A Q&A with Roomsurfer founder and CEO Michael Walser. The Berlin–based company was founded in 2012 and closed a Series A funding round in mid-January.
SUB: Please describe Roomsurfer and your value proposition.
Walser: Roomsurfer.com connects young travelers with like-minded hosts all around the world via a unique matching system based on their common interests.
For young people, traveling has nothing to do with tour buses, nor expensive, impersonal resorts. It’s not about ticking a place off a list and moving on to the next one. Young travelers want to immerse themselves into the most authentic traditions of a city—they need one-off experiences. Sure, they also want to stay somewhere as cheaply as possible, but not just anywhere, not with just anyone. Here is where Roomsurfer.com comes into play.
Since the platform enables us to match private hosts with travelers who share the same interests, we make our users—be it travelers or locals—enjoy a city in a deeper and more authentic way, and with a new friend.
All at Roomsurfer.com is built around peoples’ passions, with a particular attention to their likes and interests gathered from social network sites and services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Spotify, or Foursquare. Then it’s the algorithm that calculates the matching percentage, showing the compatibility between hosts and guests and turning perfect strangers into potential friends.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Walser: Our target users are young travelers, students, or young Europeans, open minded human beings who start living or working in a new city. What we offer them is nothing less than the chance to make new friends everywhere they are going.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Walser: Our main competitors are Couchsurfing and Airbnb, but also all their copycats spread all over the web.
SUB: What differentiates Roomsurfer from the competition?
Walser: For our target group, what really matters is not where they will stay, but mostly who they will meet. The focus of our business is, therefore, connecting people rather than selling room.
We see ourselves in the middle between Airbnb and Couchsurfing. On one side, the former is offering an alternative to hotel rooms, while our focus is on offering a cheaper, and more convivial, accommodation opportunity. On the other side, the latter is completely community-oriented and 100 percent free. What we do is offer our users more comfortable accommodation and make the exchange a fair deal by enabling our hosts to earn some money for their hospitality.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Walser: We started at the beginning of 2012 with intensive and accurate research within our target group to find out their needs and to configure our service.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Roomsurfer? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Walser: It all started by analyzing our own travel behavior and by understanding our needs as travelers. The second, natural step was talking to people who use the services offered by our competitors and realizing that there was actually something missing in the market.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Walser: We wanted to find something describing what we offer in an extremely clear, direct way.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Walser: The technology, without a doubt. Building an innovating matching algorithm and combining it with a proper booking and payment process has been a real challenge, not to mention how difficult it has been to put together a strong development team able to reach this goal. User experience is another exciting challenge—we want our matching process to be pure fun and our search to be absolutely addictive.
SUB: You just raised a new funding round. Do you consider this to be a Series A round? Can you reveal the amount raised?
Walser: Yes I would call it a Series A round. We got a serious six digit sum. It gives us the ability to develop the business case without having too much pressure. And, more important, we could get some really experienced and well-connected people on board.
SUB: What are your plans for the new funds?
Walser: We will launch our service at the end of February. To do that, we have to invest some more money into developing the technology behind our platform and we have to start carefully with some marketing activities.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise more outside capital?
Walser: We can already prove that the main assumptions in our business plan do work. With the new capital we can just start spinning the wheel much, much faster.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Walser: Our revenue model is very simple. We take a service fee on every booking we generate on our platform.
SUB: What are your goals for Roomsurfer over the next year or so?
Walser: We want to grow up to 10,000 rooms offered all over Europe. With that, we will be able to reach the break even in the middle of 2014.
Roomsurfer – www.roomsurfer.com