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This app makes digital nomads feel right at home

Imagine landing in any one of the major metropolitan cities around the world and instantly clicking into a community of locals and fellow travelers. This community comprises people who do similar work, have a similar life outlook, and who can show you the best non-touristy restaurants, bars or clubs, nature spots, or off the beaten path exhibitions. Before you’ve even unpacked, you’re beginning to build new professional relationships—and feeling almost like a local, with friends to meet up with instead of wandering the streets with Siri as your only companion. That’s the vision Brazilian startup BeerOrCoffee has for business travelers.

BeerOrCoffee began as a networking app in 2015. Co-founder Pedro Vasconcellos said the idea was to help people make professional and social connections wherever they traveled. The company soon learned, however, that most of the app’s users were also using coworking spaces. They collaborated with San Pedro Valley, a collection of more than 200 startups and tech-based companies in the Belo Horizonte region of Brazil, to run a promotion that offered free passes to coworking spaces for one day to BeerOrCoffee app users. In the first hour, more than 400 people booked space. BeerOrCoffee now provides the opportunity to book space at any of 2,000 coworking places it’s since partnered with around the world and a network of locals to connect with while there.

Before you've even unpacked, you're beginning to build new professional relationships - and feeling almost like a local, with friends to meet up with instead of wandering the streets with Siri as your only companion.

It makes sense—instead of working alone from a hotel room or rental apartment, or having to locate and join a coworking space, BeerOrCoffee makes you an instant member of a global tribe.

When I met Vasconcellos this past March at SXSW 2018, his company was already working with 500 co-working spaces in Brazil and, with the help of Startup Lisboa, was getting ready to launch in 1,500 more coworking spaces around Portugal and Europe.

“We provide the opportunity to belong to a community,” said Vasconcellos, who has lived in several countries. “When I arrived in Bali, I booked a monthly membership at a coworking space and, because of that, I was not alone when I was doing personal stuff. I enjoyed the experience much more.”

“International travelers know how to experience new things. They know they need to be open, to give and take knowledge and help from other people,” he said. “Every coworking environment is different. A lot of people value their own city. There’s a movement toward buying locally. When you arrive and join a co-working community, people will show you the real thing.”

The future of work is remote

According to an article in Workplace Insight, 85 percent of Millennials want to work remotely, 100 percent of the time. But they’re not the only ones. Statista reports that nearly 50 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds work as freelancers, as do more than 30 percent of every working age group over 35.

No one knows how many freelancers are digital nomads, but the number is surely growing. And, not all digital nomads are freelancers. In the war for top talent, a lot of companies around the world are giving employees the opportunity to live and work remotely. Given the company’s ethos and purpose, everyone at BeerOrCoffee works from wherever they want to be in the world. But other companies, especially big companies, like Dell, report that they have growing remote workforces. Dell’s goal is to have half its employees working remotely by 2020.

Dell's goal is to have half its employees working remotely by 2020.

Living and working abroad can be a big draw, but one the big drawbacks is being a stranger in a strange land. Vacationers at hostels can join up with other travelers for a shared experience, but when you’re trying to work, the need for a quiet space, where you can focus, makes it tough to meet and connect with others, let alone locals. Millennials especially are looking to have immersive travel experiences. They don’t want to hang out at the hotel and hit the tourist spots; instead, they want to experience places more fully and organically.

When in Rome...

The Future of Millennial Travel Report, from Resonance Consultancy, notes an award-winning ad from Airbnb’s brand campaign that promotes living like a local. The ad portrays crazy tourist crowds while a voiceover says: Don’t go to Paris. Don’t tour Paris, and please don’t do Paris. Followed by… Live in Paris.

The report shared that study respondents “overwhelmingly crave personal, local and immersive experiences in their destinations.”

There's a stark difference between traveling alone for fun and for work. Traveling alone, you can wind up meandering the streets feeling lost. But when I was traveling for work, at tech conferences where I was surrounded by both locals and international journalists, it was a lot more fun. For example, dining on reindeer stew in Norway by myself would have just been macabre, one of those travel experiences you feel like you should have because you’re “in country”. But having reindeer stew with a bunch of people from other places who were equally weirded out, while the Norwegians watched us and gleefully made jokes about “eating Rudolph”, made the experience hilarious.

Dining on reindeer stew in Norway by myself would have just been macabre, one of those travel experiences you feel like you should have because you’re "in country".

It was the same on a business trip to Thailand. There, if you start drilling a local about their country’s culture, they’re likely to be guarded—even offended. But once you’ve worked together, shared meals, marveled over the beauty in their country, and griped about the fact that the coffee machine is out again, the locals tended to open up.

On these trips, I valued having acquaintances and new friends to meet for drinks and meals. We talked for hours about new startups and the differences between various regional startup ecosystems, and the way the culture shapes the ecosystem. I learned things about the future of technology and grew in ways I couldn’t have without interaction with locals that shared my interests.

But besides the warm fuzzies, . Research shows that innovation and creativity grow when disparate groups of people get together. I know I found business clients on those trips and made friends I hope to have for the rest of my life.

A new spin on coworking

BeerOrCoffee help coworking spaces by filling in unused space. The company offers passes that range from a day to a month, often at more affordable prices, and that includes access to member-only events.

People connect the app to LinkedIn or Facebook and build a profile with information about the work they do and the work they’re interested in. Then, users can chat or plan an immediate rendezvous with someone else via the app.

There are other companies like BeerOrCoffee that rent short-term working spaces, such as Desk Bookers and Desk Pass, but Vasconcellos thinks BeerOrCoffee is the only one with a built-in social component. People connect to the app through LinkedIn or Facebook and build a profile with information about the work they do or are interested in doing. Then, users can chat or plan an immediate rendezvous using the app. The company’s own culture brings another advantage:

“Brazilians are really warm,” Vasconcellos said.” That friendly, hospitable nature is baked into the app, helping to create immediate connections. It’s why BeerOrCoffee didn’t begin as an incubator. “We bring that warmth to our company and our culture,” Vasconcellos said. “We never forget about that.”

Susan Lahey is a journalist who lives in Austin and writes about everything that piques her curiosity including travel, technology, work, business, art, sustainability, and cultivating deep, messy, exquisite humanness in the digital age.