We met the founders of Roam in a palatial house facing Alamo Square, where turn-of-the-century architecture meets ultra-modern decor -- and where James Price sat reclining on a low couch with his laptop.
"I'm an official Roamer. I'm the first Roamer here in San Francisco, I hear," Price said.
Price is an executive coach who can do his work from anywhere.
"My business is working with corporate clients over the phone, so it gives me that flexibility," he said.
For years, that meant working from his apartment in Venice Beach -- but he said that got old.
"I think some of it is just isolation. I think we all love the idea of being able to work from home -- and then we get home and we miss all the community," he said.
That's what Roam is about: Battling the isolation and monotony that can come with a work-from-home job, by redefining what home is.
"More and more people have jobs that let them work and live pretty much anywhere," said Roam founder Bruno Haid.
So you bring your laptop and a small suitcase, and Roam brings the community. In cities all over the world, they're making historic buildings into something that's not a hotel or apartments, but a different kind of home -- one you can stay in for months, or just a week, before going to one of Roam's other cities.
Haid said about a third of current Roamers are frequent business travelers who stay there in lieu of hotels, a third use Roam as second or third homes in cities where they spend a lot of time, and a third are true digital nomads -- surfing from one Roam city to another as the seasons change.
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For Price, the experience is something like a cross between a luxury hotel and a grown-up youth hostel.
"You feel like you're really in somebody's house," Price said. "With a big group of extended family members."
The San Francisco location has a view of the Painted Ladies and a rich history: the Pope used to stay there when visiting the archbishop who was once its sole resident. Far from a sterile and modern hotel, the locale and architecture feel like San Francisco -- and Roamers can get a taste of the city with the help of their newfound friends.
"You get immediately in touch with people who might have been staying here for 2 weeks already, and they know interesting neighborhood restaurants, they know what to do on a weekend, so we really create that sense of belonging," Haid said.
With three stories of big communal spaces, you might think Roam is for people who want to be social all the time. But the founders say it's quite the opposite: They're a bunch of introverts, and they built Roam for people like themselves.
"We seem like 'people people,' but also, we're secretly very awkward," said Daisy Onubogu, Roam's VP of community.
Every room has a private bathroom, and members each have their own shelf in the fridge. There are private meeting rooms and workspaces that members can book, along with a big co-working space off the living room. The goal, she said, is that no one is forced to socialize.
But by having a bar, a cafe, and big chef's kitchen, people do meet -- and even cook for each other.
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"Which is great, because food is such a great way to bring all sorts of people together," she said.
Roam is not bargain living. Prices vary by city, and reflect the local rental market. By that logic, it's slightly less shocking that San Francisco's location costs $1,200 a week, or $4,000 a month. By contrast, Miami is just $1,800 per month. Tokyo is in between at $2,600 per month. Members can also create a "flex plan" that lets them jet around to various cities on a whim.
"In most locations, we are constantly sold out," Haid said. "We are profitable in those locations."
But he said Roam is actively looking for investors to accelerate its expansion. The team plans to open a New York location later this year, with further plans to open locations across the U.S. and around the world. It will take time, but -- if you'll pardon the pun -- Roam wasn't built in a day.
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