Welcome to the Age of ‘Airbnb for Everything’

Jaclyn Baumgarten grew up sailing on Lake Michigan. Her happiest memories take place on boats with her family, carefree on the open water; as adults, her older brothers both purchased boats so they could extend their nautical adventures. So when they each called one week to separately complain about the expensive upkeep on boats they barely used, Baumgarten set out to solve the problem.Baumgarten turned her brothers’ headaches into Boatsetter, “the Airbnb for boats.” Boat owners can list their vessels on the platform, and people who want a day on the water can rent one for a few hundred dollars. The platform handles the peer-to-peer insurance and offers a network of captains who, for a fee, can take out groups without any sailing experience.
Boatsetter is among a growing number of startups forging new rental marketplaces for luxuries like boats, extra bedrooms, or backyard space. Call it the sublet economy. Everything you own can become an source of extra income, and everything you want to rent can be leased from a friendly stranger.The model was pioneered and popularized by Airbnb , the now-ubiquitous home-rental platform. When Airbnb started in 2008, the idea of turning your house into a crash pad, or paying a few hundred dollars to sleep in a stranger’s guest room, was still fringe. There were some full-home rental websites like VRBO at the time, but single-room rentals were an option mostly for backpackers on a budget or cash-strapped college students.
Now, the rental economy is everywhere, and for everyone. There are Airbnb-style marketplaces for cars (Turo), for garage storage (Spacer), for private jets (Jettly). You can rent someone’s bed for a midday nap (Globe) or even take a dip in someone’s pool (Swimply).“People are interested in turning their underutilized assets into something that can make them money each month,” says Spencer Burleigh, cofounder of Rent the Backyard, which lets homeowners turn their unused outdoor space into rental housing.Rent the Backyard builds cottage-style studio apartments in empty backyards and then rents them out to singletons. The company covers the building costs; in exchange, it keeps half the rent. The website promises homeowners up to $12,000 in income a year.
In the Bay Area, where Rent the Backyard is building its first units, a squeezed housing market has sent property values soaring. For homeowners, selling backyard space offers some relief on the mortgage. For renters, it creates an alternative to increasingly costly and competitive apartment space. “It isn’t just taking a fixed pie and fighting over who gets a cut; it’s actually expanding the pie for everyone involved,” says Burleigh.Hipcamp, the “Airbnb for campsites,” takes a similar aim. The platform connects campers with empty backyards and private lands where they can spend the night. For $50, you can pitch a tent in someone's private flower garden near Mount Tamalpais State Park, just north of San Francisco. You can also find teepees, tree houses, and yurts to sleep in, along with private farmland and meadows across the country.
“Fifty percent of the US is privately owned, and often it’s among the most pristine land because there aren’t as many people on it,” says Alyssa Ravasio, Hipcamp’s founder and CEO. “Campers were so excited to have new places to go, and landowners were so excited to have a new source of revenue.”


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Hipcamp’s campers are mostly young urbanites looking for an escape from the city, and perhaps a novel experience to share on Instagram. “One thing that’s really surprised us is that our landowner side is just so different—they tend to be really rural, older,” says Ravasio. Like Airbnb, there’s no obligation for hosts to hang out with their guests, but Ravasio says plenty do anyway, sharing knowledge about their land and lifestyle. She sees Hipcamp not just as a way to find cool camping spots but a way to connect people who would’ve never met each other otherwise.