Airbnb is one of the major success stories of the peer-to-peer economy. Now valued at $20 billion, it’s helped millions of people to rent accommodation around the world since 2008. But what if you were to tweak that model so that it became more about the people than the place to stay, and managed to tackle a pressing social issue in the process?
Peter Mangan’s dad Owen is a pivotal figure in the tale of the Freebird Club. In 2012 Dublin-based Peter listed his rustic country cottage in County Kerry on Airbnb and tasked the retired county vet to do the meeting and greeting. It proved to be a savvy choice: of all the people who stayed there, the feedback from his older guests was exceptional. Owen added another dimension to their holiday – showing them the local area, taking them to the pub or out to dinner. And the widower found a new lease of life, meeting people from all over the world, having a grand old time.
“It’s mix between Airbnb and match.com”
Through his job as a Research Manager at University College Dublin, Peter is tuned into global trends. He knows that an ageing society throws up issues like loneliness and isolation which are detrimental to the wellbeing of older people. Having paid off their mortgage, they may have an empty nest and be asset rich but cash poor due to inadequate pensions. He’s also aware of the sharing economy and the boom in social enterprise. The light bulb moment came when he realised he’d have a compelling proposition if he combined the two. He could empower older people to become micro-entreprenuers through renting spare rooms to their peers – giving them a much-needed psychological and financial boost.
The blurb on the Freebird Club website says: ‘Connecting senior explorers through meaningful travel.’ Peter describes it as ‘a mix between Airbnb and match com.’ ‘Airbnb is a travel site whereas this is much more about placing people with people rather than people with somewhere to stay,’ he says. Crucially you have to be a member, upload a profile and pay a small one-off fee to cover vetting. ‘Older people are potentially more vulnerable so their financial and personal security are paramount.’
Older people might be asset rich because they’ve paid off their mortgage, but they’re cash poor due to inadequate pensions
Earlier this year, Peter was selected by the Impact Hub to come to London for a three month incubator where he wrote his business plan and carried out research with the help of the Open Age organisation. ‘One piece of advice I was given from entrepreneurs was to build and test it,’ he says. ‘Once that’s done, it’s time to shout from rooftops and get the funding.’
So Peter’s running a pilot where Londoners will be hosted in Kerry at the end of September. The signs for a launch in early 2016 are promising. He has support from age organisations in the UK and Ireland and the Freebird Club is one of 30 projects (out of 1400) to be selected for the European Social Innovation Competition. ‘We’re all going to Vienna to be mentored, which will be hugely beneficial,’ he says. ‘It’s incredible validation for what we’re trying to do.’
“Freebird could become more than travel, a genuine social network for older people”
The potential for growth is awesome. ‘Freebird could become more than travel, a genuine social network for older people,’ he says. Could Peter have cracked upon a Facebook for our parents’ generation? A must sign-up for older timers.