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Archive for December, 2013

Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal: HomeAway’s Trademark Infringement Suit Against AirBnB

Homeaway sues AirBnB for trademark infringement

News of HomeAway’s trademark-infringement lawsuit against AirBnB has left many customers of both companies wondering what to think about the whole thing.

“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal.” This famous saying, most often attributed to Pablo Picasso, pretty much summarizes how the creative process works in any media. And Silicon Valley is no different.

If you’re good enough at making high-quality copies, people will admire you for your skillset. You will earn some respect and even a decent amount of money. Still in all, it doesn’t matter how good the replica is. It will be overshadowed by the original creation.

A creative genius, Picasso was never interested in copying things. His creative process began with ideas from others, which once absorbed, took on a new life in his own image, and on a different scale.

Oftentimes, these ideas came to him via the great masters, and sometimes from his fellow artists. Throughout his career, he mastered his “art of stealing” like no one else.

While a teenager, Picasso became fascinated by the work of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. This resulted in a series of works that made the originals look pretty outdated. One of Picasso’s greatest contributions to the art world, Cubism, was also influenced by Ingres.

Turkish Bath Picasso vs IngresTurkish Bath by Ingres (1862) – left and by Pablo Picasso (1907) – right

This is how things get done in the realm of genius. Ideas inspire great artists to create a new art form that didn’t exist before, and is often regarded as revolutionary.

Whether you borrow or steal in the world of business, the consequences are vastly different.

On December 16, 2013, AirBnB launched a new advertisement campaign, “Home to You.” The Home to You ad campaign centers around a video showing artisans recreating 50 Airbnb vacation rental listings in the form of miniature birdhouses.

Yes, birdhouses. This is what all the fuss is about.

Here’s how AirBnB describes the idea behind the movie on their YouTube channel:

No creatures on earth travel quite like birds do. They soar the skies, then land in new places. They see the world from a different perspective, one to which all real travelers aspire. This film is a celebration of our passion for travel and the kind of hospitality that makes people feel at home anywhere.

How could a story like that not touch the soul of an aspiring traveler?

But, apparently, it can also touch a copyrighted image: the “Birdhouse Mark” which happened to be a protected trademark of AirBnB’s biggest competitor, HomeAway, Inc. HomeAway’s logo prominently features a birdhouse, and the company uses birdhouses as its sort of “mascot.”

According to HomeAway’s argument, Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of AirBnB, paid multiple visits to HomeAway’s headquarters in Austin, Texas. This said, it’s probably safe to assume that the giant birdhouse replica in the middle of their headquarters didn’t pass unnoticed.

Birdhouse by HomeAway in their headquarter

We will leave it up to history to determine whether AirBnB’s national campaign is a complete steal or just borrowing. It certainly visualizes an especially poetic perspective on travel.

One thing, though, is crystal clear to Brian Sharples, CEO and Chairman of HomeAway.

“We do believe it is a fairly deliberate attempt to confuse the marketplace,” Sharples has said. Chesky “has been to our downtown offices several times. He has stepped into our giant birdhouse. I don’t think that anyone could argue that this was a mistake on their part.”

So, what now?

Should we consider it as a formal announcement of the war between two competitors? Was HomeAway fed up with AirBnB breaking more and more into the market for traditional vacation rental homes?

Although they are clashing over the same market niche, HomeAway and AirBnB are very different animals when it come to their respective cultures, founders, and backers, and the demographics of their hosts, guests, founders, and even haters.

It’s even safe to say that AirBnB and HomeAway are completely opposites any way you look at them. This is what makes this clash so fascinating.

Let’s look back at the history of two companies and try to understand what may arise from this.

HomeAway, Inc, nowadays a publicly traded company under the AWAY ticker, was founded in 2005 by Brian Sharples and Carl Shepherd. Within six years,  they managed to bring the company to its IPO, generating a sixfold return on investment (based on the post-IPO figures).

Their runaway success was mainly attributable to a clever way of cherrypicking and acquiring market leaders in the vacation rental industry around the globe, and monetizing their existing customer bases.

Some of HomeAway’s most notable acquisitions included VRBO.com and VacationRentals in the US, Arbitel.fr in France, and about twenty additional websites in different time zones, languages and hemispheres, the most recent being the Australia-based Stayz, for $198M. HomeAway often called themselves a startup, but it’s pretty unusual for a startup to begin operations with $49M on hand, with another $500M deposited by VCs within the first couple of years of operation.

AirBnB was founded in 2008, by two designers,Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, and an engineer, Nathan Blecharczyk. For a few months they tested out the idea of renting an airbed in their San Francisco loft to conferencegoers. Packaged with a small meal, the accommodation was dubbed  Airbed and Breakfast (later shortened to AirBnB). They made a few attempts to replicate this model in other cities, but that didn’t help with their flat revenue graph.

Forced to think outside of the box as their fledgling company struggled to become profitable, the founders began to offset their losses by selling repackaged cereal as “Obama O’s” and “Captain McCain’s.” The cereal story, a hit during the 2008 election, later became a trigger point for Paul Graham to take these guys seriously. In the winter 2009, the founders were invited to participate in YCombinator, one of Silicon Valley’s first and most respected startup accelerators. From this very moment, AirBnB’s growth was phenomenal. The amount of funding they attracted over the course of couple of years reflects their rapid market expansion. Starting from the $20K coming from the YCombinator fund, they quickly accumulated $326M in funding from their first tier investors and celebrities. Being pioneers of the shared economy, they inspired a lot of controversy, viral press, and tidal waves of support from all around the globe. It’s fair to mention that over time the website became for some a reliable source of income—and for others, some sort of a travel religion. People started referring to AirBnB’s brand as a foundation of a new phenomena: the shared economy. Inspired by their success, dozens of other startups adopted their business model to different markets: AirBnB for CarsAirBnB for Dogs, you name it! Finally, the AirBnB founders came up with their own new version of AirBNB … for birds.

BirdBnB.com became their first national ad campaign calling for bird houses. Notably, the campaign cost AirBnB no less than $2M.

“We promise you’ll never look at birdhouses the same way — and if you stay in one of these remarkable homes around the world, you may never look at travel the same way again too,” the website states. (At the time of this article, BirdBnB.com is redirecting to the main website AirBnB.com)

This is where their march has been stalled by a lawsuit from HomeAway.

Homeaway Birdhouse logo

“Defendant and HomeAway target and provide services to an overlapping class of Travelers for their respective services, through overlapping channels of trade,” the HomeAway suit states. “On information and belief, Defendant, has long targeted the tenants in landlord owned apartments in major cities (such as New York, Paris, San Francisco, Berlin, etc.) as its major supplier of listings.”

“However, Defendant [Airbnb] has recently increased its efforts to attract business in traditional vacation rental markets (such as the Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountains, Provence and Tuscany), in which HomeAway has long been well-established.”

Embedded in the culture of HomeAway, Sharples said, is the birdhouse logo, designed by downtown Austin advertising firm McGarrah Jessee and chosen “because it symbolizes what we do.”

AirBnB’s creative genius has served them pretty well on many occasions. It will be interesting to see how things will unfold this time.

Shall we expect an open-field battle between competitors, a massive settlement or M&A talk?

What are your thoughts on this?

6 Vacation Security Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Vacation is fun! Is there a place for horror story?Vacations are all fun and games! At least, they should be. But we’ve all heard the horror stories—train bandits, lost passports and general travel fails. While you really never know what’s around the corner, there are a few precautions you can take to keep that mystery fun and adventurous rather than devastating and dangerous. Learn from the best and the worst of us: here are six vacation security mistakes and a few ways to prevent them from happening.

1. The Wandering iPod, and Other Tales

The world is full of very good, very professional thieves. Writer and traveler Ali Osworth recalls her experience with a pickpocket when she was living in Paris – she hung her jacket over the back of her chair while having coffee with a friend, and she left all her stuff in her pockets. Luckily she turned around just as the man sitting at the table behind her was lifting her iPod, and, with lightning-quick reflexes, stole it back from him! And though that makes for a great story, hindsight says the entire situation could have been avoided if she’d kept her stuff on her person the entire time, instead of letting it all hang out. Other things can happen when your vitals aren’t with you as well – artist Matt Cosby drove to Montreal for a music festival and locked his keys in his car — along with his wallet, cell phone, luggage, computer, everything but the multi-colored, crazy-person festival clothes on his back. Luckily the lovely folks of Montreal procured him a place to sleep while he waited for his early morning locksmith appointment, and — thanks to a nice note he left — his car didn’t get towed. But all of that could have been avoided by keeping his wallet, phone, and, yes, those wayward keys in an under-the-clothes money belt. For good measure, toss in your passport, a list of important phone numbers and addresses (don’t forget your country’s embassy!), some disaster/locksmith cash and a few coins (in case you need to locate one of those ole-timey pay phones).

2. Night Moves

When you’re sleeping on a train, you’re a sitting duck for someone to sneak up on you and take your possessions. The closer you keep your stuff (like in that under-the-clothes money belt), the harder that thief is going to have to work to get your things while you’re asleep. But train robbers, organized and very experienced train robbers, do exist. An anonymous study abroad student fell asleep in her seat on an overnight train, thinking it would be fine as she’s a light sleeper. But experienced something that many consider to be an urban legend – the next day, she woke up feeling like her head was full of cotton. All of her stuff was gone – camera, money, passport. Luckily for her, the thieves did leave the rest of her train tickets, so she was able to get back home. When she reported this to the authorities, she realized she wasn’t the only victim – a compartment of six people next to her experienced the same thing, and she was told by police that robbers sometimes use chemical assistance to make sure their targets remain in their out-cold state. Strength in numbers obviously wasn’t a deterrent, but police told her that compartments that lock and are made for sleeping are victimized less. The lesson learned from this study abroad student? Spring for a couchette (often six beds per locking compartment) if you’re in a group, or a private sleeping compartment if you’re alone. It’s more comfortable to sleep laying down, and MUCH more comfortable to wake up not in a chemical fog.

3. Scammers Gonna Scam

Ever been admiring the Eiffel Tower when suddenly you are tapped on the shoulder and asked if this is your gold ring? Does it take you a second to remember you don’t own a gold ring? It feels like for every traveler that exists there is a unique scam story – from “you broke my thing” to “wait, you thought this was free?” to “no, that’s the correct change,” it feels like there’s a million of them out there. Blogger Lehua Gray is an experienced traveler, but she had just landed in Turkey when something tested her adventuring acumen. “I handed the taxi driver a 50. He took it, then immediately handed me back a 5 and claimed that I had really given him a 5.” Unable to prove her story—or argue in Turkish—she had to swallow the loss. Scammers can scam, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them! “I should have declared “Here’s a 50!” while handing it over, and made sure I held onto it for a moment while it was exchanging hands,” explains Gray. If someone accuses you of breaking something, ask for proof. And if someone tries to hustle you out of money, you can always make a scene and melt into the crowd.

4. Lost In Translation

You don’t want to strike up a conversation with one of those scammers either, and it’s easy to accidentally do that when you look lost and ask some random people for directions. While it’s true that the vast majority of people you meet when you’re traveling are wonderful, there are also those who are looking for an easy target. Writer Eddie Nicalou was “totally lost in Madrid, with a 13:44 train to Toledo I was already running late for. I whipped out my map in the middle of a public square, stared at it slack-jawed, and started asking random passers-by where I was. A friendly local was happy to have a nice long conversation about where I was going — and his buddies were happy to rummage through my backpack while I was distracted.”

Plan ahead and carry along maps that make sense to you (yes, paper maps, something that doesn’t rely on charged batteries). If you have to ask for directions, ask a professional — someone working at the train station or airport, or someone working in a shop or restaurant. You’ve also got a better chance of finding someone who knows the area if you grab someone who is clearly comfortable there, like a bus depot worker.

5. Who Ya Gonna Call?

Probably not the Ghostbusters — unless you’re staying in a haunted castle in Scotland. If you’ve got an emergency when you’re abroad, you’ll probably need to contact that country’s police force or EMTs. But every country has a different way to respond to emergencies — did you know that in France when you’re injured, you call the fire fighters (les pompiers) even when your injury isn’t fire-related? So if you fall down the stairs at a restaurant and put your hand through a ceramic vase on the next landing, you’ll get stitches faster if your first call is to the pompiers. Pop quiz, how do you make that call? Don’t know? Supposing you do have a vacation security breach, getting in contact with the right emergency response as quickly as possible can improve the outcome and help bring your vacation enemy to justice! Do your research before you leave, or download an app like Help Call ($2.99).

6. Home Sweet Home

You want to stay in that haunted castle in Scotland, not return to a horror show. Protect your own personal castle while you’re away by keeping your whereabouts off of social media — yes, we know it’s hard, but you should be out enjoying your experiences anyway, not tethered to your phone! Letting the wide world know you’re away from home is a surefire way to invite a burglar in. Ask a neighbor to look in on your house, bring in your mail, and water your plants — that’ll make your house look occupied, even when it’s not (pro tip: bring sweets, wine and other delicious treats back as a thank you!). And don’t forget to install a home security system that can alert your local police to a security breach while you’re as far away from local as you can possibly be.

Have any travel horror stories? Share in the comments!

This guest post was written by Kevin Raposo,  a blogger for SimpliSafe Home Security Systems. He likes to feed the ducks in the local pond of his family’s home in the Azores, Portugal.

Driving In Europe On Vacation – Why You Need To Prepare!

European map satellite view

For many Americans, a chance to visit Europe is the vacation of a lifetime. Whether you want to check out London with its historic buildings and unique culture, relax in the sunshine in Greece, explore Italy or maybe even see where your ancestors came from, there are loads of reasons to make the trip across the Atlantic, and it has never been cheaper, either! Of course, once you get to your country of choice, you are probably going to already have a lot of things in mind to see and do, and while compared with the US, places like England and Sweden may look tiny on a map, when you’re there things suddenly seem a lot further away than you may have imagined! For this reason, most people prefer to hire a car, and while this is generally an option for most American license holders in accordance with the laws in the country you are visiting (you may have to be over 25 or have a certain number of years’ driving experience), this doesn’t automatically mean you’ll find it easy on the roads.

Here are some reasons to prepare before you attempt driving anywhere in Europe for the first time:

Road Signs Can Be Baffling

Yield sign in Europe

While Europe is united, it is by no means standardized when it comes to road signs. This means if you are familiar with how the colors and symbols work in Germany, things will all change should you cross a border. It doesn’t take long to read up on what the traffic safety controls in the country you are going to look like, and it really pays to do this so you can understand when you are reaching a junction and things like what color sign points to a major road and what will take you down a scary country track. You should also work out the conversion ratio between miles and kilometers, because with the exception of Britain, everywhere in Europe displays distances and speed limits in the metric system. Of course, while in Britain the signs may all be in English and tell you things in familiar mile measurements, here you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road, which isn’t really something you can prepare for in advance but is worth thinking about!

Touring

motorcycle-tours-174956_150Many people who visit Europe plan to go through more than one country (another reason why understanding the different traffic control equipment used in different places you’ll visit is important), and while this can be easy to do, you may find that there are places where you can cross borders without even being aware you have done it right away! If you are planning to tour, really research your route so you know at what point you might leave Germany and enter the Netherlands, for example, and stick to your plan so you don’t end up straying between countries where you didn’t intend to.

Driving in Europe can vary between being remarkably easy and pleasant to downright terrifying depending on where you are and how far off the beaten track you venture, so read up and plan ahead as much as you can!

Travis Finn, the author of this article, works with, Bo Phillips, leading providers of work-zone safety equipment. He is fascinated by Astronomy and often visits the planetarium to observe the movement of the stars.

3 Ways Traveling Changed My Life

Panoramic view from Bella Vista Lodge in Costa Rica

Before I ever traveled, one of the things I heard most about the experience is how it will change your whole life. This always intrigued me and was one of the primary reasons I was so interested in doing it. Now that I have become the world traveler I always dreamed of being, I see firsthand the truth of that statement. My adventures around the globe have impacted me in a way I never thought possible and have shaped so much of who I am today. If you are one of those people with the burning desire to travel in your heart, but have yet to take the leap, or are one of those people who feel unsure about traveling, but think you should do it because you feel it will reap some sort of benefit, I hope this post will provide the nudge you need to book that ticket and get out in the world.

You Get More Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Traveling produces plenty of situations where you will feel uncomfortable. You will not understand what is going on. You will not be sure what to do next. You will find yourself in awkward situations rife with miscommunications. You will feel apprehensive about trying something new or going somewhere all by yourself. But, as time goes on, you will get more comfortable with the discomfort and you will power through anyway. This comfort with discomfort will spill over into other areas of your life, and you will find yourself saying ‘’yes’’ to life more. You will find the courage to pursue the things you really want in life. You may still feel scared or apprehensive. You know it will be challenging, but you will feel more confident in going after these things anyway, because you know you can handle the obstacles. Your fear reduces.

Patience Grasshopper

Sheep on the slop

 

I have always been a very impatient person and traveling definitely mellowed me out. Sure, I still have my moments, but for the most part, I have become infinitely more patient as a result of my traveling experiences. Things will constantly happen that will test your patience, from waiting 45 minutes for French fries when you are the only customer in the restaurant to hanging around a bus station for two hours because the online schedule was just completely wrong. Traveling will give you limitless opportunities to practice being more patient, and it is this practice after all that really helps us develop certain character traits. Now, when things are not happening on my timetable, whether I am traveling or in the supermarket in my hometown, I noticed a marked difference in my patience levels. And, with greater patience, come greater peace of mind, and isn’t that what we crave most in life?

Greater Appreciation and Gratitude

Fisherman in Chiloe on their routine

Most of us living in the developed, modern world are pretty ungrateful brats. Not because we are horrible people, but because we grew up in very comfortable circumstances and have never known anything different. We just take all these comforts, conveniences and opportunities for granted. But, if you travel to parts of the world where these things are not givens, you will see your life in a whole different light. All the things we think are problems suddenly shrink dramatically. You see true suffering and hardship. You see people living in ways you cannot imagine. There are people all over the world who wake up every day and simply focus on trying to survive. There is no thought of what they ‘’want.’’ The only thing on their mind is getting what they need to stay alive every day. People breaking their backs in rice fields or walking miles just to get clean water. Once I experienced this firsthand, my view of my own life changed dramatically. Many of my problems do not bother me as much anymore because I have a whole new perspective on them.

Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who enjoys blogging about her travel experiences; she recommends visiting Kanetix to learn more about travel insurance in Canada.

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