Robin Kwok, a Hong Kong and Taiwanese native heads up Airbnb in South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. With a role that seems tailored-made for all her passions, tech, entrepreneurialship and travel, Robin Kwok is in her element. Growing up a “techie”, she studied Engineering in school and worked for technology companies (solar, fin-tech) for a big part of her career. She is currently based in Singapore and travels all over Asia Pacific, Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of her job. We caught up with her to get the low-down on what’s its like to head up one of the most famous tech company that pioneered the sharing economy and what’s happening at Airbnb.
Where do you live and what do you love about your city?
I love living in Singapore, a great hub to APAC and one of the most diverse countries I have ever been in. I love the lifestyle here, you can find the best restaurants and bars, the people are warm and respectful, and Changi Airport is my favourite airport in the world because of the thoughtful design and architecture, consistently good customer service.
Where do you shop for your wardrobe?
My shopping style is very akin to my travel style. Just as I collect memories wherever I go, I like to collect pieces of clothing and jewelry wherever I travel to. I also like to mix “high” and “low” pieces (because I like finding good deals!), and don’t have a particular brand I stick to. I like department stores like Macy’s (in U.S.) or Paragon (in Singapore) where I can finding things that I can make my own. When I’m in Singapore, I like getting comfy, casual pieces from Cotton On and Temt (Australian brands) and staple, classic pieces from places like Zara and Banana Republic. My wardrobe is full of pieces that come with a story of an adventure. For instance, my favourite pair of earrings were purchased from a little market in Morocco – I got them in 2010 and still wear these earrings now!
Could you describe your typical work day from when you get to office till when you leave?
Much of my job is about connecting people to each other and connecting our business to opportunities. It’s about improving our Airbnb experience for our hosts, guests, and partners in APAC. On top of that, I set the direction for how we operate/grow in this part of the region and collaborate with all of our teams to execute on it. I kick off my work day by reviewing my emails and sorting out my priorities for the day/week. I typically have many meetings – some brainstorming discussions, team meetings, and one-on-one meetings.
I also do a lot of mentorship for our employees and meet with other colleagues to coach them on things like building skills, managing their careers, etc. I love mentoring others and helping them grow to reach their full potential in all they do. Those one-on-one meetings are some of my favorite meetings to attend. At the end of the day, I wind down by cleaning up my email and making sure things are organized. I then head over to Pure Yoga where I take yoga & meditation classes to wind down for the evening. If I am traveling for work, there is no typical work day.
What are you working on at Airbnb?
Our next exciting project that will take us beyond home sharing is ‘Trips’. By empowering people to share their interests, hobbies and passions, we have made planning an entire trip easy and magical. Trips is made up of three parts – Experiences, Places and Homes.
- Experiences – We just added a new feature called “Experiences”. Local in-the-know hosts will have the opportunity to show out-of-towners around, to their favorite local haunts or even take them on multi-day immersive tours. People can join Truffle Hunting in Tuscany or the grime music scene in London. Around 500 Experiences have been launched in 12 cities worldwide, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Detroit, Havana, London, Paris, Florence, Nairobi, Cape Town, Tokyo and Seoul.
- Places – With Insider Guidebooks, we have identified cultural experts and neighborhood insiders to recommend the hidden gems within their city. Find the perfect run from a marathoner, the best dive bar from a local mixologist and the next great undiscovered restaurant from an up-and-coming chef. 100 Insider Guidebooks will be available at launch in six cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Havana, Nairobi, Detroit and Seoul – with more coming soon.
- Homes – Booking travel today can be complicated and stressful. With Trips, Airbnb aims to make it easy with one app to book most of your travel needs. Trip Itinerary is a new feature that brings together everything the traveler needs to know into one simple timeline, with the ability to easily book and add Experiences or things to do.
What do you love most about working at Airbnb?
I love that we work hard, laugh a lot and brainstorm nonstop. As a team, we look inside and outside for inspiration to build the best experience for our community. Life is what happens when you’re busy working and we make sure we are enjoying it.
What are some of the strategic initiatives we can expect to see for Airbnb coming up in Asia Pacific?
Chinese travelers are an important part of our global community. To date, there have been more than 3.5 million guest arrivals by Chinese travelers at Airbnb listings all over the world. Outbound travel from China grew 500% in 2015 alone, making China one of the fastest growing outbound markets for Airbnb. The Chinese government has highlighted the important, positive impact the sharing economy can have on China’s economic growth.
Over the past several years, we’ve explored and finalized a range of different partnerships that build on the promise of home sharing and support our community and the cities they call home with some of China’s biggest cities – Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Beijing.
What are the top qualities you look for when hiring for Airbnb besides technical skills?
Passion. Commitment. Optimism.
As you are mentoring startups, what are the most exciting start-up you have seen so far?
I could go on and on about startups that are exciting. I am always watching companies like Carousell (e-commerce/marketplace) and Grab (on-demand ride-hailing), which are both on top of my list right now. I’m fascinated with seeing how start-ups create/re-invent an experience or service, differentiate its offering, and find ways to continually ‘wow’ their users in uniquely different markets. I also like diving into a start-up’s go-to-market strategy (currently impressed with Snapchat!) and following companies in spaces like FinTech (changing the way we pay) and EdTech (providing access to online courses & education tools). In terms of global brands, Tesla, Netflix, and Facebook are inspiring to me because of how they’ve grown and their impact on our world. I have also been very impressed with how large-scale companies like Amazon remain entrepreneurial and find new ways to innovate (Amazon Go, AWS, etc.). Last, but not least, I’m interesting in seeing how start-ups will leverage the usage of drones.
What is the motto you live by that drives you to do what you do everyday?
“Feel good, be good, and do good.” I totally live by this and even have it on my screensaver (on my computer) as a daily reminder.
What is the best advice you ever got?
Early in my career, a manager told me that we shouldn’t just rely on being “lucky” in life and that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. I believe in working hard and that good things come to those who work hard. But I also have learned that you need to have an open mind and heart to welcome new opportunities. I found this quote – “opportunity dances with those already on the dancefloor” – and have lived by it since then.
Would you start your own start-up?
Yes, I would. I’m constantly brainstorming on ideas, observing friction points in my daily life, and seeing how I can help improve others’ lives. This is a constant brainstorm for me. But I also work for a company (Airbnb) that fosters an environment for us to brainstorm, ideate, and innovate in. I feel like I get to use my entrepreneurial spirit here and that feeds my soul in a very satisfying way.
If you can change 1 law in the world, what would it be?
It would be to encourage people to recycle and think about the planet more. I would institute more guidelines around product packaging and help businesses (and consumers) be more aware of how much waste excessive packaging creates, which in turn harms the environment we live in. I’m very passionate about recycling and other eco-friendly processes.