eBay CEO John Donahoe met Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in 2012 through Marc Andreessen, the influential venture capitalist who sits on eBay's (Fortune 500) board and whose firm, Andreessen Horowitz, is an investor in Airbnb. Donahoe says he was seeking to meet "the best founder in Silicon Valley" because he had some questions on innovation and design, and Andreessen put the two CEOs together. They make an unlikely duo -- Donahoe, 53, was an econ major at Dartmouth, got an MBA at Stanford, and worked at Bain & Co. for nearly 20 years; Chesky, 32, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and started Airbnb to help pay his rent. Their intergenerational, intercorporate, interdependent relationship was what inspired Fortune to look for other pairs of non-colleagues who provide each other with good counsel, honest feedback, and the occasional encouraging word. --S.N.M. ,
Donahoe: Brian talks about having a "seven-star experience" [on Airbnb]. And I went back [to eBay] and said, "If we had a seven-star experience, what would that look like?" I wouldn't have asked that before I met Brian.
Chesky: I didn't really know how to scale a company. I had talked to a number of different people, but when I met John -- the amazing thing is, you can meet a lot of people, but you want to make sure the advice you get is relevant to you, and it's contemporary. How lucky could I be to find somebody in my market, a contemporary, with real lessons for right now? John helped me recently with the new organization we have for operations: How do I centralize operations and lean out the team? What do I need in different functions? How do I run a team? How do I manage a board? All these things I never even thought about because when you start a company, you don't think about the business, you don't think about the company, you think about the product.
Donahoe: Founders have incredible clarity of direction; often they're great at product and design. They're nimble, and they know how to drive execution faster. They have a faster cycle time. So I think part of what's happening both in our conversations and what's happening in the Valley is a bridging between the best of the small companies and the best of the large companies. The reality is big companies can learn a lot from startups and can benefit from founders. And I think the reciprocal is probably true.