A few weeks ago, we were in Gallipoli, Puglia, writing code in exchange for hospitality. Here’s how we spent an amazing week in southern Italy without spending a dime.
In a day and age where pretty much any business owner has a lot to gain from an online presence, developers or designers able to quickly put a small business on the radar “of the internet” possess some kind of superpower. Since we started our digital nomad life, the idea to barter our development skills in exchange for services or hospitality came up often as we were browsing websites that desperately needed a few hours of a UX designer’s time.
We finally decided to experiment with the concept while combining our passion for travel with our interest in startups. We were particularly interested in finding out if the barter format could give us access to an experience we wouldn’t get elsewhere. And indeed, interesting things happen when you remove the money exchange…
But first to the trip itself. A few weeks prior, we had agreed with CicerOOs to visit their headquarter in Puglia. CicerOOs is a semantic search engine for tourism started by Daniele Viva and Daniele Cassini (the semantic problem starts with telling them apart). They agreed to host us in exchange for building a demo application showcasing their API.
Puglia is located in the heel of the boot of the Italian shoe. While it is less well-known outside Italy than Sicily or Sardinia, it is frequently cited by Italians as one of the most beautiful places in the country.
On Friday afternoon, we arrived at the CicerOOs office in the small town of Taviano, under a burning sun and a stifling temperature. The company’s office would be our bedroom for the following week. Daniele Cassini was our Cicerone for most of the week, introducing us to the most beautiful beaches and best restaurants. He also made sure each day would start with the now-famous pasticiotto, a delicious local specialty.
The week itself was filled with activities. Amongst other things, we went out fishing, had kite-surf lessons from the CicerOOs team, rode a catamaran, and so on… Dinners with the families of both co-founders were also highlights of the trip.
Dinner with Daniele Cassini and his family
We finally began writing code towards the middle of the week. The idea was to create a widget-builder to display point of interests (restaurants, bars, beaches, etc.) near a location. The widget should be easily embedable on a website, to be used by hotels, travel guides or Airbnb users. We worked on the project for roughly three full days and ended up shipping Instapoint: http://thebakery.io/instapoint/ (Note that CicerOOs only covers Italy for now).
Screenshot of Instapoint
Overall, the week spent with CicerOOs was a unique experience. As expected, we got access to a level of authenticity we wouldn’t have found elsewhere. The best restaurants in your Lonely Planet will hardly compare with the dinner table of a local family.
Frisella con pomodori secci i mozzarella
Additionally, the people you meet and the relationships you build are the most crucial ingredients for a memorable trip. For us, connecting with local entrepreneurs was a great way to meet new people while building out our professional network.
Finally, the reciprocity was key in the success of the experiment. Contributing to an open-source project or helping out some friends holds a very different feeling than taking on a consulting project. You feel like giving your best and put your heart into your work without expecting anything in return. When strangers host you in their house, cook dinner for you and show you their hometown, you feel compelled to thank them in one way or another. In our case, coding would be our thank you card. Furthermore, as typical in the Italian culture, CicerOOs were incredibly hospitable hosts which made it that much more motivating for us to deliver.
All in all, a high level of trust and an open communication is imperative to make sure all parties benefit from the exchange. The hardest challenge was probably balancing our work schedule with all the activities and the sightseeing - especially in such a touristic destination during the month of August.
Next up, we’re heading to Berlin which probably won’t be as sunny, but hopefully just as fun. Make sure to get in touch if you have an extra couch.
"Working" on the beach side