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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! 

Finally, You describe your target group as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), which is a very niche market. Can you tell us more about what type of people they ARE and what theY value? What's some advice you can share to other startups targeting this market?

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