'When in Roam': Service Lets Jet-Setters Try Out Co-Living Around the World, Including San Francisco - NBC Bay Area
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'When in Roam': Service Lets Jet-Setters Try Out Co-Living Around the World, Including San Francisco

The startup's founder says he's an introvert who wanted a new way to make friends while traveling the world for business

'Roam' is Co-Living and Co-Working for World Travelers

The startup's founder says he's an introvert who wanted a new way to make friends while traveling the world for business

(Published Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018)

What to Know

  • Roam converts interesting houses and hotels into co-living spaces aimed at those who can do their jobs from anywhere

  • Roam charges market-rate apartment rent for a bedroom with private bath, and access to large common living and working areas

  • There are Roam houses in five cities now, with a sixth opening soon in New York

It's Wednesday night, and a small crowd has begun to gather in the large communal kitchen at 1000 Fulton Street.

It's a house more than a century old, once owned by the Catholic church and home to an archbishop, who lived there alone. Later, it became a bed and breakfast. And now, it's something totally different called Roam.

Every Roam location has a large commercial kitchen that's open for Roamers to use. The founder says without fail, the kitchen becomes the central gathering place where they meet and mingle over food.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

Roam's founder, Bruno Haid, jokes that the idea for his startup came out of childhood trauma. But he's not entirely joking. Though he grew up on a farm with parents who were innkeepers, Haid was — and is — an introvert. When he finally left home, he rented an apartment in an office building so he wouldn't even have to be around neighbors at night.

Haid soon began to travel for business, and found it was a lonely affair.

Roam founder Bruno Haid, at right, sits at dinner with Roamers in the grand dining room of the startup's San Francisco co-living house on Alamo Square.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

"It's either you stay in your hotel, and then you're very, very isolated, or you might go to places like a bar or a club where it's more overwhelming," he said.

Roam is Haid's solution to his own dilemma — and, he figures, the dilemma faced by many "location-free" digital workers who travel the world for business or pleasure.

Roam's rooms are spacious yet sparse. Roamer Morgan Missen stands in the room she's renting at Roam's San Francisco co-living house, saying she can't wait to come back and try out a different room after spending a couple of weeks at Roam's forthcoming New York location.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

Currently in five cities, with a sixth soon to open in New York, Roam houses provide the privacy introverts crave: large private bedrooms with attached private baths. The only qualifications to live there are that you're willing to pay the rent, just like a hotel. But unlike hotels, Roam is really about the common areas: dining rooms, living rooms, coworking spaces evocative of Silicon Valley startup life, and a large commercial kitchen that's open for all to use.

In San Francisco, Wednesdays are the weekly community dinner — where everyone can pitch in to help cook, or just stop by for a bite. These sorts of drop-in social activities are a key part of Roam's recipe: instead of forced sharing or social interaction, Roam simply creates the opportunity for those things to happen by chance — and often, they do. Sometimes, group activities come from the residents, guests or — Haid simply calls them "customers" — themselves.

Roam offers what its founder calls "light touch" programming: optional, drop-in social activities that give Roamers a chance to connect without a feeling of obligation. Roamers are also encouraged to host their own activities in the building's common areas.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

Unlike other forms of co-living, Roam does not promise its customers cheaper rent. Rates for each location are set based on the local apartment market — meaning San Francisco is far more expensive than the other cities where Roam currently operates.

Explore this map to see Roam's approximate rental rates for a 30-day stay beginning in late October, 2018 (according to its website):

Like a hotel, Roam customers can rent by the night, week or month — though Roam requests that your very first stay be at least seven nights. Rates get cheaper when you stay for more than 30 days, though if you deposit cash in a Roam "flex account" and draw on that to pay for your stay, you'll get the monthly rate even if you're only staying a couple of nights.

Haid says Roam's current average customer is 41 years old and skews slightly female. At most locations, there's a mix of long-term tenants and travelers just passing through, but in San Francisco, Haid said the higher prices make for mostly short stays since the house opened in May, 2018.

Design and décor are important at Roam: every room is made to foster just the right balance of community, comfort and productivity. Common areas like this hallway provide spaces to relax with a glass of wine or plug in a laptop. In this 113-year-old house, the woodwork is original. The LED lighting is not.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

"Roamers," as they're sometimes called, can sign up for a flex plan that lets them "roam" from one location to another, without having to pay rent in more that one city at a time. Haid said that means someone could live in a more affordable city — say, Miami — and only pay San Francisco rental rates for the two weeks every quarter that business required a trip to the Bay.

Watch the video above to meet some of the Roamers who showed up to make spring rolls and have dinner in the archbishop's dining room.

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