An interview with co-founder/CEO Samuel Tate on how Roost helps travelers share their hotel room and split the cost
What is Roost?
Roost (www.roostgo.com) is a booking platform that helps travelers find compatible roommates to share hotel rooms and split the cost.
Roost’s mission is to make traveling more affordable for everyone and foster genuine friendships between travelers. Roost is for solo travelers, couples, and friends.
What is your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?
I was born and raised in the Boston area. I attended the University of Southern California for college and earned degrees in business and digital entrepreneurship. My co-founder Sharath Prabhal is also a USC alumni. He graduated in 2009 with a master’s degree in computer science.
I got the idea for Roost during a month-long solo backpacking trip to Europe after my junior year. As a broke college student, I stayed mainly in noisy, crowded hostels. But when I would splurge on hotel rooms I would look over at a perfectly good empty bed next to mine. I started thinking that if I could share my hotel room with another person we could split the cost and each only pay what would essentially be a hostel rate for a much better hotel experience (private bathroom, big bed, TV, gym, pool, etc.).
One of the issues I had with hostels was the randomness of who I had to share a room with. I would stay with people of all different ages, genders, and many of the people did not speak English. I thought if I could share my hotel room with someone who I was likely to be compatible with, I would not only be saving a lot of money, but also potentially make a “travel buddy”.
I officially founded Roost (www.roostgo.com) in a capstone entrepreneurship class during my senior year at USC. I quickly built an MVP and helped over 800 travelers find roommates in just a few months by targeting music festivals and tech conferences with no marketing. So I realized that there was a need for this kind of service.
Since graduation Sharath and I have been working full time on Roost and the company is based in Boston. Now officially launched, Roost is live at many of North America’s best upcoming music festivals and we recently launched city-based travel!
How does Roost work?
Roost is both a hotel booking platform and a roommate matching service. Similar to Hotwire you choose a class of hotel (2, 3, or 4-star) and the neighborhood(s) you want to stay in. You see the price you’ll pay upfront and you’ll reserve your hotel room, but won’t be charged until after you actually find your roommate. Booking on Roost is risk free since you can cancel your booking for free any time before matching with a roommate.
After you choose a hotel, you will see profiles of all potential roommates who are going to your destination on your trip dates. You can filter by sex, age, rating and their answers to some basic roommate questions. You can also see photos and read reviews. To find a roommate, tag the profiles of the people you would want to share a room with. You’ll only match with a roommate if both of you tag each other (like a dating site). Once you match, you can chat with your roommate and get to know each other before your trip. At least 7 days before your check-in date, Roost will send both of you the hotel reservation info.
Can you explain the Roommate Auto-Match feature?
For the cheapest and simplest option, you can use Roommate Auto-Match. Roost’s AI-powered matching algorithm will find you a compatible roommate based on your sex, trip plans, and stated roommate preferences. And if Roost cannot find you a roommate that meets our high standards for compatibility with you, you’ll get your own private hotel room at no additional cost.
It looks like your business is limited to U.S. locations only. Are you planning to expand it globally?
Yes. We started with music festivals in the U.S because these are events where lots of young, like-minded travelers go to the same place at the same time. Plus hotels often jack up their rates around big events like music festivals and become unaffordable for many travelers.
In the future we see Europe as a great market for Roost. European cities also have more of a hosteling tradition than in the U.S.
There is also the opportunity for Roost to help larger groups of travelers find roommates to fill space in large vacation rentals.
What makes Roost unique?
Right now travelers find hotel roommates in ways that are outdated, unsafe, and inefficient. People currently post on sites like Facebook and Reddit. There are no safeguards, and finding out basic information is hit or miss. Figuring out who has to front the bill and worrying about getting repaid are hassles.
Roost is unique because we streamline and standardize this whole process for you. We help you find an ideal roommate AND we book your half of the hotel room for you. We make both of these things quick, easy, and secure.
Every “Rooster” has a profile, a rating, reviews, photos, a short bio, and information about what they are like as a roommate. Also, every Rooster is actively looking for a roommate and has been background checked for safety and had their identity verified. You are only charged after you match with your roommate. There is no awkward need to figure out who owes what and who pays first.
How can you guarantee the safety of users?
Making Roost as safe and secure as possible is really important. In addition to the same-sex roommate option, we do criminal background checks and identity verification. We encourage roommates to communicate through our secure online messaging portal. Also, when you arrive at the hotel, your ID must match the one Roost has for you.
Roost is not a hookup site! Some people, especially women traveling solo, are only comfortable sharing a room with someone of the same sex. This makes total sense to us, and is why Roost lets you filter potential roommates by sex. If something else is important to you, like age or past roommate rating, you can filter for those things too.
Roost also has a peer rating and review system and we constantly monitor these to remove people with poor reviews.
Is there anything else you’d like me to know more about your business?
We have very high standards for the quality of hotels that we book, and we source hotel rooms from well-known national and international chain hotels.
One of the surprising things about Roost is that we are finding that in addition to the cost savings, many travelers are motivated by the desire to make a “friend” and have that human connection while away from home. This is part of the attraction of staying in hostels for some people. So long term, Roost may also offer group meetups and activities in certain cities.