A few years ago I was finishing off my masters thesis when I had the brilliant idea to join Couchsurfing.com - a website where you could find people willing to give up their couches / beds / sleeping space to travellers passing through.
The idea was extremely appealing to me as someone that wanted to leave New Zealand and go travelling abroad. I saw it as a way to travel cheaply, meet new people and get insider knowledge of a town or city.
When I was signing up however, it asked if I had a couch - if I would be willing to host others in my home (for free). I didn’t think twice about it; I had a big comfy couch and I promptly filled in my profile with pictures of my couch, the fact that I knew a tiny bit of German, and all of my other details. In the next two days I must have a gotten about 6 requests - mostly from German girls on their gap year, along with a young German couple. My first German guest Helena arrived on the friday, and my second guests (the German couple) arrived on the Sunday.
Helena only intended to stay for a couple of days. She was looking for some work in the area, and I happily said that she could stay as long as she wanted, but that she might want to pay a little bit of money to go towards food. Meanwhile, my sister who I was also living with at the time wasn’t so much liking the idea of strangers sleeping in our living room, and requested that I take our couch off of the website.
The German couple left, but Helena continued to stay after she found work at a cookie shop in town. Over time, Helena and I became closer, and a relationship formed that was deeper than the type that the Couchsurfing website had intended - we became partners.
I think that Airbnb is in many ways very similar to couchsurfing. Airbnb for many people is a way to explore new places, meet new people, and get the inside scoop on a new city.
You never know who might want to stay in your home, and just like Couchsurfing, Airbnb has developed its own community of people - of hosts, and of guests. As part of this community, I’ve done a treasure hunt in the city, been invited to a dinner party, drunk with other hosts, guests, and members of the Airbnb staff, met the founders of the company at the London launch party, and gone on a free Jack the Ripper tour down the dark streets of London...
... and just like Couchsurfing - you need to be somewhat prepared for what's to come. It's not for everyone, just as it wasn't for my sister.
Airbnb - Make Money while you Sleep will let you step into the world of Airbnb, and give you a glimpse of what to expect. Even if you decide that hosting's not for you, you're definitely going to find the travelling advice useful - I'm sure you'll be interested to hear how I've stayed in France, Austria, Germany, Italy, and Thailand for free, and you'll be more equipped to inform your friends of opportunities that exist for earning extra income. While this book has a strong focus on making money, travelling cheaply, and creating a great experience for you and your guests, I’d like to really emphasise here that the real gold is in the people that you meet, the global contacts that you make, and the opportunities that await you at your doorstep. As you go through this book, keep this in mind, and I’m sure you’ll find that karma can be greatly rewarding - so put into it what you’d like to get out, and I’m sure that you’ll gain more than you would have first realised.
Airbnb allows you to stay in anything from a castle to a treehouse in 19,000 cities in more than 150 countries. Since its beginnings, the website has had over 10 million bookings, and it now supports 32+ languages. This is a company that didn’t exist 10 years ago, yet now it spans the globe and provides accommodation to more than 4 million guests each year.
From humble beginnings
Airbnb was born in 2007 San Francisco, after founders Joe Gebbia, and Brian Chesky offered sleeping space, breakfast, and hospitality to attendees of a design conference. Joe and Brian didn’t have much money back then, and to make ends meet they converted their living room into a bed and breakfast, which allowed them to host up to 3 conference attendees. Initially they weren’t thinking of the bed and breakfast as a startup idea - it was just a way for them to pay their rent.
After recognising that the bed and breakfast idea could make a good startup, Nathan Blecharczyk joined as the third co-founder, and the Airbnb team was officially formed. The first website that they created was aimed at conference attendees that needed accommodation. Following this, the concept changed to being a website where you could book a room anywhere around the world.
In 2008, to help publicity efforts, the team created and sold special edition cereals “Obama O’s”, and “Cap’n McCains” to attendees of the Democratic National Convention. This helped Airbnb (named AirBedAndBreakfast back then) to raise thirty thousand dollars in initial seed money, and give Airbnb some publicity. Impressed with the team’s creativity, Paul Graham - founder of the Y Combinator startup incubator accepted the Airbnb team’s application into the program in early 2009. Following Y Combinator, Airbnb successfully raised $600,000 in seed funding; the rest as they say, is history.
Getting ready for Airbnb
The premise of Airbnb is fairly simple. You have some additional space that you’re willing to let out to others at a fair price. Guests benefit, as they have somewhere nice to stay, and in return you get cold hard cash (and the occasional gift from your guests!).
Aside from the cash / gifts however, there’s also another thing that you get – people in your house / apartment! It’s therefore important to put yourself in the position of your to-be guests, and also think about how having a guest will impact on your lifestyle.
It does take some work (not that much, but a bit)
Airbnb is definitely an easy way to make cash, there’s no doubt about it. But let’s get realistic here for a second. Nothing in this world is without effort, and Airbnb is no exception.
You are going to have to manage bookings, arrange / do some cleaning, create a great listing, and ensure that your space is appealing and well presented.
What you will find however, is that once you do the initial setup, and get into the flow of things, that the work you do for each new guest staying turns out to be quite minimal in comparison to what you get out of it.
We found that the turnaround of guests can take as little as a couple of hours – enough time to open windows, air out the room, change the sheets, vacuum the floor, check over the bathroom, and print a new welcome booklet.
You get what you put into it, and there’s nothing better than eating the cake that your (paying) guests have left because they were pleased with their stay!
How does your significant other feel about it?
I have to be honest…
If you’re looking at sharing your apartment, then it’s not all flowers and butterflies. In all honesty, my girlfriend wasn’t all that keen on the idea of Airbnb. She felt that her space was being invaded by strangers, and worried that these people were going to come and steal our stuff. Understandably, it can also be a bit of a pain if you’ve only got one bathroom, and you’re not used to sharing.
Is it really worth it then?
The short answer is Yes. Although it can be a slight inconvenience, in our experience Airbnb is incredibly safe, and the extra money coming in can definitely make up for any downsides. The majority of guests are super nice with some of them bearing gifts, and the additional income allowed us to do things such as take a return trip for both of us to go from the UK to New Zealand (my home country) for christmas.
You really have to find a balance however. At first we used Airbnb as something that would pay for our holidays. Soon after however, I decided that it was something that I could use to help kick-start the creation of my startup.
While my girlfriend didn’t mind the thought of a holiday, the idea of using Airbnb as a main source of income didn’t really gel with her too well… You really have to know your own personalities, and work out how much of a good thing is too much.
What’s it like having people stay?
It’s 2:36pm on a Saturday afternoon in London. Your guest Sarah is due to arrive any moment, and you hear a knock on your door.
You’ve seen Sarah’s profile on Airbnb - you know what she looks like, and that she’s been rated as being super friendly by previous hosts that she’s stayed with. Sarah’s a Spaniard - perfect for trying out some of the spanish you learnt on your brief trip to Spain last summer.
“Hola!” you say, “you must be Sarah”. You kiss on both cheeks as is custom in Spain, and help bring her suitcase into the apartment.
After some friendly chit-chat, you show Sarah to her freshly made room, and give her the arrival pack that you’ve put together. “Oh, that’s soo nice!” she exclaims as she notices the Kinder chocolate on her pillow. Having now handed over the keys, you help her with directions to Buckingham Palace, and wish her a nice day as she heads out for some sight seeing.
Over the next few days you see Sarah occasionally at night when she gets home after some drinks out, and on her last day as she packs up her bag and heads off to the airport on an early flight.
What types of people can I expect?
The reasons why people travel to a new place are varied. Some people travel for work / internships; a lot of people travel as part of their holiday; some come for their honeymoon, and others come to visit family. We’ve had all of these types of travellers!
You never know who might ask to stay at your apartment, and one of the great things about Airbnb is that you get to choose if someone stays or not.
While we let most people come and stay at our apartment, if people were missing profile pictures / information, or had bad reviews from previous hosts, we would politely decline their request to stay. Some people also wanted to book six months ahead, and we also declined these people, as we didn’t know what our own plans in six months would be.
We have had people stay that are from Australia, Russia, Spain, Italy, USA, UK, Korea... Some people travelled by themselves, others were mother / daughter, father / daughter, friends, and partners. Ages ranged from a young teenage girl (with her father) to an elderly US couple that were retired and living in Spain.
As there is such a diverse range of people that will potentially want to stay, you never know whether you’re about to meet your next best friend, or whether your guest will be forgotten in two weeks. We found that some people were really friendly, and would create conversation with us at breakfast time; while others kept to themselves, and we only saw or spoke to them when they arrived and left.
What truly makes Airbnb special is when you do make those special connections though. We’ve gone out for dinner with a few of our guests, and even invited some guests back to stay for free the next time they’re in town. One of the couples that stayed ended up moving around the corner from us, and we’ve been to dinner at their place, and hung out a couple of times since.
As you can gather, you never really know who’s going to request to stay at your place. Everyone has a unique story to tell, their own customs, and their own openness to conversation. Airbnb isn’t just a way of making money - it’s also a way to make friends, hear stories from around the world, build a global network of contacts, and be part of a thriving community.