Ryan Noel-Hodge dealt with the situation many times. The former captain of Concordia University’s distance running team and current McGill Olympic Club Distance training member spent countless miles on the road heading to competitions.
Going there wasn’t the problem. It was finding a reliable, affordable place to crash before a high-pressure race that he’d been training for for weeks or months.
Often he’d crash at a friend’s place – if one lived where he was going – or he’d split a hotel with teammates. But hotels could get seriously expensive, especially for competitors in running, cycling and triathlons where there isn’t a lot of free money floating around for athletes.
“An athlete like Penny Oleksiak is the exception to the norm in terms of (probably) being able to cash out on success in Olympic sports. For most of us we pay out of pocket for everything around competing and sometimes, rarely, people can’t actually afford to spend a weekend at a competition,” said Noel-Hodge.
One Montreal startup wants to help those athletes like Noel-Hodge. WelcomeAthletes is a new website offering a free place to crash for Quebec and Canadian athletes who could really use it. Founded by French-Montrealer Alexandre Chanay, the web platform acts as a sort of couchsurfing for athletes. No money is exchanged.
Chanay echoed Noel-Hodge’s sentiments. The 36-year-old is a triathlete in his spare time and he completed the IronMan race two years ago. He said too many expensive weekends at competitions paying for hotels left him broke. Some athletes get creative, like the time a friend stayed in Montreal instead of the race’s location in Mont Tremblant, where hotels were too expensive. The friend woke at 4:00 am the next morning to drive to the race.
Considering many of these high-performing athletes need optimal rest the night before a race or competition, one can assume “there must be a better way” as former Dragons’ Den personality Kevin O’Leary loved saying.
WelcomeAthletes calls itself the first hospitality exchange dedicated to athletes. Currently a home page only exists but the official website will launch in a month, covering Quebec and other select cities. The team will gradually expand outside of Quebec and ideally internationally.
They’ll probably have to invest a bit more into english content on their site to really attack’s Canada’s market, but it sounds like that’s part of Chanay’s plans going forward.
Staying alone in hotels can get lonely. With WelcomeAthletes, athletes will have friendly faces to stay with before a big event.
“It’s so much nicer to be hosted by people like you than being alone in your hotel room. It’s even nicer when you don’t have to pay for that,” Chanay told MTLinTECH. “We wanted to develop solidarity among the sports community, that’s the real purpose of our platform.”
For the founder, WelcomeAthletes differentiates itself from Airbnb in that it’s a “real collaborate economy.” Helping others is more important than money. “You do it just because you want to help people like you and you want to help contribute to the success of the event in your town,” he said.
He’s also got a few well-known athletes endorsing the site, including two-time Olympic triathlete Kathy Tremblay (Beijing 2008, London 2012) and Olympic cross-country skier Alex Harvey (Vancouver 2010).
“It’s really an awesome project! I have always liked homestay experiences during my triathlon trips and this gives an opportunity to explore new places with locals. It makes the whole journey more human and more warm,” wrote Tremblay.
WelcomeAthletes will try to earn money in a few ways, including a subscription fee in year two for athletes who aren’t hosts, something low like $10. They also want to partner with sports brands that would offer hosts discounts or rebates on gear. Those brands would also pay WelcomeAthletes for the exposure within its growing community.
“Brands want people to play more sports and buy more equipment. We also promote and encourage sports by offering free accommodation to athletes, so I think we can convince brands to offer rewards and to pay to access our community,” said Chanay.
First on deck is to finish the site’s V1, which will be ready in a month. Clearly, Chanay wants to build up the community but he admitted growth doesn’t come in a few months.
“It took Airbnb one year before they could expect it to work. For us it will take time to drive people to sign up.”
Building visibility will be a key to getting those users and from initial research Chanay said that several local race and competition organizers seem happy to partner with his venture.
After all, the entrepreneur is offering a way for their athletes sleep soundly before competitions.