9. October 2012–
Take Couch Surfing, add a cup of networking, a handful of enthusiastic entrepreneurs and a sprinkling of global cities, and you get social accommodation site Startup Stay. Founded by Fred Caballero and Facundo Villaveiran, the website has one mission – to connect entrepreneurs from around the world and provide them with the opportunity to broaden their networks, while saving them money in the process.
Launched close to four months ago, Startup Stay was the logical result of the founder’s two major passions – travel and entrepreneurship. The globally minded co-founders decided to create a unique service that targeted the rapidly growing international entrepreneurial community – a community that is constantly on the move. Startup Stay offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to get in touch and stay with founders in cities they are visiting, instead of booking impersonal and expensive hotels.
Couchsurfing for the entrepreneurial set
So far the site has attracted close to 5,000 users, who have organised about 400 stays. Startup Stay is invite-only at present, with all members having to pass a screening to prove they are "entrepreneurs". This slightly ambiguous title doesn't exclude everyone bar actual founders, people who show initiative and spirit are also welcomed. The selection process is to make sure that the arrangement is beneficial for all parties, Caballero (pictured left) explains:
“We have the same concept as Couchsurfing, we use some social layers to help members make informed decisions on where to stay. The first is the reference system, a review of the stay. Also, to make sure they get a good fit, the majority of the entrepreneurs include their LinkedIn or Twitter accounts in ther profiles.”
Working out of the spirited entrepreneurial hub at Google Campus in London, the website has so far been self-funded, with the platform free for users as Cabellero is not keen for money to pass from guests to hosts. But the founders have a solid plan for making revenue and securing seed funding.
Connect locally – and network between naps
“There are many oppurtunities for us to partner with organisations and people in a mutually advantageous way. For example, we’ve teamed up with Hermione Way from The Next Web, who is currently travelling the world looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg and staying with members of Startup Stay so she can connect with more local entrepreneurs.” Once the site has expanded its features to include a mobile app (the plan for 2013), the co-founders plan on introducing a premium membership.
A paid membership in the future will most likely be successful as the entrepreneurial community is lapping up Startup Stay. The site doesn’t only cater to the jet-set, members can use the site to meet up with entrepreneurs visiting their city even if they don’t stay together. Caballero points out multiple success stories of people connecting through the site, including Uldis Leiterts, the Latvian co-founder of infographic creation service Infogr.am, who used Startup Stay in London.
“One of the more memorable experiences was Uldis, who won TechStars and an all-expenses paid trip to Le Web in London. He could have stayed in a five-star hotel, but instead he decided to use Startup Stay and live with a local entrepreneur to build relationships. So instead of just networking at Le Web, he met a lot more people through his hosts.”
Don't forget to get a CTO
Startup Stay is still on the look-out for a CTO, a position they desperately need to fill: “At the end of the day, a startup is going to succeed based on its ability to learn and integrate fast and if you don’t have a strong technical person it’s really hard to do that. So we should have tried harder before we started to make sure that we had that kind of person on board, a CTO. We’ve made loads of mistakes, some that we probably don’t even know we’ve made.”
So does Caballero practise what he preaches and use Startup Stay on his travels?
"I use it all the time! I've stayed with members in Buenos Aires, Berlin, Amsterdam and many others. Every time I travel I use it. I’m living and breathing this platform." If other entrepreneurs feel the same (and let's face it, not many people would pass on the offer of free accommodation), it looks like Startup Stay could be bedding down for the long term...
For related stories, check out:
Startup of the Week: Camp in my Garden – AirBnB meets the outdoors
Startup Stay – Crash on the world’s most entrepreneurial couches
Airbnb rival Wimdu confirms cuts to international offices, refocus on Berlin