A new home exchange platform lets you roam the world like Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet

“We started Kindred with the goal of making travel a way of life, not just an occasional escape,” says company co-founder and president Tasneem Amina. Inspired by the flexibility offered by remote work, co-founders Justine Palefsky and Tasneem Amina created a home exchange network that harnesses the power of community. By focusing on sharing rather than monetization, Kinship does not take houses off the market and does not inflate housing prices. And the idea is catching on, earlier this year the company raised $7.75 million in seed funding to develop the platform.

You were both junior employees at Opendoor, an online residential real estate transaction platform. What prompted you to take 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 launch Kindred to solve a problem that we ourselves felt acutely. During the pandemic, we’ve both been looking for ways to take advantage of our newfound remote working flexibility and spend more time in different cities. But in practice, existing solutions were either unreasonably expensive or required abandoning our homes altogether.

We saw that there was a real and unaddressed need for customers here, a need that would likely only get worse as the cost of vacation rentals continued to soar. 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 exchange network that is totally different from a vacation rental platform.

First, unlike rentals, there is no financial exchange between guest and host on Kindred. We’ve built an economy based on giving, where members give a night to earn a night, and homes on the platform are real residences instead of investment properties.

Second, Kindred is built on trust. We connect members who have something in common (like mutual friends or a shared network) and facilitate an introduction via video chat before confirming a stay.

Who is the target clientele? And why? Our goal is to allow everyone to share their home. However, where we’ve seen the most success so far is with remote workers who have enormous 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 as both a traveler and a host.

How have your own travel experiences informed this platform? We are both adventurers who love to travel and have used just about every travel platform.

During the pandemic, Tas explored being a digital nomad. I (Justine) also tried to buy a vacation home in Lake Tahoe that I was planning to rent out on Airbnb to help defray the costs. After deciding it 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 regularly swap houses with them. Feeling like I had 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 blown 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 each other the most thoughtful gifts, flowers and wine, handwritten poems, pretty rocks, and even an original song recorded using house sounds (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 suitable for Kindred. This brings these apps to the top of the review queue.

People who want to apply but don’t have an invite code can still join the waitlist. We accept homes on an ongoing basis, based on demand.

In other interviews, you’ve talked about the negative side of Airbnb, how it incentivizes investors to buy properties that might otherwise provide affordable housing for local residents. How is Kindred disrupting this pattern? Unlike vacation rental companies like Airbnb and VRBO, hosting on Kindred doesn’t generate cash flow — instead of earning money, members earn the opportunity to stay at other homes. For this reason, our clients are people who want to be able to easily unlock the value of their home to travel more, not investors. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense to buy a house and put it on Kindred full time!

Home swapping is much more intimate than renting. Do you see this as a fundamental part of the Kindred experience? It’s absolutely a fundamental part of the Kindred experience, and what makes home exchange so special. Because you’re staying at someone’s home, you have a unique opportunity to explore a new city like a local and build long-term relationships with the owner. Many of our members are drawn to Kindred because they want a warm travel experience with character and the comforts of home. They want to feel like they really live somewhere, not just go there as a tourist.

What is your dream home exchange? I don’t know if it counts, but we want to broadcast it in the universe: we’re dying to recreate the film Vacations. Cameron, Kate, if you’re reading this, please contact us.

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