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.