Couch Surfing for a Cause: How Nick and his San Francisco Hosts Raised $2,025 in Donations

Photo Credit: Rishio Media

Photo Credit: Rishio Media

The creativity and support from the donor community continues to inspire us, likedonating an event’s ticket sales via Bitcoin. When startup entrepreneur Nick told us about his idea to couch surf and donate $25 per night to HandUp, we were excited to see how the San Francisco community would come together to host him. The idea was born within days of Nick's arrival from Berlin to San Francisco. He needed accommodations for three months while focused on his startup Let's Make at our alma mater incubator Tumml.

From July to September - 81 nights - Nick will have raised $2,025 in donations, going to HandUp members and other local nonprofits. We chatted with Nick about his inspiration behind the idea and his experience hopping from host to host across The Bay Area, all for a good cause.

What brought you to San Francisco?

I came here because my startup Let’s Make was accepted into the Tumml incubator programme. We started the company in Berlin so once we got into the programme, I packed up my life in three days to come over here.

More literally, what brought me to San Francisco was a coach, some trains, the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner, and an Amtrak train :)

What inspired you to sleep on couches in exchange for donations to help homeless people?

I started with the usual trawl through craigslist for sublets, I wrote a bunch of personal, warm, and friendly messages to people, and didn't get much response initially. At the first Tumml potluck event I was talking to fellow cohort members, Jim and Aaron fromPopupsters, and the idea struck me. Plus Aaron offered to host first. I had no idea if it would work - it was one of those ideas I had to wait for the morning to check if it was sane or not.

At the time I was staying in a hostel which I had to book in each morning for the next night. One morning the hostel said there might not be availability which was the trigger. I thought yes, I can do it!

I asked Aaron if I could take him up on his offer. He said yes and I had my first night! I wrote an email to get more offers and put up a page on my website. HandUp Co-founder Rose mentioned it on her Facebook wall and within 20 minutes I was deluged with offers of accommodation!

The connection of helping me with my housing to help homeless people is a neat cycle. It's also great for people hosting me to get a real sense of where the money will go.

Some of the spots Nick stayed during his trip

Some of the spots Nick stayed during his trip

How has the experience been so far with hosts in San Francisco?

Fantastic :) Some people on the programme were saying how quickly their time has gone whilst in San Francisco, I feel the opposite. It's been a totally stimulating time and I've met loads of lovely people. I've stayed in such a wide range of places, often a living room floor, a couple of nights outside on a back porch, a few times I had a whole apartment (twice including a car!), a lovely time in a closet, and currently I’m at a co-living community. Whilst staying with Miki and Jackson from Job Portraits, I even got included in their yummy breakfasts each morning.

Most importantly though I pleased my mum: “Your experiment re accommodation is just amazing, even for you. That you can cope with all those different people and places, that you choose to donate the money to charity is most impressive."

Anything else you'd like us to know about this experience, or to someone thinking about doing something like this to raise donations?

I was amazed at how the trust aspect worked out, in this age of verified profiles, Facebook asking for government id, mobile phone verification etc - I don't use facebook, twitter, or even a phone. Email was enough, and the trust inherited from Rose and Tumml promoting me was enough for people to open up their homes. I think at one point I had three sets of house keys on me, and the last ones I tried to return, they insisted I keep a set since I'll be back.

This has been a great example of a multiway win: I get cheaper accommodations, together my hosts and I are able to give money goes to a good cause.

I always try to be as simple as possible for my hosts; I don't expect food, towels, bedding, or a key - I'm really grateful for anything offered. I try and adapt to the culture of my host and to help out where I can, and maybe leave a gift if I've had a longer stay.

Thank you Nick for being a super HandUp donor! See more of his adventures a thttp://ontheroad.nicksellen.co.uk/

Photo Credit: Rishio Media

Photo Credit: Rishio Media