When Kitty Mrache put her cabin on Airbnb in 2009, she didn’t expect much, says Zachary Crockett in The Hustle. First, it’s in the middle of nowhere: the surrounding Californian woodland is so thick, no phone signal can reach it, and to find it you have to follow printed-out directions. Second, it’s tiny. The handmade, mushroom-shaped hut is just 100 sq ft and was originally built for a homeless friend who needed a place to stay. Still, within two weeks of Mrache listing it, it was fully booked, going on to become the most popular Airbnb of all time.
There are 5.6 million properties on Airbnb, but Mrache’s humble “mushroom dome” is the most booked and wish-listed. More than 5,800 people have visited, travelling from more than 40 countries. To bag a stay in the $156-a-night mushroom, guests have to book at least eight months in advance. Before, Mrache scraped by on social security payments of $250 a month. Now she rakes in $96,000 a year from Airbnb alone.
Part of her success was that she joined Airbnb early. Almost all the other listings were city buildings, so Mrache’s woodland dome stood out. Plus, the company loved her. Mrache embodied Airbnb’s purpose – “helping everyday people monetise their extra space”. It stuck her on advertising hoardings in five US cities and built a replica of her pad in its San Francisco HQ. But the real secret is Mrache herself. Guests love the 71-year-old, who swears by crystal healing and is a trained meditation practitioner. And she loves the guests. “Sometimes I think I’d like to go travel and see the world,” she says. “But then again, the whole world has come to me instead.”