A Q&A with CasaHop co-founder and president Florent Peyre. The New York City–based company was founded earlier this year and recently raised $1.2 million in its first round of funding. Investors include Lerer Ventures, First Round Capital, and BetaWorks, among other big name backers.
SUB: Please describe CasaHop and the value proposition you offer to travelers.
Peyre: CasaHop offers our users the chance to exchange homes all over the world with people they are already connected to and trust, all for free. The concept of home exchange isn’t new—people long ago discovered that they could avoid pricey, touristy, impersonal hotels and really live like a local by staying in a local’s home while that person stays in theirs. It’s that truly immersive experience that travelers want. But what CasaHop does differently is twofold. One, we do it for free. We’re not charging you to use our service at registration, when you list your home, or at the time of your exchange. Two, we take out the trust factor by leveraging your social graph—your online and offline networks—to connect you with people you already know, friends of friends, or people who share a common interest, hobby, or background with you. That one thing can be the difference between a worry-filled trip and a successful getaway.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Peyre: CasaHop is ideal for families, weekend getaways, extended stays, business trips or anyone who loves vacationing but wants to feel at home while doing so. Our users are people who love travel but don’t want to be confined to a cramped hotel room; people who really love that immersive experience of doing what the locals do. Our users are also financially savvy and socially connected.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Peyre: We’re in the home exchange business, so naturally we look to sites like HomeExchange.com as the competition. But really, we’re doing something so different, that I don’t think it’s even a fair comparison. We’re playing the same game, but in totally different positions.
SUB: What differentiates CasaHop from the competition?
Peyre: Unlike the competition, CasaHop is free and it’s social, which means home exchanges done with us have an innate trustworthiness. We want our users to save money on accommodations so they can use it to truly enjoy their trip. We also want them to get the real ‘insert-destination-name-here’ experience. We help them do that by leveraging their social connections, their offline communities, and their passions and interests to pair them up with the perfect home exchanges with people they can trust. We’re still in beta, but we also have a great clubs feature coming not too far down the road that we’re really excited about that is going to totally revolutionize home exchange.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Peyre: The concept started a few months back and we launched the site a couple of weeks ago so we’re still very early on—the first key thing we did was to find the right technical talent for the company, Kriti Godey. She’s now our CTO and manages a team of 10-plus people—although she’s only 22!
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for CasaHop? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Peyre: Paul Berry, my co-founder, is a big home exchange user and already did 10-to-12 exchanges over the years, but always felt that the experience of finding your exchange was not optimized at all and did not take into account everything that happened in technology in the last couple of years.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Peyre: Building the product and releasing it fast while constantly improving it, acquiring users, scaling, hiring a team, etc. We’ve also just recently secured $1.2 million which will see us through about the next 18 months. But, just as important as the funding, are the people who are behind the money. We have the most incredible investor team and I think that speaks volumes about the potential of CasaHop and the people behind it.
SUB: Was the recently raised $1.2 million in new funding your first round?
Peyre: Yes, this was our first round. We’ve secured a really good group of investors that all bring something specific to the table. This includes some of the most successful names in the game, including Lerer Ventures, First Round Capital, BetaWorks, Andre Balazs, Bob Pittman, David Tisch from TechStars, Dave Morgan from Tacoda and Simulmedia, Jonah Goodhart from Moat, and Nicholas Negroponte from the MIT Media Lab and the One Laptop Per Child initiative. Those names are huge, and we feel honored that they believe in CasaHop as much as we do.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Peyre: We’ll keep building a great product and we’re about to launch a very exciting functionality around clubs.
SUB: Do you plan to raise more outside funding in the near future?
Peyre: Probably in a year or so—nothing decided yet.
SUB: What are your goals for CasaHop over the next year or so?
Peyre: Bringing a great product to our users while enabling them to travel differently is our number one goal, along with convincing new users to give it a try. A lot of users told us that they’ve been doing home exchanges for a long time, they just didn’t realize that it was called home exchange.
CasaHop – www.casahop.com