He may have grown up in a supportive, loving environment, but Ben Smith ’16 admits that being the adopted Chinese son of two American men wasn’t always easy. “Why do you have two dads?” was one question he often heard in school. “Why don’t you look like them?” was another.
In time, he learned to appreciate what made him different, and he also grew intrigued by the differences he saw in others. He had a curiosity about people. “I always had this fascination of learning about other people and their backgrounds,” he says. “It has been a central theme throughout my life.”
Today, Smith is in the business of creating connections and community. He is the founder and operator of Goal House, a communal living space located in a five-floor townhouse in Brooklyn, New York. The atmosphere in the house is not unlike that of a college dorm, only for adults. The 20 people in the house frequently socialize together, playing board games, grabbing coffee, and watching TV. Every Sunday, they take turns cooking dinner for what is called “Sunday Family Dinner.”
Goal House essentially creates a little community in the midst of a big city. Most of its residents are new to New York. “It is easy to feel like a fish out of water in New York,” Smith says. “If you feel lonely in this big city, the experience can be hard.”
While at Babson, Smith became interested in the fraternity and support of communal living when he traveled to Europe and stayed in hostels for the first time. He was amazed by how the bunks were filled with people from around the world. “I became obsessed with this idea of a physical space being a great catalyst to bring people together,” he says.
Goal House is actually his second foray into creating co-living spaces. In 2017, he co-founded Tribe, which aimed to create houses where people with similar interests (artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, tech workers) could live together.
“I became obsessed with this idea of a physical space being a great catalyst to bring people together.”
Ben Smith ’16, founder and operator of Goal House
On the face of it, Tribe proved successful during Smith’s time there, opening eight houses in New York and a converted hotel space in San Francisco. But, as the company grew, the communal aspects waned. Application numbers were up, but more so because of the flexible convenience of Tribe’s housing rather than the communal benefits that Smith was passionate about. “Community is really hard to scale,” Smith says. “We couldn’t keep growing and continue the community efforts we wanted to maintain.”
Eventually, Smith left Tribe and started the much smaller Goal House, a vibrant community that he also calls home. While his responsibilities as the house’s operator are sometimes demanding, they still leave him time for personal projects. On TikTok (@BecomingBen), he has gained a large following for his videos about growing up in a nontraditional family.
Smith won’t live in Goal House forever, but, for now, a life spent in the community suits him. “It has worked out pretty well,” he says.
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