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“If you start a business in Germany and you fail, you’ll always be the one who failed and cannot do it,” says Hans Penz, an Airbnb host in New York City’s Staten Island. “Here in America, if you start a business and you fail, you can just start another one! A baker can become an electrician, can become a painter. People don’t keep blaming you for your mistakes. It’s easier to move forward and achieve your goals. That’s the reason we moved here.”
Hans and his wife Sandra moved to Staten Island three years ago this month. Sandra is an automotive engineer and Hans runs the bakery Keksies, which specializes in small-batch German and Austrian treats like apple strudel, Black Forest cherry cake, and cinnamon stars.
“We saw an ad for an affordable apartment in Staten Island with a view of the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center, close to the ferry and the beach. We had to look at it,” Hans says. “And once we looked at it, we fell in love with it.”
The couple had enjoyed using Airbnb when they traveled, so opening their own home to guests wasn’t a big leap. “We realized through traveling with Airbnb that it’s not just a simple, convenient, inexpensive alternative to a hotel: you also get introduced to locals immediately and get shown around. Everyone who hosted us was so welcoming. Since we had such great experiences as guests, we thought we could be good hosts, too.”
Most of the extra income Hans and Sandra earn hosting is invested into the bakery. “Airbnb is like a business incubator for my own little business!” he says. “I can do more marketing, buy more equipment; I can spend more on it overall. I couldn’t grow my business as quickly without Airbnb.”
Beyond the business benefits, Hans and Sandra also love to host because, he says, “You meet people who are similar to you in a specific way: some people share our passion for food, some work in the auto industry, like Sandra… People choose us because they identify with us in some way, and we have an immediate connection. They’re like friends we haven’t met before. Meeting new friends, from everywhere, is really why we continue hosting.”
Hans also feels a family connection with his immigration to the United States and his work here. “Both Sandra and I have relatives who previously moved to the U.S. and started businesses,” he says. “My great uncle came through Ellis Island and built a hardware business in New Jersey. Unfortunately he’s passed on and I never had a chance to meet him, but I still feel a connection to him because I’m doing what he did.”
“We’re happy to be continuing what our families did before us.”