Today marks my 35th birthday. I received an early birthday present a week ago in the form of an email from a University of Michigan student who found our internship opportunity on AngelList.
Though we’ve been quiet here on the blog, we’ve been busy behind the scenes. Our web app recently received an influx of development and design love, and now has the same great ability to filter results by group and accommodation type, or search by city.
One of the regular questions we receive is some iteration of “I’m traveling to Ireland - are there groups I should join for my trip?”
As an international nonprofit, AIESEC aims to increase cross cultural exchange and awareness. The urgency of this mission is evident. One tragedy after the next, we are reminded that a fundamental lack of understanding between cultures and people exists. As active members or alumni, we are devoted to creating a more connected and accepting world.
Similarities between marketing a real estate property and marketing a vacation rental property run deep (some of you may know my previous professional experience is in the real estate industry).
Most entrepreneurs believe there is a “wrong” in the world, and they are the ones that need to “right” it. For me, that wrong is the very real life lottery that exists in this world, which is as simple as where you’re born. From my point of view, access to community is the only way to break that cycle and lesson the opportunity/income inequality that exists worldwide.
A week in Cuba with absolutely zero internet for 7 days made me re-realize the reality that screen addiction doesn’t exist everywhere. Yet. All the time people in the developed world spend browsing Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed, People Magazine, and TMZ – as well as countless hours indulging in Netflix, Hulu, and Showtime – people in Cuba (& most other places in the developing world) spend actually talking to each other, strengthening relationships & helping each other.
As a result of our latest product changes allowing hosts to provide a text description and link to an external website, we believe there is a compelling proposition for existing hosts on AirBnB (and other vacation rental & homestay platforms) to use Horizon as a complementary tool:
There are several steps to posting a sublet opportunity on Horizon, which makes it discoverable by friends, friends of friends, and members of communities you belong to.
It’s a little crazy to think Horizon has been on the App Store for a year. We’ve learned a lot, and validated the challenges with incentives on the host side of a hospitality exchange marketplace. There are numerous reasons people host others, but not a lot of urgency or incentive to do more of it.
I recently watched Aziz Abu Sarah’s Ted talk titled “For more tolerance, we need more…Tourism?”
There have been countless attempts at hospitality exchange networks (I’ve written about many of them here). Couchsurfing is certainly the largest, but far from the only.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive in Seattle is the presence of 12. You can’t walk or drive very far without seeing a 12 flag hanging off a balcony or in a window – or, at the top of the Space Needle.
I came across the Surf for Social Good piece on Maptia this afternoon, and watched the following video about the Surf for Social Good Summit (held in Bali) as a result:
Those of us working on Horizon from Seattle are planning a hackday this coming Sunday, November 13th. The Impact Hub Seattle team has graciously agreed to let us use their fantastic space in the heart of Pioneer Square. I was an Impact Hub member in 2013, and recently re-joined after settling back in Seattle after being in Santiago for Startup Chile for much of 2014 – thank you to Brian Howe (an advisor for us) and the rest of the team for being so supportive and generous.
It’s long, long overdue, but I wanted to publicly thank our first confirmed host post Product Hunt release.
Last night, I pitched Horizon at Galvanize’s Pitchers and Pitches event in Pioneer Square. It was a 3 minute pitch, along with 2 minutes for Q&A on our concept and business model. The lineup of 8 presentations was quite impressive - including Givesafe, a project by Jonathan Kumar, who told me about the monthly pitch event last month and convinced me to sign up as a presenter. For those who have presentated at public pitch events, you likely know 3 minutes is not much time to give a complete overview of your business. Conciseness is critical when alloted only 3 minutes. Fortunately Startup Chile’s demo day was a 3 minute format as well (you can see my presenation here), so we already had a rough outline and presentation to start from. I modified the the presenation slightly, to include our traction (we passed 5,000 community members yesterday) and some revisions to the business model – and practiced in advance.
It’s been a long 18 month journey (36 months if you include customer research, validation, and prototyping of the many concepts that went into Oh Hey World/Horizon).
Since we released unlock codes, we still receive the question “what groups are available?” frequently.
Some of you may know I manage a real estate technology community, Geek Estate, which has a community on Horizon (the unlock code is “geekestate2015”) to help tech savvy professionals from the real estate industry find (& help) other community members in travel situations.
Jolkona Catalyst, an accelerator for international social ventures with a focus on empowering young social entrepreneurs, is coming to Seattle later this month. The three-week intensive social business accelerator brings social entrepreneurs from emerging countries to Seattle, where they can hone their business plans, gain valuable insights, and work one on one with experts in their field.
We’re now 3 years into the journey to unlock the hidden power of community. We learned a lot in our first attempt (Oh Hey World) and, after a year grinding through concepts looking for a product iteration that could grow without throwing $100 million at it, have now been working on our 2nd attempt - Horizon - for well over a year.
Since releasing our iOS app in March, we’ve been focused on a few core communities – Sigma Phi Epsilon (aka SigEp), which I am a proud member of (WA Beta class of 2002), is one of them. Every two years, Sigma Phi Epsilon hosts the largest national gathering of its members across the nation, the Grand Chapter Conclave. Grand Chapter Conclave was this past week in Nashville, Tennessee. 1,500 undergraduates and alumni from around the country celebrated brotherhood, and delegates considered new legislation and changes to its bylaws that will determine how the Fraternity operates. No doubt, many great connections were made.
Since releasing our iOS app in March, we’ve heard from a wide range of travelers from across the globe. There are hosts from over 100 countries, including places like Pakistan, Ukraine, and Morocco. In addition to some enhancements that we’ve already deployed to our web app, we’ve been working on improvements to our iOS version.
A number of amazing people stayed at our humble Santiago abode, La Mesa Verde. Jochen, Henry, and Amy are three. Two others were Ben Kneppers and Kevin Ahearn from Bureo Skateboards. In fact, they secured an extremely special place in the Horizon journey the minute they agreed to sublet their apartment to us. Without them, La Mesa Verde never would have been a “thing” (in our story), or the Wednesday tradition that bound our community together throughout our 6 months.
I came across Endlessly Changing Horizon (cool name, right?), read Miranda’s about page, and gravitated to the quote at the bottom by Jon Krakauer from Into the Wild:
Do you believe making a difference in the world matters? Those who have traveled and seen poverty with your own eyes, know travel is a privilege the majority of the world does not have. Those of us privileged enough to experience the world, should do our part to giveback to others to help level the playing field.
Since we released unlock codes a few weeks ago, we’ve gotten numerous questions to the tune of “what groups are available?” and “how do I become a member of groups?”
I’ve written about our first paid customer, Henry, as well as our 3rd, Jochen. Our 2nd customer was Amy Kerman, a former product manager at Intuit who spent the better part of a year traveling through South America in 2014. Turns out, she also led us to our newest co-founder, Oren Borovitch. Oren is in charge of finance, business development, and operations. Here’s a little bit more about him, in his own words:
Facebook changed its rules, and shut off permissions to their groups APIs on April 30th as part of migrating all developers from FB Graph 1.0 to Graph 2.0. What this means for all those who have not yet signed into Horizon is that we can not automatically show you groups within Horizon based upon memberships of specific Facebook groups.
We’re applying to an accelerator that requires a 1 minute founder video. I thought I’d share it here for those interested in a behind the scenes look at the founders of Horizon.
This company has always been about connecting like minded people in person. That’s been our goal since the beginning. But why? We struggled with that for awhile. A probing question from my friend Taylor finally led to Horizon. Those who have marketed a product know it often takes awhile to nail your positioning in a way that’s clear to everyone. The only way to figure out great positioning, is to practice repeatedly. Up until a few weeks ago, I told people the end goal for Horizon was “enabling community on demand”. Unfortunately, not everyone understood exactly what that meant. I got a few blank stares. Questions. Puzzled looks.
We’ve all been there. Settled into the daily work-home-eat-sleep routine, wanderlust begins to take over. Suddenly, the local flavor doesn’t satisfy you anymore. You feel your city has little more to offer you and a weekend trip to the neighboring state won’t be sufficient. You want to get far away but don’t have enough vacation time. In essence, the travel bug has hit and you don’t have any antibiotics.
Horizon is now available on the App Store. After the three years of legwork it took to get us here, those words feel good to write.
Though I have stayed at dozens of people’s homes over the years – I’ll admit: I have never officially “couchsurfed”.
Think of a place you have never been, a place you would really love to go. Odds are you have gazed at it on google image for hours instead of working on that presentation for work, or that paper for class. Maybe it’s the background of your computer screen at this very moment, or maybe it’s a poster on your wall. Whatever the destination, picture it and ask yourself “Why am I so infatuated with this place?”
As you may know, Horizon launched into a public beta on Product Hunt a few weeks ago.
After the question of how we’re different than Couchsurfing, the next most common question I receive is how Horizon is different than AirBnB. Given both help travelers find a place to stay while traveling, it’s a perfectly valid question.
AirBnB started as a paid version of Couchsurfing back in 2008, though have successfully moved up the luxury scale and is now mainly used to book vacation rentals. While I certainly had heard about AirBnB back in 2010 when I spent much of the year traveling and contemplating various travel startup ideas, my first AirBnB experience didn’t come until 2012 in Barcelona, on my next extended trip abroad. In 2012, I stayed with 3 hosts over the course of 3 weeks. My first host was a Catalan lady who spoke no English, the second a freelance graphic designer, and the third was an amazing family that ran OurBnB.com (Phil and Fiona Morris). There are numerous reasons staying with a family is amazing; the Morris’ are just one of those families you can’t help but love.
If I had to sum up our Start-Up Chile experience in 3 words: La Mesa Verde.
Will and I have both largely been nomads for the better part of the last 5 years. We met while living in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2012. Its safe to say we both have mild to severe doses of wanderlust.
Since arriving middle of July, I get asked fairly often, “How has Start-Up Chile been?” Rather than answering repeatedly via email, I’ll answer once in more detail here.
With the continued growth of incubators/accelerators and the major value proposition of acceptance being “the network”, it’s highly likely a clear winner will emerge in every major vertical. Many accelerators are already verticalizing as a point of differentiation - TechStars, a clear leader, has realized this as a growth strategy and now runs accelerators for Qualcomm (robotics), Disney, Nike, Barclays (finance), R/GA (connected devices), Sprint (mobile health), and Kaplan (EdTech). The YCombinator’s of the world won’t have to go down this path because they have a massive headstart (aka brand & reputation) – but everyone else will be required to specialize, or risk a slow demise into obscurity.
There is a deep social mission behind Horizon - to organize every single trusted community in the world by location, in order to enable in person conversations, experiences, and friendships. Why? There is zero doubt in my mind community inspires travel decisions.
There are lots of amazing articles about traveling. Why You should Travel Young, in Converge, pretty accurately sums up my opinions on making travel a priority.
There have been many attempts at hospitality networks, most of which have ended up losing steam for a variety of reasons. What’s our approach? Why do we think it will work, while previous attempts failed?
It’s been a busy week for Horizon. On Monday, we submitted our application to TechStars NYC, which would run from January 12 until April 10 if accepted. If you know someone on our team, or are just a traveler who wants Horizon to exist - please help our chances of being accepted to TechStars (only 1% get in) by leaving us a recommendation at the following URL: http://www.f6s.com/horizonapp
Community building is the lifeblood of any successful web company. If you don’t have a community, you have nothing defensible long term.
When they first come across Horizon, one of the first questions every single person asks is “how is Horizon different than Couchsurfing”?
Last week, Horizon secured our first paying customer.
I’m a junior at Tulane University, and am serving as a student ambassador for Horizon to get some community building and marketing experience in the tech startup world.
People do all sorts of things to raise money for charity. Just a few examples…
Hospitality networks need both supply (hosts) and demand (guests). It’s no surprise, in virtually every hospitality network – there are more guests than hosts. Who wouldn’t want to save the couple hundred dollars a hotel would cost by staying with a local? At least among millenials, the answer is virtually nobody. A delicate marketplace balancing act spanning thousands and thousands of cities all across the globe is required to accommodate the majority of guests within a given hospitality network.
Those who have traveled extensively, know the best way to travel (staying with local friends in every city) is also the least expensive way to explore the globe.
Hospitality networks are not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. The most well known is certainly Couchsurfing, which has been around since 2003 and now has over 9 million members. While the largest hospitality network on the planet, it’s certainly not the only one.
Our long term goal is, and always has been, to connect people with shared passions, beliefs, experiences, & interests in person. The mission is to increase access to travel opportunities worldwide by enabling shared hospitality among trusted contacts and communities; providing free or cheap accommodations and cultural experiences not otherwise available.
I read Dave McClure’s “Engineering Minimum Viable Inspiration. (aka: do you give a Shit + can you get others to give a Shit)” post today.
Our core mission is to increase access to travel opportunities worldwide by enabling shared hospitality among trusted contacts and communities; providing free or cheap accommodation and cultural experiences not otherwise available to them.
Just over 2 weeks ago, Will and I arrived in Santiago, Chile to spend 6 months as part of Generation 10 of Start-Up Chile. The morning of July 18th, to be precise.
Communities are small. Networks are large. Communities are intimate. Networks are not.
In 2005, MyBlogLog was the first real “community” platform that I can remember existing. Of course, blog communities existed prior to MyBlogLog, primarily in blog comments. But if you didn’t leave comments, no one knew about your existence (everyone knows most people don’t contribute content). MBL brought transparency to the faces of those reading specific blogs.
I recently came across a post by Tomasz Tunguz titled The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received, which included the following paragraph:
Many startups wireframe, design and sometimes even build working prototypes of many concepts that don’t ever end up seeing the light of day.
The entrepreneurial road is a long and often rocky one with no shortage of ups and downs.
Over a year and a half ago, we embarked on building Oh Hey World in our attempt to solve the rampant missed connections while traveling problem that every regular traveler inevitably suffers from. Our goal was to connect like minded people in person.
We’re setting our code free… will you fly with us?