“We started Kindred with the goal of making travel a way of life, not just an occasional escape,” explains company co-founder and president Tasneem Amina. Inspired by the flexibility offered through remote work, co-founders Justine Palefsky and Tasneem Amina created a home swapping network that harnesses the power of community. By focusing on sharing rather than monetizing, Kindred does not take homes off the market or inflate housing prices. And the idea is catching on, earlier this year, the company raised $7.75 million in seed funding to grow the platform.
You were both early-stage employees at Opendoor, an online platform for transacting residential real estate. What inspired you to make the leap to your own startup? Our experience at Opendoor 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 sought ways to take advantage of our newfound remote work flexibility and spend more time in different cities. But in practice, the existing solutions were either unreasonably expensive, or required giving up our homes completely.
We saw that there was a real and unsolved customer need here—one that would likely only get worse as the cost of vacation rentals continued to skyrocket. We didn’t know exactly what the product would end up being, but we knew that if we focused maniacally on solving this problem, we would create something worthwhile.
What does Kindred offer its users that sets it apart from other services like Airbnb? Kindred is a members-only home swapping network, which is entirely different from a vacation rental platform.
Firstly, unlike rentals, there’s no financial exchange between guest and host on Kindred. We’ve built an economy based on generosity, where members give a night to earn a night, and the homes on the platform are real residences instead of investment properties.
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Secondly, Kindred is based on trust. We connect members who have something in common (like mutual friends or a shared network), and facilitate an introduction over a video chat before confirming a stay.
Who is the target client? And why? Our goal is to make it possible for anyone to share their home. Where we’ve seen the most traction so far, though, is with remote workers who have a tremendous amount of flexibility and are looking to travel frequently. In a model like ours that focuses on both giving and getting, it’s important for us to target people who are going to use the platform both as a traveler and a host.
How have your own travel experiences informed this platform? We’re both adventurous people who love to travel, and we’ve used pretty much every travel platform out there.
During the pandemic, Tas explored being a digital nomad. I (Justine) also tried to buy a vacation home in Lake Tahoe that I planned to rent out on Airbnb to help cover costs. After deciding that was too much work and way too risky, I ended up finding a couple from my college who lived full time in Lake Tahoe, and now I just swap homes with them regularly. Feeling like I have a vacation home without taking on the risk or cost of a vacation home was a key “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 has absolutely blown us away—it’s one of the things we’re proudest 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, pretty rocks, and even an original song recorded using the sounds of the house (true story!).
To ensure we maintain an environment of trust, we primarily grow through referrals. Each accepted member has a unique code 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 are interested in applying but don’t have an invite code can still join the waitlist. We accept homes on a rolling basis, relative to demand.
In other interviews, you’ve discussed the negative side of Airbnb, the way it incentivizes investors to buy up 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 earning cash, members earn the ability to stay at other homes. Because of this, our customers are people who want to be able to easily unlock the value in their home to travel more, not investors. In fact, it would make no sense to buy a home to put it on Kindred full time!
Home-swapping feels much more intimate than renting. Do you see this as a fundamental part of the Kindred experience? This is absolutely a fundamental part of the Kindred experience, and what ultimately makes home swapping so special. Because you’re staying in someone’s home, you get a unique opportunity to explore a new city like a local and build long-term 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 are really living somewhere, not just traveling there as a tourist.
What is your dream home swap? I don’t know if this counts, but we want to put it out into the universe: we are dying to recreate the movie The Holiday. Cameron, Kate, if you’re out there reading this—please hit us up.