Airbnb Competitor Roomorama: ‘We Don’t Want to Trade Security for Volume’

Airbnb's reputation.

The story of the Airbnb user whose apartment was burglarized and trashed by an Airbnb renter continues. A blog post written by the victim, “EJ,” took a month to hit the internets–but once it did, it hit big, prompting Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to write a response on TechCrunch yesterday to say that he was in close contact with the victim and the police and that with Airbnb’s help, a suspect was in custody.

Bullshit, EJ wrote in an update on her blog yesterday, responding to Mr. Chesky line by line. Someone was apprehended a month ago, she writes, but he or she was “transferred to a neighboring jurisdiction for prosecution of previous crimes, and no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case within San Francisco County. If this has changed and Chesky’s statement is in fact true, I have not been made aware by city officials.”

“We have been in close contact with her ever since, and have worked with the authorities to help find a resolution,” Mr. Chesky wrote.

EJ’s answer:

“If the ‘her’ he is referring to is me, then the first part of this statement is false (the second I cannot attest to). During the first week of my nightmare, the customer service team at Airbnb was – as I stated in my June 29 blog post – helpful, caring and supportive. In particular, one customer service manager – and the company’s freelance photographer – were wonderfully kind to me, and both should know how grateful I am.

On June 29 I posted my story, and June 30 thus marks the last day I heard from the customer service team regarding my situation. In fact, my appointed ‘liaison’ from Airbnb stopped contacting me altogether just three days after I reported the crime, on June 25, for reasons that are unknown to me. I have heard nothing from her since.

I blogged my story, and all these kind and supportive people just … disappeared.”

But the most damning part of this update: EJ claims an Airbnb co-founder called her after seeing the blog post last month and asked her to take it down because the company was raising a round of funding.

“During this call and in messages thereafter, he requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a ‘twist’of good news so as to ‘complete[s] the story.'”

Obviously, she didn’t, and since then, she received “occasional contact regarding my situation, his messages directed primarily at my blog post and its activity on Twitter.”

Airbnb has reached out to EJ and is waiting for a response, Mr. Chesky wrote on Hacker News today. EJ noted that “a second co-founder did email me for the first time around 2am yesterday, suggesting we meet for coffee as he ‘would enjoy meeting’ me. He made no inquiry into my current emotional state, my safety or my well being.” Neither of the co-founders she spoke to were Mr. Chesky, she said.

As Airbnb continues to make itself look worse, Betabeat received an email from New York-based Airbnb competitor Roomorama, founded and bootstrapped by Jia En Teo and Federico Folcia, who started renting their apartment out to short-term visitors and turned it into a business in January 2009. The site lists 1,520 properties in New York.

Roomorama requires guests and hosts to email a scanned photo ID to confirm the name on the credit card in order to make a booking, Ms. En Teo said, and she believes this simple extra step has deterred a lot of users–honest ones as well as thieves–which is fine with her.

“We do lose people that way,” she said. “But in the long run it is much better because we’re getting ony the hosts who will take the time to address guest concerns and guest questions.”

Roomorama had an issue with a thieving guest, she said, but they caught it early, jumped on it right away and got the police involved.

“Personally, we take a lot of pride in making sure that we’re providing that kind of support to our users,” she said.

If she were in Mr. Chesky’s shoes, she said, “the way we would handle it is we take this kind of thing very seriously and try to respond as quickly as possible” to make the host happy. Roomorama has a customer service line open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time and a 24-hour email service line, manned by a team of four.

It’s a lot of work, she said, but she’d rather the service be smaller and more exclusive than huge and unregulated. “We don’t want to trade off security for volume,” she said.

“Roomorama and marketplaces like ours are supposed to be one notch above the wild, wild West of Craigslist,” she said.

Roomorama’s security measures aren’t overwhelming, but it’s an interesting contrast to the $1 billion-valued Airbnb, which performs no identity checks. “We make no attempt to confirm, and do not confirm, any user’s purported identity,” the terms of services says.

The harrowing story of the Airbnb user EJ prompted Ms. En Teo to reach out to her competitors in order to set a precedent for sharing information about sketchy users, so if she gets a report about misbehavior she can send an alert to get him or her banned from other sites. Incidents like this hurt the entire market as well as individual users, she said.

Meanwhile, Airbnb has not responded to Betabeat’s request for comment.

ADDITION: A commenter below points out, the free version of Airbnb, has a verification system for hosts–you donate some money to Couchsurfing, and they send a postcard to your mailing address with a code, which you then enter on the site to verify your address. Couchsurfing employs several levels of verification–users post testimonials about each other (a la Friendster) and are required to fill out a long form with information about their interaction in order to do so; power users can “vouch” for other users, a high-level seal of approval, and once a user has three “vouches” he or she can then vouch for others; and verification, which is the address confirmation system.

Airbnb Competitor Roomorama: ‘We Don’t Want to Trade Security for Volume’