Tripping keeps on truckin’ with Grateful Dead partnership

hippie festivalSince 1965, hard-core Grateful Dead fans have been camping out in America’s open fields and fairgrounds with their fellow Deadheads in communal, hippy paradises.

Now, San Francisco startup Tripping is helping the band add community-service projects and communal liter removal to the jam sessions and other, ahem, festivities.

The peer-to-peer travel site, which connects worldwide travelers with hosts willing to provide free places to stay and opportunities for cultural exchanges (also known as meeting for drinks), is pairing up with the Grateful Dead to create a band-sponsored online micro-community to organize days of service everywhere the band plays.

“The band recognizes that everywhere they go, fans roll in and set up camp and often trash is left behind. They wanted to do something to foster good relations and help the communities that are generous enough to host them,” said Tripping founder Jen O’ Neal, a former StubHub marketing manager (and that company’s fifth employee), who financed Tripping with the funds she received when StubHub was sold to eBay (s EBAY) in 2007.

Today, O’Neal is leveraging her ticket-industry connections to create affinity networks on the Tripping site for bands and festival goers. While the Grateful Dead is the first band Tripping will partner with, the site is in talks with others to form communities where fans can organize ride shares, campsite meetups, extra couches and whatever else the band wants to include.

Tripping is similar to popular global-crash-pad sites like Couchsurfing, but sets itself apart with a strong social-networking component and a stringent security system that includes verifying the identify of users through video chat sessions with Tripping employees via Skype.

And unlike Couchsurfing and other sites, Tripping is a for-profit startup, which just happens to be totally free for users.

Still, eventually it will have to bring in revenue. And one of the fastest growing features on Tripping is its network program that allows entities from the Grateful Dead to university study abroad programs to create open or password-protected networks for members.

While it has offered the service for free in order to drum up interest, it plans to eventually charge private groups for the service.

“We know that they are willing to pay for this service,” O’Neal said. “Which is great because we want to keep this service free for individuals to use. We never want to have to charge our members. That’s why we decided to be a for-profit company, so we wouldn’t have to ask for donations or get money from our users.”

Launched in January of 2010, Tripping is gaining momentum fast with users in 130 countries. In fact, the company just closed an undisclosed, “modest” seed round with Quantum Technology Partners last month when some news really boosted enthusiasm for the service and generated buzz for the company.

Blogs began reporting that peer-to-peer vacation rental site Airbnb was raising upwards of $100 million and was now valued at a billion dollars. And while the sites offer different services in travel space, investors became extremely interested in Tripping.

“It’s been absolutely nuts around here, our phones started ringing off the hook,”  O’Neal said. “I mean when you are fundraising, investors never call, they are calling us now.”

While investors have been sniffing around, the site doesn’t really doesn’t need all that much money to grow, O’Neal said. Still, the company is considering opening up “just a bit” to include other investors with experience in the travel and peer-to-peer sectors.

For the seven-person Tripping team, working out of a shared office space in North Beach, the news had a more psychological effect.

“The investors are really excited about this peer to peer space. They all see the writing on the wall. This is the way the economy will be going even though this is just the beginning,” she said.

“Really it amounts to external validation,” she said. “We are sleeping a bit easier. Now we can say, ‘okay it’s a real opportunity we have here’ and its really exciting.”

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lucy Boynton