Short-term rental startup Kasa Living announced a $30 million Series B fundraise in October of this year, just as other companies in the sector were seeing severe distress.
The coronavirus has hit the short-term rental industry hard, as companies had to deal with a slew of cancellations in the early days of the pandemic, followed by widespread changes in travel patterns, causing some companies to reevaluate and adjust their business plans.
A month after Kasa's fundraise was announced, competitor Domio admitted that it was planning "financial re-engineering" and had installed an interim CEO after reports that it had shut down and was selling off its assets. Meanwhile, Airbnb-backed Lyric transferred its final location to rival firm Mint House. Earlier this year, competitor Stay Alfred had to fold, while others had to rapidly cut back on their footprint.
Kasa, though, has increased its total units under management by 50% since March, according to Roman Pedan, the CEO and founder. The company, which had just raised $20 million in December of 2019, was already on the hunt for more money to continue growing.
"Qualitatively and quantitatively, we accomplished what we thought would take two years to do, things we previously told investors we intended to do in two years," Pedan told Business Insider.
Kasa went back out for more funding, in a Series B round led by Ribbit Capital, which included investors such as RET Ventures, Zigg Capital, Allegion Ventures, and BoxGroup.
Pedan attributed the company's recent success to its focus on shared-revenue management partnerships instead of costly master leases, the company's focus on lowering prices for its customers, and his own background.
From KKR investor and Airbnb host to founder
Before launching Kasa Living in 2016, Pedan was a real estate investor at the major private equity firm KKR. He joined KKR's real-estate team in its early days, after a stint at private equity real estate firm Walton Capital, and saw it grow to almost $10 billion in assets under management before he left.
At the same time, he also started to host Airbnb guests in his own apartment. From experience as a real-estate investor in a broad range of asset classes and his personal experience with Airbnb, Kasa was born.
Central to Pedan's vision was finding a way to easily partner with the largest owners of the multifamily world, major investors with similar goals to his former employer KKR. That meant understanding their motivation for partnering with a short-term rental company — chiefly, bringing revenue into empty units in a multifamily building.
So Kasa doesn't have to pay for whole floors or buildings and can instead be flexible to the needs of its partners. On the low-impact side, it can take over vacant apartments and leave them once an owner secures a long-time lease. To the other extreme, Kasa can operate whole hotels.
The 'Southwest Airlines of the sector'
Kasa has made management contracts a central part of its business. These contracts have been rapidly adopted by the short-term rental and flexible working industries in the early days of the pandemic because expensive master lease obligations severely burdened their balance sheets. Pedan said his goal was always to switch to these revenue-sharing agreements between landlord and operator, which make up the vast majority of hotel contracts. It helped that he was extremely familiar with from his time as investor.
Pedan said Kasa began by signing master leases to prove itself to landlords but began to switch to management contracts last year, with the company transitioning almost all remaining leases to agreements during the coronavirus crisis. In a tumultuous 2020, these agreements, which require less capital and risk on the operator side, have also looked more attractive to landlords, who would prefer to receive a portion of revenue than receive none of a master lease. It also means that as the travel industry continues to recover, they will have a far greater upside than a traditional lease.
The company's cozy relationship with multifamily landlords is buoyed by its investor RET Ventures, which counts a range of multifamily operators as its own investors.
Another key to Kasa's recent success has been its brand, which is less expensive than other short-term rental operators. Pedan calls it the "Southwest Airlines of the sector," which means its focus is on low prices and a range of locations beyond New York and San Francisco.
In the midst of a financial crisis, this strategy has seemed to pay off, with travel recovering better outside major metropolises, and with potential customers more cost-conscious than ever.
Read on to see the pitch deck that helped Kasa Living raise $30 million during the pandemic.