How Airpnp Can Leak into the Sharing Economy

About the author: Marco Altamirano is a tech philosopher based in New Orleans. Follow @marcosien. This article was originally posted on


Not using your bathroom? Why not rent it on Airpnp?

Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, said Airbnb was the “worst idea that ever worked.” After all, why would anyone want to let a stranger sleep in their house for $50? But things have changed – the sharing economy has arrived.

Have a parking spot? Rent it out on Parking Panda. Have a camera, or even a spare sofa? Rentoid lets you share everything from golf clubs to private islands. Staying in town for the week? Why not dog-sit, or feed some fish?

So if you’re not using your bathroom, why not rent it on Airpnp?

Airpnp may just be the worst idea that could work. It began as a kind of poop joke during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But a great poop joke can really grab some attention. On Fat Tuesday, the famed last day of Mardi Gras, Airpnp counted nearly 30,000 unique visitors to their splash page. And within three weeks after officially launching, NPRBBC, and Time had covered the “entrepeeneurial” phenomenon.

Nonetheless, while the sharing economy has arrived, it has yet to settle into the smaller spaces of social life. It’s easy to see how cars and homes work with peer-to-peer exchanges, but “creating peer marketplaces for smaller-ticket items proves more challenging,” as Tomio Geron says, “since the transaction has to be easy enough to justify the owner’s effort.”

Accordingly, the cofounder of SnapGoods, a peer-to-peer lending service, finds it worthwhile to rent expensive equipment to a traveling photographer, but who would go through the trouble to rent a bathroom, closet space, or a stove? Are these jokes, or serious marketplaces?

When you look at how Airpnp started, you can actually see something substantial behind all the jokes. After all, you can drink outdoors in New Orleans, but you can’t pee outside, at least without getting arrested. So during Mardi Gras, your options are to brave the horrors of the public port-a-potties or try your chances at a crowded bar or restaurant. But there are entire neighborhoods full of clean and comfy bathrooms surrounding you, why not rent them out?

Of course, there’s little need for Airpnp in normal life, since people spend most of their time at work, home, and other places where you can expect to find a toilet. But theoretically, there could be a substantial (if niche) market for Airpnp, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see initial successes with urban festivals, tourist hubs, and places where people are used to paying for bathrooms, like Antwerp. And niche markets can be great test sites – Airbnb started in niche markets too, like conferences and conventions in big cities where hotels were over-booked or expensive.

To be sure, the difficulties facing Airpnp’s growth are very different from those that Airbnb and Uber faced: renting out a bathroom for 15 minutes is a little different from ride-sharing and vacation rentals. And even with over 500 bathrooms listed around the globe, sustainability remains a critical issue for the company. Brian Berlin, the founder of 3coastsand co-founder of Airpnp, says that “beyond increasing the number of pees,” the company is currently exploring “creative ways to generate revenue in a micro-transaction environment, including brand partnerships with toilet paper companies.”

Still, the largest obstacle facing Airpnp is remarkably similar to the one that faced Airbnb when it started in 2008, namely, how can you make going into a strangers home (whether to stay the night or just use the bathroom) not weird and creepy? Airbnb is the poster-child of the sharing economy precisely because it’s a classic case of how technology can change society: through professional photos, user-ratings, credit mechanisms, and thorough verifications, Airbnb made spending the night in a stranger’s home an attractive possibility.

Similarly, in order for Airpnp to scale and become sustainable, they will have to design and market the restroom renting experience in a way that’s attractive and worth it, if not only for the laughs.