How the trashing of my home led to a tool for the sharing economy

As an Airbnb SuperHost for nearly 4 years ,  here’s my party disaster story with lessons learned. Don’t let it happen to you!

With a marketing and tech background, I became very excited to participate in the sharing economy back in December 2012, and quite quickly expanded my listings in the Silicon Valley. Two years ago, we accepted a booking from a guy named Kurt. He said it was for 2 people (fairly unusual for a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom home), and due to strange circumstances, he booked the same day he would arrive in our home. Kurt and his girlfriend checked in at noon that day, and even though he was younger than we expected, we thought it would be OK.

Lesson 1: Scrutinize last minute bookings (or other odd things) as it may flag a cash problem!

Amanda Airbnb kitchen

A few days into his 9-day stay, a neighbor complained about extra cars parked oddly out front. We messaged the guest as normal, and he promised to not block the neighbor’s driveway again. There weren’t any noise complaints, just a lot of cars. From the outside, there was little to indicate that anything really bad was going on inside the house. Upon checkout, we realized the gravity of the situation! Not only was the place a mess and the carpets destroyed, but all windows in the house were open, and the front door was left unlocked. Even worse: our home smelled like propane! We later learned that they were making and selling DRUGS in our home and that propane was a key ingredient of their drug making. Seriously! One room was particularly stinky and we noticed that they tried to wash a duvet (blanket) that had been doused in propane. We took photos and informed Kurt about the damage that same day. He blamed a friend, apologized and a promised to pay for the damage and return the missing key that night. Really? As we suspected, we were never reimbursed by Kurt.

The party disaster aftermath continued to progress. When the key was not returned, we became a little concerned and contacted the guest again, but we did not expect what happened next. Kurt (or someone else involved) had made a copy of the key and came back to rob our house that night (1 ½ days after check-out). The usual things were missing — the TV, VCR, Roku (smart TV), a hairdryer and a few other random things. The ‘thief’ made it out to look like a burglary except that once the police came the next day, they confirmed that the break-in involved a faked force entry — done from the inside — and that the ‘thief’ had entered with the key! They went to the trouble of leaving muddy footsteps and everything!

Lesson 2: Only use digital locks for any space rented where the owner isn’t nearby or living on-site!

The next day we hired carpet cleaning, a locksmith and a handyman to fix the broken windows. We wasted thousands of dollars and countless hours of our time cleaning up, replacing things and locating receipts (as needed to prove the fair value of the items stolen). Luckily our listing photos clearly showed the stolen items and we had taken photos of the damaged carpet, bedding and kitchen immediately.

Lesson 3: Notify the vacation rental company immediately and save receipts — this helped a lot as we dealt with this mess.

Unfortunately, the feeling of distrust and disgust could not be easily reversed. I took my listings down for a few weeks while we decided how to proceed. I was on the lookout for technology that could have prevented this. I thought, ‘there must be an app for that!!’ But there was nothing on the market. When I went online, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one who faced the party disaster!

Airbnb Parties

While walking the floor at an advertising trade show in San Francisco, I discovered a company called and became intrigued by their technology. Typically used in the retail environment, their Wi-Fi sensor could count the number of mobile phones visiting shops or restaurants so that retail customers could view trend data. The idea for Party Squasher was born then and there. After discussing with the BlueFox CEO, I purchased 10 devices to put in my properties. Subsequently, a modified app and sensor was built to show the trends of the devices detected and send a text alert if the number of devices (aka estimated number of people) surpassed the limit.  Based on the promising results shown in our Party Squasher Beta testing, I joined BlueFox to take the product to the next level. Over the past few months, we developed additional features for property managers and added customization options to more easily configure the device’s detection range and alert a different person for each property.

Unexpected Home Party

(This wasn’t actually the party at my house!)

We’ve spent long days and nights developing Party Squasher so that you’re not stuck cleaning up a party disaster or filling out paperwork to get reimbursed! The sharing economy typically doesn’t have security guards, keyless entry and surveillance cameras surrounding the property. It needed new tools! An app needed to be built and the market needed Party Squasher. We had to be really smart in our design to look for traffic spikes without tracking individual devices or personal information. We alert if there’s a tidal wave of devices – simple! Our app allows users to customize their alert settings and detection range to fit the size of their home.

Party Squasher was built by a host to help other hosts protect themselves in the craziness of the sharing economy.

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Extract from an Article originally posted on Medium by Amanda Mills 

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