Walter Cronkite lied to us.
In a 1967 episode of his CBS series The 21st Century, Cronkite took viewers on a tour of the home of 2001, presenting it as a teleworker’s paradise. Not only would a 30-hour work week and month-long vacations be the norm, he said, but the businessperson of the future would have a home office equipped with computer consoles and other devices that would allow him “to carry on normal business activities without ever going to an office away from home.”
Fast forward to 2016, and most of us are still schlepping in all weathers to a fluorescent-lit cubicle farm. Meanwhile, the biggest technology companies have spent millions of dollars to build sprawling, exclusive campuses so loaded with amenities that employees need never go home at all.
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A new startup, Roam, which today announced $3.4 million in seed funding, wants to help people ditch their corporate offices and stressful commutes in favor of upscale “co-living” spaces in dream destinations around the globe. Picture a permanent working vacation and you aren’t far off. Rather than juggling multiple bookings and rates, as they normally would when hopscotching between cities, Roam users pay a flat rate of $500 a week (or $1,800 a month) to book time at any of the company’s properties. They can stay for as little as one week or for months at a time.
“It’s great because it’s not a vacation,” says Bruno Haid, Roam’s founder and chief executive. “It’s all people who want to work on something, whatever that is. They really want to live their life there, and they want to get up in the morning, they want to get their shit done, and they want to have other people they can lead an interesting life with.”
While companies such as Airbnb and HomeAway have given travelers new options for where to stay, Roam offers a more radical proposition: a footloose lifestyle for remote workers, globe-trotting creatives, freelance coders and other so-called digital nomads who don’t need to be tied down to a single location.
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The properties are suitably posh: a boutique hotel in Bali, a former Victorian boarding house in Miami’s Little Havana, the one-time residence of a 19th-century marquess in Madrid. All boast fast Wi-Fi with backup fiber lines, inviting workspaces, beautiful furnishings, private bathrooms for each guest, a communal kitchen stocked with food, and other amenities.
“You can join a lease whenever you want depending on availability, and you’re always a part of the alumni network,” says Haid, who grew up in a small alpine village in Austria. An application process ensures that tenants are a diverse bunch, and prevents Roam properties from being turned into frat houses.
The Bali and Miami spaces are already open. Madrid is next, followed by London and Buenos Aires. Roam plans to target vibrant cities with good infrastructure—think Berlin or Amsterdam—and exotic destinations off the beaten path.
The company has its roots in earlier co-living experiments such as 20Mission in San Francisco, which Haid co-founded. He says the infusion of capital announced today will be used to expand to new locations and to build out a social platform for Roam alumni. CRV is leading the round, and is joined by Collaborative Fund, NextView, Corigin and a few angel investors, including Soundcloud founder Eric Wahlforss and Sten Tamkivi, the CEO of Teleport, a startup which helps knowledge workers figure out where to live and get settled once they arrive.
Tamkivi sees Teleport and Roam as “the beginning of a tidal wave.” His bet is that, in the future, more and more workers will be willing to relocate in order to secure the best life for themselves. “What would it take for a 24-year-old graphic designer or a 30-year-old software developer to just cancel their existing rental agreement or give up their mortgage?” he wonders. “Rather than going backpacking and [staying in] hostels, Roam is a higher-end, predictable, dependable way to live that sort of lifestyle.”
Asked whether he aims to further disrupt the hotel industry, or even take on Airbnb, Haid demurs. “If I would have to disrupt someone,” he says, “it’s the detached, single-family suburban unit with a 30-year mortgage. It’s the cultural practice of the last 50 or 60 years.”
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