“It’s not about the money,” says Peace Corps volunteer turned property manager and Open Homes host.
It’s not every day that an Airbnb host story begins with an attempted coup.
Mike, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala clarified, “Regardless of the anti-foreign sentiment there at the time, the indigenous communities were there for us and treated us like family. And hosting is my way of paying that forward.”
Mike is now an Airbnb host, owner of Redwood Coast Vacation Rentals in Northern California, and also part of Airbnb Open Homes. This program lets hosts offer their space for free to those in need of temporary housing. His experiences early on taught him the importance of community, empathy, and opening his doors to those in need. He sat down with us to talk about how his time in the Peace Corps led him to become a property manager and, later, an Open Homes host.
How did you go from the Peace Corps to hosting on Airbnb?
My Peace Corps experience really caused me to value hosts. When my wife and I were in Guatemala, some serious stuff went down. There was an attempted government coup, and someone was spreading rumors that Americans were kidnapping the babies of local people. It got dangerous: my wife was walking in her village and some people started throwing rocks at her. So all of the volunteers were called back to the capital and we would stay with different host families. It felt so good to be cared for.
There’s a certain point as a human where you hopefully become more empathetic, and that experience really helped me do that. So when we came back, we decided to host.
We started by converting our garage into a separate studio, got a few more places, grew it as a vacation rental business, and now we’re doing Airbnb.
Tell us about the hosts who helped you during that difficult time.
There were lots of people. I shared an apartment with a man from El Salvador. Miguel was a refugee and cobbler. He’d fix shoes right out on the road, super friendly, great stories to share, very caring, and he helped me meet people in the community.
My wife was in Momostenango and worked with a group of indigenous ladies who would make dishes like Pepsi chicken. They were just such wonderful hosts. They shared stories and became our extended family. They knew all of the rumors were false, and they looked out for us. We learned from their culture, and they learned from us—and bridged them. They became ambassadors for us.
And now you’ve become advocates for survivors of devastating fires in California, by becoming an Open Homes host.
Last year, we put up 17 families from Paradise, California, including people who lost relatives. I kind of tend to wear my heart on my sleeve a little bit, and it’s just brutal to hear the stories. People told me about how crazy it was, how all of a sudden they could see smoke in the distance, and within 15 minutes they’re running for their lives. It made us feel so fortunate to be on the coast where it’s wet and we don’t have that fire risk. A lot of people have been having problems with insurance companies, and not getting paid. We hooked them up with houses for a huge discount, some for free.
It’s just what you do. It’s not about the money. Yes, you need to be a profitable business, but it’s so much more. It’s about connecting with people.
Mike, Founder of Redwood Coast Vacation Rentals
How do you sustain your business and help people at the same time?
We have a list of owners who are willing to give away stays for charity. As a company, we include it as a line in our agreement with our homeowners, and require that their homes be available at least once a year for a charity function or Open Homes. And they don’t even blink.
If you’re not running a business where people really feel good about what they’re doing, in the long run, you’re not going to make it. You have to have a healthy mission. It can’t be all about the bottom line.
What other mission-driven projects are you working on?
We’re working to help turn around blighted areas in Eureka, California. There are a lot of issues with homelessness and drug use. We’ve renovated a few houses, turned them into Airbnbs, and it’s really bringing the area to life. It just changes the vibe and people are super stoked. But as we’re doing that, we also have our second affordable housing unit and we’re expanding a transitional shelter to 44 rooms. So we’re taking some of the money we’re bringing in and using it to give people opportunities. You have to do both. You can’t just push people out.
Do you have any advice for other hosts who hope to have a business like yours someday?
Just make sure it’s a great experience for guests, homeowners, and neighbors. For guests, make sure you’re really clear on the place, location, and space because a lot of people don’t read all of it. If you really want to show what’s happening, show it in the photos.
We’ve been doing meet-and-greets at the property, and I think that works great. If someone doesn’t need it, that’s fine, but offer it.
Lastly, how would you describe your hosting style?
I’m more of a sports guy, and my wife is a foodie. If guests surf, I’ll lend them my board. My wife recommends great happy hours. We have people to our house all the time to have dinner. My wife is going to be away for a couple of months, so I’m going to host a private room—not for the money, but just because I want to do it.
We live right next to some trails, so I’ll probably take them for a run or hike, over to friends’ homes for potlucks or to play music. If guests are young enough, I’ll probably tell them about Peace Corps and get them to apply.