With this issue of Inc., we close our 35th-anniversary year by honoring one of entrepreneurship's most controversial companies. Editors Kris Frieswick and Jim Ledbetter and writer Burt Helm certainly had a good idea of what they were getting into when they chose Airbnb as company of the year. But they couldn't have foreseen how the story would keep writing itself. Within days, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman said 72 percent of Airbnb's New York City bookings were probably illegal, and one of the largest landlords in New York City asked building managers to turn in any tenants who list on Airbnb. Whatever else you might say about Airbnb right now, you can't say it's under the radar.
The choice of another company would have been less freighted, of course. Neil Blumenthal's masterfully marketed Warby Parker and Ben Kaufman's crowdsourcing pioneer Quirky come quickly to mind. And yet, events made it clear that 2014 was the year of the sharing economy. Or, more to the point, it was the year that the sharing economy got so big that regulators had to strike back.
Choosing Airbnb, the most audacious of the sharing pioneers, was in part our way of siding with the entrepreneurs against the regulators. I have no doubt history will too. Disrupters always face resistance: The movie industry reviled the VCR, the music industry shut down Napster (before embracing the iTunes download model), the rental car industry battled Zipcar (before finally buying it). In America, innovators who make life better for millions eventually tend to overcome incumbents whose main goal is to safeguard their own edge.
In choosing Airbnb, we were not just looking for founders we admire. We were also looking for a company that says something about entrepreneurship this year. Founders Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky, and Joe Gebbia remind you, if you needed reminding, that creative, determined entrepreneurs can improve life for millions (and get rich doing so). But now, their seven-year-old upstart also represents a point in the evolution of every great organization--the point at which it has to stop playing underdog and play like the Big Dog it has become, with all the attendant scrutiny from incumbents, the press, and regulators. In that sense, Airbnb stands in for all the surviving sharing-economy pioneers.
There's no guarantee, of course, that Airbnb will handle the transition successfully. But if it does, it will be more than just the company of our 35th-anniversary year. It will be a company you'll be reading about for many, many anniversaries to come.