Growth, Local

Airbnb to launch Australian site as Ashton Kutcher buys in

Michelle Hammond /

Local tech entrepreneur Matthew Ho has become the first Australia-based hire of travel web service Airbnb as the US-based parent company reportedly prepares to close a $100 million funding round, and US actor Ashton Kutcher invests a “significant amount” in the business.

 

Airbnb, based in San Francisco, was founded by Brian Chesky in 2008. It works as a travel network by pairing travellers seeking a unique experience with locals willing to rent out their homes for a fee.

 

US tech news site TechCrunch says Airbnb is in the process of closing a $100 million round of funding, led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which could raise the company’s valuation to more than $1 billion.

 

According to the company, Ashton Kutcher has invested a significant amount of money into the start-up and will join the team as a strategic advisor as the company furthers its international expansion.

 

“He will be working alongside the founders on strategic branding initiatives and to leverage our social media presence to build the company’s global presence,” Airbnb spokersperson Emily Fields Joffrion says.

 

While Airbnb is not the first start-up Kutcher has invested in, it’s believed to be the largest investment he has ever made.

 

In the last few years, Kutcher has gained attention as an active investor in the tech start-up world, pouring money into numerous companies including Foursquare. Kutcher’s investment in Airbnb could spark new interest in the company and propel it further forward.

 

Airbnb, which launched via American seed-stage start-up funding firm Y Combinator, has raised just $7.8 million to date.

 

But the service has exploded, growing more than 800% in 2010 and booking 1.6 million stays in other people’s homes to date. On any given night in New York, there are more people staying in homes via Airbnb than there are rooms in Manhattan’s biggest hotel.

 

The company has a presence in more than 180 countries, including more than 1,000 properties across Australia. Fields Joffrion says the Australian market is “an important focus for us”.

 

According to Ho, the company already has an “amazing” community here, so he will focus on signing up new properties and new users.

 

“As we grow, it is our trusted community that makes Airbnb the leading marketplace for discovering and listing unique spaces all over the world,” Ho wrote on online start-up forum Silicon Beach Australia.

 

“We will continue to innovate and bring our community better ways to connect with people across the globe. We recently launched Airbnb social connections, our award-winning iPhone app and have some exciting plans for the Australian market.”

 

Ho’s idea for a language game recently took out top honours at Melbourne’s inaugural Startup Weekend.

 

The game, called Mandarin Madness, helps English speakers learn Mandarin by challenging them to match characters with the visual representation of their meaning.

 

It’s anticipated that Mandarin Madness will launch within two months on the iPhone, to be followed by other language apps.

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