A global experiment in Roam co-living


Image Credits:

Kim-Mai Cutler


Kim-Mai Cutler is an operating partner for Initialized Capital, an early-stage venture firm and was previously a journalist covering technology, finance and policy issues at TechCrunch — best-known for her long-form work on the Bay Area.

More posts from Kim-Mai Cutler

Update: I decided to leave this company and am no longer affiliated with Roam Co-Living.

I’m moving into a columnist role at TechCrunch and onto some new projects. One is called Roam Co-Living. It adaptively reuses space for communal living and location independent workers in other parts of the U.S. and world, starting in Miami and Indonesia.

Although this work will mostly be outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ll still weigh in and write occasionally on tech, political and local land-use issues as a columnist.

There are several motivations behind this:

The Bay Area’s governance, land-use and taxation issues

The first part is that I think any kind of real structural reform in California is still at least a decade out — if not longer than that. With the sell-off in public markets, there is some relief coming to the very high-end segments of regional real estate market.

But it’s temporary because the underlying structure of the region’s fragmented governance, restrictive land-use and taxation policies still favor ever-rising real estate prices. These patterns date back to the 1970s and they operate both at the hyper-local and California state levels. They are embedded in both the judicial and legislative arms of the state. They have withstood many boom-and-bust cycles. They will persist long afterwards.

They cannot be solved solely by the private sector. Changing them will probably require re-evaluating Proposition 13, re-considering single-family zoning and shifting land-use control from a neighborhood level to a regional level, especially in wealthier communities that have effectively pulled up the drawbridges behind them. All of these ideas are anathema to the older, property-owning generation. To put this in perspective, these policies either haven’t been touched in 40 years or have never been pulled off in the entire history of the state of California. Less politically controversial but still financially infeasible is the more than $10 billion of dollars of investment that is needed for both public transit in BART and Caltrain and a regional fund for affordable housing for low-income communities.

So I personally think one faster solution — which is already naturally happening — is to work with lots of other spaces and cities.

Nomadic living

11012482_10103986065714187_2176337670572425073_nThe second part is about the way that I’ve lived my life for most of the last 10 years. A decade ago, I stepped off a plane and lived abroad for the very first time. I was working as a financial journalist in Buenos Aires, interviewing everyone from cattle traders to stock brokers to retail business owners. Then I spent the next year living everywhere from sharing a single room with nine Vietnamese young women in an outer district of Hanoi for several months before moving into Spanish Harlem.

It completely changed my perspective. I haven’t had a conventional office job in years.

Even though a lot of my work is associated with California, I spent about one-third of every year overseas and I’ve lived this way for most of the last decade. I wake up in entirely new places many days of the year, sometimes in rural Western China and sometimes on the Rwandan-Democratic Republic of Congo border. Having a conversation with someone completely different from you, whether that’s a young and ambitious Beijing entrepreneur or a Naxi farmer on the other side of China, is humbling. It’s a visceral reminder of all the myriad ways that people can live and how societies can be structured.

Over the years, I’ve also become very familiar with some of the problem areas of this particular lifestyle, from managing time zone differences to unexpectedly not having reliable wi-fi or power to just being alone and on the road a lot.

While this emerging location independent lifestyle has some people calling themselves “digital nomads,” I’m reluctant about that term. For me, that term feels like it implies a lack of responsibility to places and communities because of its transience. In this work, I’m actively trying to get to know people who’ve been in communities for decades or years and have built institutions in them.

That means getting to know artists who’ve lived here for four decades or non-profits that do digital skills trainings or distribute tech products, so that people who live with us are informed and conscientious about the broader community they’re immersed in.

In our first space in Indonesia, we’ve held language classes and invited in young-and-coming local chefs to do pop-up dinners. At one of our last speaker nights, two Balinese girls came in to talk about their island-wide environmental campaign to end the use of plastic bags.

IMG_5190 (1)

When new members moved in earlier this month, they went with local families to the temple for an odalan ceremony on their very first night.

All of this work has been a crash course in the peculiarities of local land-use law and community development. There are many dynamics in Indonesia that are reminiscent of what I see in the U.S. and there’s this tension between collective adat structures around village land and the emergence of individualized, private ownership that has fueled the rapid conversion of agricultural land into tourism-centric development.

Making the base for canang sari, a Balinese ritual offering.

Back in the Bay Area, I often get the question from longstanding locals about why young people don’t move elsewhere.

First of all, they do. But second of all, the pressures that cities like San Francisco or Oakland face are pretty universal and I’ve seen them everywhere from London to Portland to New Orleans to Southeast Asia and even in very particular neighborhoods in Detroit. The global population is both growing and urbanizing, and managing infrastructure and workforce development is profoundly difficult everywhere.

I’m hoping to do a book at some point when I have time on all of this, and this comparative work will inform that.

Promoting new housing, architecture structures for communal living

The final part is the community living aspect. I grew up in a California suburb in a tract home built in 1967, when the state was in its high-growth years. Many of the region’s fruit orchards were quickly turned over into tracts of single-family detached housing.

The single-family detached home is an iconic American housing product. But I think its share of the U.S. housing stock at 63.3 percent is over-indexed to where it should actually be, given demographic changes like longer lifespans and delayed marriages. Today, almost three out of 10 Americans lives alone.

I believe part of the reason that cities have come back into vogue is because they provide a kind of built environment that works for people who aren’t in nuclear families but are still seeking community.

Changing this to provide alternatives is not as easy as it seems. The problem with building so-called “co-living” properties is that there just isn’t a lot of inventory, especially in places with high-land values like San Francisco. This is why many attempts at “co-living” either come out expensive relative to the local market or involve aggressive subdividing or overcrowding with bunkbeds.

There are some bootstrapped communities like the Embassy Network or charitably-subsidized communal houses like The Growlery in San Francisco that do a good job at walking the fine line between these pressures. But it’s very challenging given the way the American housing system works.

The U.S. is unusual in the sense that it has not only has a high percentage of detached single-family homes, it also prolifically uses single-family zoning, which bans all other kinds of multi-family housing. Housing options in American metropolitan regions are binary; you can either find ultra-urban neighborhoods or low-density suburbs without much “missing middle” housing options in-between the two.


What we’re doing

So the experiment with Roam Co-Living is about seeing whether it’s possible to do something attractive that’s really high-quality in community, design and finish elsewhere. The first location is this beautiful, newly-architected space that just opened in Ubud, with another one in Miami coming in May. We are definitely interested in lots of American cities as well.

We envision well-design spaces with many kinds of people from different professions, countries and passions. So far, we’ve had people coming to live in the space from a woman writing her first screenplay in Bahasa Indonesia to a French-Moroccan woman running dozens of events on womens’ rights throughout the Middle East to the founder of Berlin’s first co-working space, Betahaus, to a British adventurer and festival organizer who broke his foot on a 1,000 mile walk through Palestine to software developers building their first prototypes. The space on the roof is getting opened to bi-weekly yoga jams, and capoeira classes from one of the best Javanese teachers.



Roam Co-Living is still in experimentation mode and we are open to lots of debate, ideas and suggestions. We hope to be transparent in what we learn as we go. In the meantime, I’m continuing to post a sort of long-term roadmap for the Bay Area to be taken up again in the future.

If you’re interested in being part of this experiment in Bali, Indonesia or joining the founding community in Miami starting in May, drop us a line. Maybe you’ve been working or living somewhere, and you want to try something totally new or just get away. Let us know.

Also, feel free to ask me lots of questions. I’m hoping to continue the debate (both locally and globally) no matter where I am.

More TechCrunch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

22 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

3 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info