Airbnb software engineers were struggling a couple of years ago to keep up with the number of technical glitches that were piling up with the site. At one point, employees halted all work on new features for a week to try to fix bugs in the code. To toast the effort, CEO Brian Chesky drank a cup of liquefied bugs—one for every problem solved—that was brought into the office by a local nature nonprofit.
Despite Mr. Chesky’s spirited encouragement, Airbnb’s technical foundation has remained rickety as the company has grown and added new services. In recent years, Airbnb has found it difficult to launch new products because its code base was relatively inflexible, according to current and former employees. That caused headaches for the company when it expanded its business to include selling hotel rooms and luxury travel tours, and catering to Chinese customers.