Hedge funds won’t restore your faith in humanity, but couch surfing might

Make some new friends—it might make you a lot happier.
Make some new friends—it might make you a lot happier.
Image: AP Photo/Craig Ruttle
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Brooke Allen’s piece, “The secret to a higher salary is to ask for nothing at all,” has drawn many responses from readers seeking advice on how to negotiate a better deal for themselves. Over the next few weeks, we will publish a few of his answers. 

This argument is logical, but in India just the opposite seems to happen. The person you help back stabs you. The person you give more money than requested is the least productive. I have applied these principles in my work life and personal life in India, and have failed. On top of that, I have been ridiculed and outcast.

Do you have a solution for this? What did I do wrong?



Brooke Allen’s response:

Dear G,

My prescription for what ails you is that you join Couchsurfing, a site that people use to meet each other and find hosts when traveling.

I used to manage a hedge fund. Collectively, most hedge funds (not all) do not create wealth, or make the world a better place, but rather compete with each other to win a zero-sum game. Most investors in hedge funds know this but don’t care; they just want to pick the winners. This can get you down—particularly if you are a hedge fund manager.

In the summer of 2006, I was in London for an industry conference. When I travel, I like to meet locals and will often write to LinkedIn contacts and suggest I buy them some drinks or dinner. Typically, if I write to 50 business people, five will give me the courtesy of a response, three will say they will meet me, and one will show up.

But on this instance I stumbled across the Couchsurfing website and joined on a lark. I wrote to 50 members on a Friday suggesting we meet for drinks or dinner on the following Monday. Nearly all of them responded within 18 hours and 27 said they’d love to meet, so I booked a few banquet tables at a Chinese restaurant just north of Leicester Square and treated them all to dinner. For three and a half hours I collected the most amazing stories of travel, adventure, and kindness.

The thing that struck me was that, unlike the hedge fund industry, couch surfers were creating real wealth by deploying fallow assets—a spare bedroom, a couch, or even a spot of floor big enough for a sleeping bag—and thereby creating value denominated not in money, but in all the ways that people who care about people care about. On that day, I became an evangelist.

My uncle is in his 80s and after his wife died after a long illness he became a bit maudlin and isolated. He used to work for the US State Department and has traveled the world. He is gregarious, but now he was becoming isolated.

I suggested he join Couchsurfing, offer to host people, and the world would come to him. I solicited the help of a friend, Kent Converse, a man in his 70s I’d convinced to join in November 2006.

Kent is a Vietnam War Veteran who has returned to Vietnam perhaps a dozen times, building libraries in remote parts of the country.  Kent forwarded my request to his Couchsurfing friends in Hanoi, and within minutes one of them responded. The (unedited) note:


It warms my heart to read how magical CS site is by Brooke. I have been enjoying CS so much and as the person said, CS link people together without age difference nor language barrier. I joined CS in 2006 after hearing so many good thing about it. Be honest, CS has been changing my life in different ways since I’ve learn much from travelers.

CS brings me friendship, joys, chances. As a starter, I have a good pen-pal from Spain. Lots of conversation, culture exchange has made. From that on, I start to meet people all over the world and build up a close friendship that I can always be welcomed anywhere I go. And as a result, I had a CS community in Hue that often did voluntary at orphans.

So, CS is not really in its black meaning: finding a couch for homeless. Above that, it is where people share their love, hobbies in the community – where only greatest people exist – where no war happens – where the safety and laugh exist. CS saves people from uncertainty and loneliness. All from CS, we start to get to know friends of your beloved CSers. For me, beside laughs, CS has brought me love, dearest Uncles, best friends.

I think I can speak for a community of CSers that we consider our CS as a HOME.



(Note: Kent is not literally Thao’s uncle. “Uncle” is a term used in Vietnam for a man who is like family, but not necessarily a blood relative.)

Nick Tarascio is another friend I met through Couchsurfing. He is a Lear Jet pilot and at a young age, his parents made him CEO of their small charter airline. Nick told me that when he began to contemplate what it would mean to be a corporate executive, he concluded that if it meant becoming like some of the shallow, self-centered, greedy and disingenuous high-rollers he had come across, then he might as well kill himself now.

Then he stumbled upon Couchsurfing.

What he discovered was a community of people living the life that many rich people only imagine they can have if they get just a little bit richer. He told me, “Couch Surfing has restored my faith in humanity.” If you meet Nick today then you will agree with me that you will be hard pressed to find a nicer or happier man.

Backstabbing idiots are so numerous that no census taker could count them all. But once you have your faith in humanity restored, then you will discover that a million lifetimes would be insufficient to meet, fall in love with, or do business with all the sincere, kindhearted, and honest people that inhabit this planet.

All you have to do is travel among them.