This week we interviewed the director of business operations for Couchsurfing, Pete Ballotta. Follow Pete on Twitter via @teknominds
What’s the biggest lesson from your startup experience before joining CS?
Hire the best people possible at all levels.
When a company is successful and pressured to scale, it should budget time for assimilation and focus on recruiting top management. If not, the early culture you developed will erode, top performers will leave, and momentum will be lost.
Is CS just for backpackers? How can professionals use the site?
Our members include backpackers, students, recent grads, professionals, and retirees. Many professionals extend their trips for a few days, after a company has paid for the initial travel costs. I’ve hosted many Couchsurfers in SF the past year, and many of them were professionals that were in the Bay Area to attend industry conferences including GDC, PyCon, and Google I/O, or seminars at UC Berkeley or Stanford. Our community includes retired Hedge Fund Manager Brooke Allen, and pop icon Amanda Palmer. I see potential for job seekers and entrepreneurs to use the site to attend conferences, interviews, or network without having to spend money on hotels.
What makes the CS community unique? What advice do you have for other folks trying to scale yet maintain a strong community?
It’s a passionate and engaged community with members from over 100k cities in the world who bring a wealth of diversity and local knowledge to the platform. Couchsurfers share bits of their daily lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect. The community has been growing for a decade, so of course there are different opinions and world views. We’re excited about the ever-increasing interest in the sharing economy, and expect the CS community will continue to grow and evolve.
Do you notice a difference in style of users between Airbnb and CS?
Both options can offer a unique housing option to members, and I think there is a lot of crossover potential. Couchsurfers usually have a desire to meet locals though, whether it’s for a home-cooked meal, a walking tour of a city, ride sharing, or a few hours of conversation. There are Couchsurfing meet ups in 300+ cities every week, so many members interact with the community without leaving their hometown.
What tips do you have for those people who have a hard time taking their vacation leave? Any mini-break suggestions from SF?
Couchsurfers are practically everywhere and in the Bay Area, they are often using the website to share rides to Tahoe, LA, Napa or Yosemite. A few weeks ago my girlfriend had a sudden itch to get out of the city for the weekend. It was a Thursday afternoon, but she decided to try to find a host near Paso Robles. We had wanted to explore the wine region there, and within six hours she received a message from a Couchsurfer offering to host us for the weekend. Upon arriving, we found our host was not only a good cook, but worked as a winemaker for a 100% sustainable vineyard. All of our stops that weekend were recommendations from locals, including a spontaneous invitation to join a half-dozen locals on a farm for dinner.
What professional and lifestyle events do you like going to? Any cool happenings coming up?
I’m a regular at SFRails events, and have been producing some of the local CS meetups. I’m a big fan of local comedy clubs, the Sunset/Stompy music events, Hardly Strictly, and the Treasure Island Music Festival. We’re hosting International Couchsurfing Day in our offices on June 12th, and there are “Couch Crash” events this summer in Boulder, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, and many other cities.
Favourite place for business meetings in SF?
About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.