“We started Kindred with the goal of making travel a way of life, not just an occasional getaway,” explains co-founder and president of the company Tasneem Amina. Inspired by the flexibility offered by remote working, co-founders Justine Palefsky and Tasneem Amina created a home exchange network that harnesses the power of community. By focusing on sharing instead of making money, Kindred doesn’t take houses off the market or drive house prices up. And the idea is catching on, earlier this year the company raised $7.75 million in seed money to grow the platform.
You were both starting employees at Opendoor, an online platform for handling residential real estate. What inspired you to make the leap to your own startup? Our experience at Opendoor has taught us that huge customer problems are actually huge opportunities for innovation. We were inspired to start Kindred to solve a problem that we felt acutely ourselves. During the pandemic, we both looked for ways to take advantage of our newfound flexibility for remote working and spend more time in different cities. But in practice, the existing solutions were either unreasonably expensive or we had to give up our homes completely.
We saw that there was a real and unresolved customer need here – one that was likely to only get worse as vacation rental costs continued to skyrocket. We weren’t quite sure what the product would become, but we knew that if we focused maniacally on solving this problem, we would create something valuable.
What does Kindred offer its users that sets it apart from other services like Airbnb? Kindred is a members-only home exchange network, which is very different from a vacation rental platform.
First, unlike rentals, there is no financial exchange between guest and host on Kindred. We have built an economy based on generosity, where members give a night to earn a night, and the houses on the platform are real residences rather than investment properties.
Second, Kindred is based on trust. We connect members who have something in common (such as mutual friends or a shared network), and facilitate an introduction via video chat before confirming a stay.
Who is the target customer? And why? Our goal is to make it possible for everyone to share their home. However, where we’ve seen the most traction so far is with remote workers who have a tremendous amount of flexibility and want to travel frequently. In a model like ours that focuses on both giving and receiving, it’s important for us to target people who will use the platform as both travelers and hosts.
How have your own travel experiences informed this platform? We are both adventurous people who love to travel, and we’ve used pretty much every travel platform out there.
During the pandemic, Tas did his best to be a digital nomad. I (Justine) was also trying to buy a vacation home in Lake Tahoe that I was planning to rent out on Airbnb to cover the costs. After deciding that was too much work and way too risky, I finally found a couple from my college who lived in Lake Tahoe full-time, and now I just swap homes with them on a regular basis. Feeling like having a vacation home without taking on the risk or expense of a vacation home was an important “aha” moment for us.
How does the invite-only model work? What are your ambitions for the community on the platform? The chemistry within the Kindred community absolutely blew us away – it’s one of the things we’re most proud of. For example, leaving handwritten thank you notes has become a tradition in the community. We’ve seen members leave the most thoughtful gifts for each other, from flowers and wine to handwritten poems, beautiful stones, and even an original song recorded to the sounds of the house (true story!).
To ensure we maintain an environment of trust, we grow primarily through referrals. Each accepted member has a unique code that they can share with others they think would be a good fit for Kindred. This brings those applications to the top of the review queue.
People who want to sign up, but don’t have an invite code, can still get on the waiting list. We accept housing on a rolling basis, in proportion to demand.
In other interviews, you’ve discussed the negative side of Airbnb, the way it incentivizes investors to buy properties that could otherwise provide affordable housing for local residents. How does Kindred disrupt that model? Unlike vacation rental companies like Airbnb and VRBO, hosting on Kindred doesn’t generate cash flow — instead of making money, members earn the opportunity to stay at other homes. That’s why our clients are people who simply want to be able to unlock the value in their home to travel more, not investors. It wouldn’t even make sense to buy a house to put it on Kindred full time!
Home exchange feels much more intimate than renting. Do you see this as a fundamental part of the Kindred experience? This is definitely a fundamental part of the Kindred experience and what makes home swapping so special after all. By staying at someone’s home, you get a unique opportunity to explore a new city like a local and build long-lasting relationships with the homeowner. Many of our members are drawn to Kindred because they want a travel experience with warmth, character and the comforts of home. They want to feel like they really live somewhere, not just traveling there as a tourist.
What is your dream home exchange? I don’t know if this counts, but we want to spread it in the universe: we really want to remake the movie The holiday† Cameron, Kate, if you’re reading this, get in touch.