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Taylor Record
August 15, 2017

Meet our Members #4: Startup Founder & CEO, José Luis Romero

José is an enthusiastic entrepreneur with a diverse range of experience in China, South Korea, Spain, Germany and the United States. He’s passionate about technology and its impact on our daily lives. He is the founder of Abroadwith, a startup founded in August 2015 and based in betahaus, Berlin.

Tell me about Abroadwith and why you started it.

Abroadwith is the first P2P (Peer to Peer) platform where people can find a host to live with and practise a language, immersing in a new language and culture. Currently we offer three different immersions: Stay (daily conversation with native speakers), Tandem (daily conversation exchanging languages between the student and the host), and Teacher Stay (living with a certified language tutor who provides customized language lessons).

My personal experiences in the language travel industry has helped to shape my understanding of traditional agencies and how the industry works. For example, during my exchange program in Ireland, my host lived 20 km away from my language school which I found particularly inconvenient. What’s more, I was not given the opportunity to choose a host who lived closer to the school, nor was I informed about the location of my host prior to arriving. Another example was during my time in Beijing living with a Chinese host family. The agency I booked with were keeping a fee of around 40%, which I saw as being unfair on both the student and the host family.

As a result, Abroadwith is bringing more transparency, convenience and more options to help language learners avoid these issues.

The concept of Abroadwith is mainly based on your previous personal experiences. In what way is your idea and website different from others?

There are two spectrums: collaborative economy platforms where users can find accommodation (Airbnb, Homestay etc) and small and large agencies where students can find language programs (ESL, EF etc).

With the former we share their transparency, conveniency and lower fees to all parts involved. With the latter we share the focus on the language learning and cultural experience, vetting all hosts and language schools that we work with but at lower prices for students, higher income for the families and higher transparency for everyone.

 

Abroadwith Founder, José Luis Romero

How was the process to build supply and demand on the platform and what problems did you find?

As a three-sided marketplace we initially had to build supply with two different stakeholders - host families and language schools. Besides providing excellent communication and ensuring the trustability of the platform, many of the problems we encountered were regarding the technical competencies of the hosts.

This was due to a large proportion of the hosts being aged between 40 to 60 years old. This meant that many of them were not technologically savvy. For example, hosts in some central American countries were not familiar with the postal code system, with some users expecting our location API to find addresses such “the third house 200m south from the lady selling potatoes under a palm tree”. Consequently, we solved this problem by streamlining the processes and focusing on markets that were easy to control, in order to improve our funnel and conversion rates. 

How do you spend your time at work?

I usually work on two fronts: Product, understanding the needs of our customers and optimizing their experience on three levels (students, hosts and language schools). On the other side, I work on business development and customer acquisition. In the last 4 months there has been another front which every founder in early stage companies needs to pay attention to, financing.

What sales tools and channels do you use?

Since we are an early stage and niche product we have focused on experimentation since the beginning. An experimental approach in which we make continuous improvements has helped us to find a set of characteristics and preferences from our users.

We have tested many channels during the last year: PR, content marketing, affiliate marketing, performance marketing, partnerships with universities, student groups and language schools, referral programs, coupons, influencer sponsored stays and video advertising.

Regarding tools, one of the most insightful products we have used is rapid test users combined with focus groups to evaluate and understand how people use the platform.

In the end, close attention to detail and constant communication with our users from the beginning has been essential for determining how to improve our product and sales processes.

Which countries do you cover so far?

A workday at Abroadwith

 

We are currently focusing on large urban cities in Germany, Spain, UK and Ireland. However, as we have begun to gain traction in those markets, users from other countries where the respective languages are spoken have started to join the platform. Right now we offer language programs with our hosts and schools in 22 countries.

What changes has the company experienced since its inception? What are your future plans for the company?

We launched our 2.0 platform in January, which is a single page application that ensures a smooth user experience with a new image that resonates closely with our target audience. We focused on creating a refreshing front-end that would set us aside from our competitors and provide a clear idea of what we stand for as a company: openness, transparency and trust.

Right now we are very focused on the summer campaigns and communicating with students and hosts that are using Abroadwith for the first time this summer. In the medium term we hope to expand to the Italian and French markets.

 

Want to join José and other entrepreneurs at betahaus? See how here! 

"The Summer is the best time to host Backyard sessions and BBQ’s’’

In the summer, we launched a couple of new events in Neukölln like Freelancers, Unite!, The Backyard Sessions and My friend’s BBQ. 

Freelancers, Unite! developed as our productive coworking session with freelancers from in and outside the ‘haus. Once a month, we picked an important freelance topic (such as taxes, time-management, etc) and invited experts to give us insights on the topic. We saw so many new faces and had the chance to come back closer to where we started from - the freelance, grassroots culture. 

Freelancers, Unite! at betahaus | Neukölln

Another event, which started in July (and turned out to be our favourite events) were The Backyard Sessions. Organised by our queen of Neukölln - Robbin – the Backyard Sessions are our creative evenings with live music jams, movie screenings and cocktails. 

The Backyard Sessions at basement.berlin
Movie Screening at basement.berlin

This last event was hilarious because for quite some time, nobody knew exactly who organised it or invited them. The friend was throwing a BBQ for the community in the garden and this led to all our members joining and staying after for a beer or two with us.

‘’My favourite moment this year was the second friends bbq which was actually cancelled because of the rain forecast. But despite the bad weather, people show up and it turned into a super nice intimate evening with Elizaveta and Paul giving a garden concert.’’ - Robbin (Community Manager, betahaus)

''In July, it was great how the casual after-work BBQ turned into an impromptu acoustic blues jam session with Elizavetta Barsegova and Paul, who have the voice of an angel. Actually, all of the My Friend's BBQ's and Backyard Sessions were AWESOME.’’
- Paige (Head of Marketing, betahaus) 

The Garden at betahaus | Neukölln
My Friend's BBQ at betahaus | Neukölln



"As a coworking space, you have to give stage to important topics.’’

This year we released a new event format in Kreuzberg called ‘’The betaSalon’’. It's an open panel discussion which aims to give stage to important topics and give free speech on them. The fist one we did on the EU elections, last month we talked about changemakers, but our favourite one for this season stays ‘’Mother + Founder’’ where we partnered with FemGems podcast and recorded a live podcast episode for them having Madeleine Gummer von Mohl (betahaus co-founder), Kristine Zeller (co-creater of ooshi period underwear) and Luisa Hoffman on the stage.

betaSalon at betahaus | Kreuzberg

"We should fight for a more human-centered tech development’’

Every September, our co-founders take part in the Techfestival. in Copenhagen, spending a few days disconnecting from the daily life and focusing on creating a better, more human-centered tech future. This year the think tank which included our co-founders Madeleine and Max came up with the TechPledge. The Tech Pledge was made to emphasize the need for a new direction in tech. Similar to the Hippocratic oath for doctors, the Tech Pledge is a promise to make tech a force for good and ensure responsible and sustainable tech leadership. It’s a commitment to driving a new direction in technology.

Techfestival. 2019 in Copenhagen


"Startups are transforming European football as we know it.’’

One of the most exciting projects for betahausX this year (which is also continuing in 2020) is their new startup challenge called The Werder Lab - a global startup competition that aims to reimagine the way clubs like Werder work with athletes, fans and partners.



"You should leave time for the things you love most’’ 

This year couldn’t end without us having our favourite events - the end-of-the-year holiday party and the BETAPITCH Global Finals. On the 6th of December we saw the 9 finalists of the regional BETAPITCH competitions pitching in front of our jury. Congrats to Troy from Hamburg for winning the big prize.

We finished the year at our Holiday Party celebrating anything and everything at betahaus | Neukölln together with our members, friends of friends and our favourite artists from Passiflora LIVE, Tapete and Kotoe.

Love at The betahaus Holiday Party 2019


Thank you for being with us in 2019. It's been a crazy big year for us and it wouldn't been possible without your support, trust and the hard work of our amazing team. Have an amazing holiday time and we'll see you again in 2020.

With love,
betahaus

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