Startup Story #6: Shay Gleeson on how HelpStay is offering a Trustworthy Marketplace for Volunteering Abroad
The great George MacDonald once said that “to be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.”
Another great Thomas J. Watson said that “the toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer.”
Both these quotes fit perfectly in the online marketplace scenario, where the main essence is to offer and consume assets on a safe platform. Since the buyers and sellers are practically strangers, building a trustworthy image of the marketplace plays the most crucial role in lubricating the overall machinery of the system. If the trust is maintained and nurtured, the company will walk up the ladder of success in no time. However, once it is broken, it will come down more quickly. This is the power of ‘trust’ in the world of Sharing Economy.
One such startup which understands and has built its brand around the trust factor is HelpStay. An online marketplace for travellers who wish to stay and volunteer for social causes abroad and organizations looking for such volunteers, HelpStay’s USP is their fully vetted Hosts who are personally visited, interviewed and the team.
In conversation with Shay Gleeson, Founder of HelpStay.
Q: Tell us something about HelpStay.com, and how it works.
A: Imagine an online marketplace that enables travel and volunteering abroad for free? HelpStay™ is a low cost way of travelling by sharing. It’s a contact platform between hosts and volunteers.
The HelpStay™ exchange concept is based around the system of barter and embraces the sharing economy, ‘if you help, you can stay’ or ‘Work for your keep’. It’s geared towards the independently minded budget traveller who is willing to trade their help, learn new skills and is open to experiencing and respecting a different way of life and environment.
Q: What is the story behind starting HelpStay?
A: During my travels, I met a lot of long term travellers, volunteers, gap year students and career breakers. It was interesting to learn and see how they were funding their travel. Some were helping in backpacker hostels, farms, art centres and NGO’s in exchange for free bed and board. This enabled them to reduce their travel costs and travel for longer. In addition, many young travellers were using their extended trips not only for leisure, but also as a form of job training to learn a language and gain more work experience.
Q: What procedures and tools are you using to connect Hosts with Helpers?
A: We are a spending a lot of time and effort bringing on board good hosts with genuine volunteer projects. We spend time vetting all our hosts. Building trust into the platform is a big part of our goal. Hosts are only accepted on our platform once we have visited them in person or interviewed them over the phone. We are in the process of professionally photographing our hosts’ properties too. This way the volunteer helper will know what to expect. It’s a big ask for someone to travel half way across the world, they need to know what to expect. We want to ensure that each host property and stay is as expected. Trust and security play a massive part and it’s something that is at our forefront. After all, trust is the currency of the new economy.
Q: What is your marketing and promotional strategy to make HelpStay an established and recognizable brand?
A: We are focusing all our promotional, marketing spend and resources online. This involves spending a lot of time and effort on SEO techniques including educating ourselves in best practices and tweaking our content to be more search engine friendly. Social media plays a big part too and we have found Facebook to be the best tool to interact and engage our target audience. We believe our brand development, success and growth will come through these channels.
HelpStay and Online Marketplace for Social Volunteers
Q: According to you, why is there a requirement for a transparent platform for travellers?
A: Safety and security play a big part in where and why we travel. By vetting all our hosts we can create ease over such concerns. Through video, photography and written content we can convey a visual and mental representation of what a volunteer should expect. Most importantly by aggregating written reviews from past volunteers and providing the ability to interact with other volunteers, users can gain a very good insight into the overall experience and assess the validity of a volunteer project.
Q: How is HelpStay contributing towards popularizing the concept of travelling and volunteering overseas?
A: Travelling is all about sharing, learning and growing and HelpStay™ facilitates the traveller to share their skills, learn new ones and grow as an individual. In addition, the traveller is living among locals, creating meaningful social connections and travelling with a real purpose – giving back.
Q: What is the unique selling point of HelpStay against Competitors?
A: Our USP is trust – building trust into our platform. We are vetting all our hosts, verifying all our displayed content and creating a comprehensive review and vouching platform. Our goal is to make it easy, cheap and safe to volunteer abroad.
Q: Where do you see HelpStay in the next 5 years?
A: The ultimate goal is to have hosts in all countries offering a diverse and unique range of projects. To make it possible for a volunteer to travel perpetually and circumnavigate the world. Imagine that, for the first time ever someone would be able to volunteer their way around the world – to travel the world for free.
Q: Any word of advice for all the startups out there, who are trying to make it big like HelpStay.
A: In the words of the musician Stevie Wonder ‘Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there’. Our mission is for HelpStay to be a platform and marketplace with character.