%? The leadership spectrum: Airbnb vs Bird

n the past month, the startup world offered many of us a great lesson on leadership. On one end you have Bird’s leadership model, and on the other end you have Airbnb’s leadership style.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

The world as we know is transforming, and we all know that. That is the 10%. The world is presenting many back-breaking challenges. That is still part of the same 10%. But, what you do about it and how you react to that, that is the 90%.

Those who react to the 10% are the forgettable number-crunching managers and those who leverage the 90% are the impactful, hard to forget leaders.

Show me your 90% and I will show you what kind of leader you are

Bird’s 90%

Bird sent an email to 30% of its employees. The email had a request to attend a zoom webinar but nothing about the purpose of the meeting. As it started, they heard (no video) the sound of a woman that seemed to be reading a script. At the end of this message, which was only two minutes long, 30% of the employees discovered that they were no longer employed at Bird.

They were promised four weeks of payment, three months of health coverage, and an additional twelve months to exercise their stock options.

Bird’s CEO, Travis VanderZanden, (ex-UBER by the way) made a very short statement showing his sympathy and referencing the harsh business conditions as the main reason forcing him to let go of employees.

And that was Bird’s 90%.

Airbnb’s 90%

Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky, was communicating with his employees on a weekly basis with complete transparency, sharing with them the good and the bad news. In his seventh letter, he admits to the harsh reality facing the company. But he also emphasizes company values and how critical they are now more than ever. “When we started Airbnb, our original tagline was, “Travel like a human.” The human part was always more important than the travel part.”

And what they did later transformed those words into unforgettable facts.

They made sure that all the human needs of the departing team members were met: A very generous severance pay, one-year of health insurance, the help of a professional consultancy firm to help them with their career transition and keeping everyone’s vesting options, even the ones who are not eligible.

But that’s not all!

Airbnb will launch a website dedicated to enlisting the CVs and work of all of their ex-employees looking for a new job. They will also help them find jobs by dedicating a team to support them with the search and they will leave them laptops so it can be used to find jobs. Furthermore, every departing team member will be informed of his/her departure personally by a senior member of Airbnb in a one to one meeting.

And that was Airbnb’s 90%.

So far, 2020 has proven to be a very challenging year for both startups and established companies. Yet, I believe there are still more challenges to come, and eventually, you, the CEO, might find yourself presented with the choice to downsize the number of your employees in order for your company to survive. But remember that it is still only the 10%.

You have the choice; the decision to make your 90% a reflection of the human being running the business and not just a manager crunching numbers. Understanding the human aspect as well as the business to your decision can elevate your response from survival on autopilot, to balanced empathetic business decision making. Offer your team members the opportunity to leave with the dignity of successful “alumni” moving forward as opposed to with the stigmatized shameful seal of “fired, non-essential” employees.

And remember this: where on the spectrum of leadership will you lie? Is it Leaning towards Bird’s side or Airbnb’s side? What will your 90% be?

Goodwill and respect.


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