Airbnb, the company that disrupted the hospitality industry as Uber did to taxis, is sidling up to the fintech space.
The San Francisco company, which allows people to rent spare rooms in their homes to travelers, has "acqui-hired" a team of bitcoin and blockchain experts from the micropayments startup ChangeCoin. Airbnb, whose user base passed 17 million last summer, is bringing over the majority of ChangeCoin’s staff to join its engineering team and work on building its infrastructure, a spokeswoman for AirBnB confirmed Wednesday. She did not disclose terms of the deal or indicate how many employees are affected.
ChangeCoin could not immediately be reached for comment. The small fintech company runs a well-known service among users of the digital currency bitcoin called ChangeTip, which allows users to send micropayments over social media networks like Twitter and Reddit. It has raised $5 million in venture capital since its inception in 2014.
"We are thrilled to bring some members of the ChangeTip team on as a part of Airbnb," the spokeswoman said. "We are not acquiring the assets of the company, nor do we have any plans to incorporate bitcoin into the AirBnB ecosystem."
Airbnb's motivation for recruiting the team is unclear, but it may have to do with using blockchain technology to build identity and reputation systems. Trust is an increasingly important issue for companies in the sharing economy; Airbnb hosts, for example, are welcoming strangers into their homes. In 2013 Airbnb introduced Verified ID, a service to increase the trust in new guest accounts that didn't have recommendations. Today it offers eight ways to verify identity.
The company has been exploring other bitcoin and blockchain companies, according to the news site Quartz, which first reported the hiring. Blockchain technology could help Airbnb build a single identity verification system for its network of hosts and guests and improve transparency about their identities, engagement and transactions — goals that its co-founder, Nathan Blecharczyk, spoke about in general terms last month.