Check out services that help make road trips more social--and budget-friendly.
Business trips can be great networking opportunities. But when I travel for work, I wind up spending most of my downtime alone. Recently, I tested two new services, Startup Stay and Here on Biz, created to help road warriors network more effectively--and maybe even snag a free place to crash.
Startup Stay is an online community that lets entrepreneurs connect with other company owners willing to host them on business trips. Launched in June, the site has 5,000 members in hundreds of cities worldwide, including New York and Barcelona. Before a recent trip to the Bay Area, I registered for the free service and did a search for San Francisco. Up popped thumbnail photos of 175 local entrepreneurs, along with links to their LinkedIn profiles, references, and lodging details. I sent requests to 25 members and, after a day, Anthony Krumeich, co-creator of the event-planning app Bloodhound, offered me a spot on his futon.
I was a bit apprehensive as I drove from the San Francisco airport to my host's gated apartment complex in the trendy SoMa district. My fears dissipated when I hit the buzzer and my smiling host met me at the door. Krumeich gave me a tour of the apartment, which doubles as the headquarters for his 11-person start-up, and we chatted for a couple of hours. When he showed me to my bed--a futon in the corner of the communal space--I realized it wasn't large enough for my 6-foot-2 frame and checked in to a hotel. The next morning, however, I returned to meet Krumeich's staff and spend the day with him at a tech conference.
During the same trip, I also tried Here on Biz, a free app for iPhones and iPads that lets you chat with nearby LinkedIn members, including those in your network. The app, which launched this summer, has about 6,000 members. I fired it up on my iPad at the Minneapolis airport, and a list of 30 professionals appeared. Because no one was in the immediate vicinity, the app widened the search radius to include the entire city. I sent connection requests to about 15 people. When I landed in San Francisco, I was disappointed to see no one had accepted. The next day, I opened the app at the conference and sent requests to 30 people, but, once again, no one accepted. Back home, I finally chatted with one Here on Biz member--the founder of a marketing firm in Eagan, Minnesota.
Overall, I was disappointed with Here on Biz, but, like many social networks, it could prove useful as more people sign up. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by my Startup Stay experience. If you're like me, you might not love the accommodations, but you could make a valuable business contact.
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