How Tripalink improves the lives of young tenants
The real estate industry isn’t exactly known for finding dynamic solutions to common problems. Yet it is so tripalink, which is a real estate brand that develops and manages co-livings and standard apartments was born. When Founder and CEO, Donghao Li had a difficult experience renting an apartment as an international graduate student at USC, he came across a situation that would become a phenomenal career for him.
Today, Tripalink has over $50 million in venture capital funding and has co-housing and standard properties in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Philadelphia, Irvine and Tucson with other cities planned soon. Tripalink is one of the few real estate brands that strives to solve tenants’ problems, as well as create real communities by offering desirable amenities as well as community events.
Tripalink’s cohousing apartments are more like swanky Airbnbs than a typical crash pad. Equipped with high-end finishes like quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances, there’s even a weekly cleaning service included with the rent. Some buildings even have swimming pools, coworking spaces and gyms.
I recently spoke with Li about the benefits of co-living, how they retain long-term tenants, what makes his brand different, and more.
Amanda Lawrence: You had the idea for Tripalink when you felt the stress of trying to rent an apartment as an international student. How was this moment for you? Are you considering a career in the real estate industry at this time?
Dong Hao Li: Like most international students, I started looking for accommodation remotely in China, and communication with landlords and apartment management was difficult with a 12 hour time difference, completely backwards. The room I rented in a seven-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family home ended up costing $750 a month with nothing included and no furniture. I had no credit history or social security number, so I had to find a friend to co-sign my lease and pay the security deposit and first month’s rent by international wire transfer.
I was shocked when I saw my house in person after landing. It was much older and smaller than in the photos. I slept on the floor for a few days because there was no furniture.
I found a classmate who had a US driver’s license and we rented a U-haul, went to Ikea and bought some furniture.
The utilities weren’t open yet, so we set up the bed using a cell phone flashlight that night.
It was also not easy to find a community, having just moved to a new country. I couldn’t imagine how I could manage on my own with so many unexpected things.
The tedious process of signing a lease and the frustration of seeing the room for the first time cost me $750 per month got me thinking about why this must be so difficult for international students. I later learned from my domestic classmates and American friends that moving was not an easy process for them either.
So I set out to find solutions for student tenants and then extend them to working professionals. I had no intention of getting into real estate, but I sincerely wanted to solve the problems that most tenants have.
Lauren: The majority of cohousing properties aren’t luxurious or upscale, but Tripalink prides itself on that. Do you think it draws people into cohabitation who otherwise might not be interested?
Li: We didn’t plan to market co-living properties as luxury options, but we believe co-living can also provide a high quality of life. So we focused on designing co-living spaces that balance intimacy and interaction with enhanced functionality and attentive services.
This helps ease people’s concerns about potential headaches in a co-living space and encourage more people to try it out.
Lauren: What are some of Tripalink’s most luxurious co-living properties and where are they located?
Li: Tripalink’s cohousing properties are mostly located near universities and city centers. It’s hard to choose the most luxurious because some have the best locations but not as many amenities and some have better amenities but not necessarily in the best location. It really depends on the preferences of the tenants and we hope to help them find the house that suits them best.
Lauren: Are shared apartments different from standard apartments?
Li: At Tripalink, we define cohabitation as people living together under one roof, sharing spacious common areas while enjoying individual private bedrooms/bathrooms.
This new way of living together is different from a standard apartment in the sense that it allows the sharing of spaces between strangers who will eventually become friends. Continually learning from our current and past tenants, we have taken attractive elements from traditional homes, apartments and group accommodations and incorporated them into our designs. With affordability in mind, we make sure every square foot is utilized and minimize wasted space in shared apartments.
Our design goal is to provide all the functions available from a traditional apartment while considering additional storage space requirements, common space requirements and most importantly privacy requirements for our large groups. . With fully furnished units, individual suites, and plenty of common spaces to share while being cleaned weekly, we see our cohabitation as the new way for Gen Z and Millennials to live, work, and thrive.
Lauren: Will a lot of people who start in your co-living properties stay as tenants in standard apartments?
Li: Yes, and that’s why we want to have a portfolio with different types of properties. As students graduate, become financially independent and have a bigger budget, they move from co-living properties to our standard apartments. This also happens when a tenant enters into a romantic relationship, some through events or the Tripalink community, they also tend to move from co-living properties to standard apartments.
Lauren: From an investment perspective, how does offering a mix of housing types benefit Tripalink?
Li: At Tripalink, we want to build a residential brand that can offer a mix of housing options to different demographics and their different life stages. We discovered our potential to create brand traction when many renters inquired about properties in another city/region or another type of property. If tenants are happy to live with Tripalink while studying and we have standard roommate and apartment options for them after graduation, they can still choose us.
Lauren: Why is community so important to both Tripalink and its tenants, especially as we move towards the end of the pandemic?
Li: The core of building a community is connecting residents through Tripalink and providing more than just a physical living space with basic services. Current housing options cannot keep up with the ever-changing needs of recent generations. A simple place to sleep is not all they want.
Instead, they seek a community experience that is convenient, relatable, trustworthy, and provides a sense of belonging. We have heard many stories about our tenants finding their romantic relationships, landing a dream job offer or simply expanding their social network within the Tripalink community.
For Tripalink, building a community is a great way to increase brand awareness and build brand loyalty. In addition to community events and exclusive benefits, we have also launched many small projects that build a sense of community and will make the community experience more digital through our app.
Lauren: Many buildings have applications for tenants, what makes Tripalink superior?
Li: We want to build a true all-in-one app in-house and provide our tenants with a top-notch digital living experience. It not only allows tenants to pay monthly rent as well as submit and track maintenance requests, but also enhances the community vibe as tenants can connect with other members, share their life in the community, and s sign up for community events.
Lauren: You received $50 million in venture capital. Why are investors so attracted to your business?
Li: Investors are attracted for three main reasons. First, Tripalink has higher capital efficiency, which means we can grow profitably. Second, we have built a scalable business model with a strong unit economy. Tripalink’s activity has been profitable since its creation and the company can evolve with financial support. Third, Tripalink leverages technology and data analytics to improve the tenant’s rental and living experience.
Lauren: Tripalink was recently named one of the best startups to work for. What makes Tripalink a great place to work?
Li: At Tripalink, we constantly strive to create a sense of community and belonging for all tenants and our employees. We give our team members the freedom to chart their career path. We let their passions turn into innovation within our organization.
We are establishing a unified corporate culture based on a clear understanding of what motivates our employees. Our unique mission and vision are the added values that drive our employee experience. Members of our Tripalink community are well taken care of at all times, as are our employees.
Tripalink creates a shared experience that our employees and customers are proud to uphold. Because we firmly believe that our unique business model can spark the change we want to see in the real estate industry.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.