Finding Hosts on the Streets

  • January 14, 2014

After using every sales opportunity from our inner circle and our friends and family inner circles and our friends of friends circles, our sources for leads have dried. There were some organic sales coming from our website but it wasn’t enough to reach our goal of user growth rate.

Desperate to get new users, we realized it’s time to think out of the box. We brainstormed for couple hours but all we came up with was pretty generic and more of the usual suspects: ads, social, personal emailing, marketing events, and couple other ideas.

We were stuck.

A new day has come, but we still had no idea about how to generate new users for our service. At noon I had to go and drop off keys for a new guest at one of our customer’s apartment. On my way, right next to the entrance to the Bart station, there was a group of people, holding some signs. I’ve seen people like them there all the time, but only in that second I had my flash of genius. We should be holding big signs, and walk through the streets and hustle people!I had a lot of doubts, among which was, whether people I will get attention from are in fact my target audience. My mind came up with many reasons why not to do it, but I just didn’t care. It was crazy enough that it might just work. We decided to give it a go.


We printed two different signs at a local Blick store on double sided 18” x 24” foam with attached wood stick for easy holding. Total cost was 70$. The plan was to go to two locations for two hours each.

Dolores Park – sunday afternoon.
Caltrain station in SOMA – monday morning.
We used an iPhone to sign people up immediately, on our website if they agree, and a notebook to write down emails and notes.

Guesty's First On-The-Spot Customer | Guesty Blog
The first person to sign up on the spot.


It was quite embarrassing at first, definitely outside our comfort zone. Surprisingly, people almost immediately responded, calling us for questions. A lot of people thought we work for Airbnb and has shared with us their experience of the service.

We’ve talked to many people and got some great feedback. Most of the people were very nice and agreed to give us their email so we can send them more information. Some people sounded excited about what we do and couple even signed up on the spot, which made even more people interested.

Some stats:

6 people were completely not relevant and just wanted to chat.
1 email was fake.
7 people didn’t know what airbnb is, 4 of which will probably sign up because of our explanation and because of the service we offer, so they won’t need to manage it themselves.
1 user who had stopped using airbnb, and is now going to start again because of us.
Caltrain on Monday’s morning was less successful since most people were rushing to work. So we only got a couple email leads from people who waited for the next train.

Things To improve

– Have handouts, flyers or business cards with our website’s address.

– Close more, I took a lot of emails but I could have been more pushy and try to understand why wouldn’t they sign up on the spot.

– Be more active. We did talk to many people, but we only approached people after some indication of interest, overhearing them talk about our sign, smiling at it, or after they signaled us to come over. There are probably a lot of No’s we could have got but maybe even some Yeses.

– Don’t let people write their emails. Sometimes It’s very hard to understand their handwriting.


The most surprising thing I’ve learned about running a startup is that it’s all about SALES! So if you or your co-founders are not so good at it, you should invest time on getting better. There isn’t any better virtue to success, in my opinion, than being good in selling. Eventually your first users aren’t buying your product, They buy your charisma and your dream and passion. Don’t fear getting shot down and go out there. Set your mind on doing something, and there is really nothing that can stop you. You will face things you didn’t think through initially but it can all be solved on the spot, so don’t let it halt you.

Eventually, we got new users! and feedback! and leads! It was an amazing experience and I recommend it to any startup. We’ve already planned on doing it again and again.

Thank you for reading about our experience, please share with us your thoughts.

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