Airbnb launches 15-year-old’s career

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Last modified: 2/1/2016 6:56:06 PM
PETERBOROUGH — When Alex Pollard was 12, he didn’t spend his weekends playing Little League baseball or having sleepovers. He hosted, in his beach-side home outside of San Francisco, guests who hailed from all over the world.

“I have a different take on life and perspective of the world because of it,” said the 15-year-old Pollard, with a budding mustache, curly, black hair and sporting a V-neck sweater. “I don’t feel innately enhanced or better. But, I do feel there are things I see differently.”

A freshman at High Mowing School, Pollard is the youngest host for Airbnb, an online marketplace that allows him and his mother, Laura Hoffman, to rent out their two-bedroom cottage in Santa Cruz. Pollard’s involvement in the lodging service has not only exposed him to a hodgepodge of guests and conversations. It has also allowed him to travel throughout North America and Europe, become civically and politically minded and placed him in Paris during the terrorist attacks in November.

Pollard and Hoffman became Airbnb hosts in 2012, first renting out the yurt behind their home. They eventually expanded, offering up their whole home each weekend, which they list as “warm and welcoming... in a quiet, family neighborhood.”

To rent the Santa Cruz cottage, or any of the over 2 million other listings, a guest with a profile on the website must apply. Pollard and Hoffman then approve the guest’s request (Hoffman handles all online communications).

Before Pollard moved to New Hampshire, he would be responsible for turning their weekday home into someone else’s weekend getaway. He would buy guests bagels, juice and coffee, and offer to do their laundry or be their concierge. Now that Pollard is away at school, he and his mother, who relocated to Peterborough, have asked a friend to manage the listing. The business remains in Pollard’s name.

How did a 12-year-old become a part of a breakout startup? It was Hoffman’s doing. She wanted her son to be life smart.

“I wasn’t trying to teach him how to get good grades and get a good job. I was trying to teach him how to make money and be a self-starter,” she said. “My intention was for him to have a source of income and learn how the system works.”

Hoffman showed her 12-year-old how to register the business, and entrusted him with paying taxes and managing his earnings (they estimate he has earned as much as $25,000 over three years). But, neither of them could have foreseen Pollard learning how to network with tech executives or speak in front of thousands.

Being the youngest host linked Pollard with Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, the founders of Airbnb, which has grown from a startup company to a the $24 billion business. Pollard said he struck up a relationship with Chesky and Gebbia at the first Airbnb Open in San Francisco, after word spread that there was a 14-year-old host at the conference. The organizers eventually found Pollard and invited him to speak at the 2015 Airbnb Open in Paris, a networking conference for 6,000 hosts. There, Pollard was joined by two other hosts on-stage. This, in itself, was a lesson for Pollard because he prepared too many remarks. But, the real life lesson occurred later that evening.

Pollard, his mother and other hosts were at dinner when terrorists linked to the Islamic State group carried out suicide bombings and mass shootings in central Paris and the suburb of Saint-Denis. Pollard and Hoffman remember staying in a restaurant for five hours while mayhem ensued outside. But Pollard said he didn’t feel the severity of the attack until he and his mother visited the Place de la République square several days later. He remembers visitors carrying candles, flowers and pictures and singing the national anthem to show their solidarity.

“In a way, it lifted the veil of my childish dream and allowed me to see it actually,” said Pollard. He said the experience opened his eyes to a world full of hate and death, but also showed him the good in people and their ability to stay strong in the face of violence.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or Follow him on Twitter @BenjiRosenMLT.


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