Airbnb co-founder got start in metro Atlanta

Gwinnett art student + great idea = billionaire
Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia is a graduate of Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County. (Singapore Press via AP Images)


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Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia is a graduate of Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County. (Singapore Press via AP Images)


A Gwinnett County high school graduate is about to become one of the next tech startup billionaires.

Airbnb, co-founded by Joe Gebbia Jr., is expected to begin trading Thursday on Nasdaq. The Wall Street Journal reports shares are expected to sell for between $56 to $60, which would put the company valuation around $40 billion. Gebbia, who grew up in metro Atlanta and lives in San Francisco, owns 14.1% of the company, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents.

The public share offering is just in time for Gebbia’s father, Joe Sr. He will finish his second term as a Brookhaven city councilman next year and step down. He’ll soon have some free time and knows how he wants to spend it.

Gebbia Jr. signed on with Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to commit much of his wealth to philanthropy.

“I’ve shared with him some very passionate idea categories that need to be attended to,” Gebbia Sr. said. “I look forward to working with him in that endeavor.”

Joe Gebbia Sr. helped push Brookhaven to develop and open the Peachtree Creek Greenway as a council member and mayor pro tem. His son, Joe Gebbia Jr., is one of the founders of Airbnb. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)



The younger Gebbia has told the story of the founding of Airbnb many times. He was living in San Francisco in late 2007 when a landlord hiked his apartment rent 25%. He and roommate Brian Chesky scrambled to come up with some quick cash. As an artist and designer, Gebbia knew a design conference was coming to town and that hotels were booked. So he and Chesky threw together a quick website promising a clean, safe place to sleep on air mattresses for $80 a night.

Three people signed up. The idea was born.

“And I’ll never forget saying goodbye and watching the door click closed. And thinking with Brian, wait, what if we made this possible for other people?” he told NPR in a 2016 interview. Chesky became Airbnb’s co-founder, along with friend Nathan Blecharczyk.

Those air mattresses were left over from father-son campouts.

“That was my first investment in the company,” Gebbia Sr. said.

But the family’s real down payment was in art classes for Gebbia Jr.

A Gwinnett County 9th-grade teacher discovered Joe Jr.’s bent for art and encouraged the Gebbias to continue enrolling Joe Jr. in art classes. They did. Two years later, when Joe Jr. told them he wanted to go to an art school, Joe Sr. — worried about his son making a living — thought: “Oh my God. What did we do here?”

Gebbia Jr. graduated from Brookwood High School and went to Rhode Island School of Design, where he majored in industrial design and graphic arts. His father said he was always a high-level thinker. He put that creativity to use.

“The boys changed the world and are continuing to change it. We are very proud of them,” Gebbia Sr. said.

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