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This Woman Helped Grow Airbnb from 7 ➡️ 1,700 Employees Before Leaving to Pursue her Mission

By 02/08/2017April 11th, 2018I Don't Know What I Want To Do

Sometimes we get such an incredible opportunity that we have to pinch ourselves. This is my DREAM job!

But more often than not, I hear stories of women deciding that dream wasn’t it, even if that dream is being the face of Airbnb.

I was so thrilled to interview Venetia Pristavec this week, Airbnb’s #7 employee who left to pursue her mission, which is to empower others to share their stories.

Venetia is now a multi-media artist and musician, and her courage, wisdom and path have personally inspired me deeply.

Meet Venetia and learn how she went from employee #7 at Airbnb to breaking out on her own.

Give us some background. Where are you from, and where did you start out?

I’m originally from a northwest suburb of Chicago. I started out in Los Angeles doing a wide array of production work to figure out if and how I wanted to work in film.

Then, I was a creative director at Airbnb as their seventh employee. Over the next five years, I helped build and grow the company to over 1,700 employees.

A series of events drove me to leave Airbnb and start on a path back to my music.

What is your mission, the work you want to do?

My mission is to remind everyone of the power of telling their own stories. I want to encourage people to stop living muted lives, find their voice, and become their boldest self.

So many of us hide out of fear of judgment. I want my music to be the hand someone can hold while they go through transformational experiences that can often be extremely isolating and shrouded in darkness.

Each of my songs has an underlying message as a “tool” that can help along the way.

What led you here? Can you recall any experiences you had that pushed you to do this work?  

For years, I traveled the world telling video stories of the Airbnb hosts, from Barcelona to Copenhagen to Istanbul to Hong Kong to Rio. The company scaled and I was essentially the face of the brand; I was living the dream life. I thought I had it all.

But in 2013, a routine doctor’s appointment revealed a lump in my throat, which led to a cancer diagnosis. The required surgery would be close to my vocal chords; the source of my voice.

What looked like my greatest curse became my greatest gift. At the threat of losing my voice forever, I realized I have been helping everyone else tell their story but afraid to tell my own. Receiving this diagnosis made me reexamine my life. I concluded that I was not using what I felt was a unique superpower – being a musician. It was something I had always wanted to do but was too scared to act on it.

I recovered and left Airbnb in pursuit of my most expressive life. I began sharing my story of triumph and resilience through music. Even today, I’m still scared but now that I feel I’m living IN my superpower it helps me push through fear.

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?

Up through my mid-twenties, I battled with depression, body dysmorphic disorder and panic attacks due to lack of self-care and overwork. Step by step, I overcame it through reading, new habits, and experiences.

First, the book, “The Power of Habit” helped me implement new habits in my daily life.

Second, I started to walk every morning without my phone and observe the world wake up and breathe. It helped me feel grounded and connected to everyone and nature.

Third, I started doing yoga and meditation to get back into my body and treated myself to massages (now they are a requirement) and started to do things that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

For example, I took a stand-up comedian class. I also tried hypnotherapy, which is a type of therapy that helps you go back into traumatic memories and create safety around them.

Finally, the depression stopped, I started loving my body again and also healing from my past that would ultimately help me move forward. Today I feel freer than ever and want others to experience that, also.

At Work Bigger, one of our goals is to build creativity among readers and community members. We know this is a key skill required to thrive in the future of work. When are you most creative?

I’m most creative when I have space and time to myself without distraction. Often, when I’m observing the world, I find that it pours through with an empty piece of paper, a pen, and wandering eyes. I try and feel into my senses and engage them. I will sit at a coffee shop and notice the smells and the sounds in the space. It seems to open things up. Sometimes nothing comes. Other times, things come like, an hour later when I’m putting gas in the car. Other times, nothing.

But, yes, alone time makes me feel most creative.

What are your favorite go-to resources or experiences to help you build your creativity?

First, I’m a huge reader. Books are a treasure trove of wisdom. If you don’t have time to read a whole book, keep the book by your bed and read a few lines a night. Here’s a great resource for some stellar books to get you started.  

Second, get out to different creative experiences at least once a week, such as museums, art shows, or music concerts. Challenge yourself to go alone and see how you feel!

Can you share a time when used creativity to solve a problem?

Once we were casting a music video and we needed a wizard. It was a tall order to find someone with a wizard beard and twinkling eyes.

I got creative and had my boyfriend just ask people he worked with if anyone fit the bill. He’s a hardware engineer, so we weren’t exactly casting actors.

Suddenly, this amazing man Dale posted that he was interested. He ended up not only playing the role but being absolutely perfect for it. Not only that, but the experience pulled him out of his own comfort zone. We may have never found him if I’d proceeded with the traditional casting route.

What advice do you have for 20 to 30-somethings who want to make an impact through their work but are currently feeling stuck?

First, life is not about what you do but about how you show up. Instead of, “How did that meeting go today?” think, “How did I show up at that meeting? Was I a great listener? Did I make someone feel more comfortable?” You can find that you are already able to make an impact IN your work even if it’s not necessarily through the thing you’re working on.

Second, take care of yourself. It may sound selfish, but it is not. Self-care guards against burnout and feeling stuck. Try to reintegrate with your body and experience something new. See what happens.

To learn more about Venetia, check out

And now we’d love to hear from you. What’s the greatest insight you’ve taken from this interview? Share your comments and questions below.

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

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