Swapping homes and avoiding Airbnbs on your next trip
My chat with Justine Palefsky, Cofounder of Kindred
Kindred is an alternative short-term rental marketplace with novel characteristics:
It’s a members-only, primary home-swapping network
It allows people to travel at a fraction of the cost of hotels or Airbnb
There’s no payment relationship between the hosts and guests.
Every member has to be a host to be a guest.
I talked to Kindred’s cofounder, Justine, to do a deep dive into their novel model.
Sar: What’s your elevator pitch? How is it different from existing alternative short-term vacation rental marketplaces?
Justine: Kindred is a give-to-get network for home and apartment sharing. Members can swap places with one another 1-for-1 or “give a night to get a night” (host others to earn nights, spend those nights to stay at a different home later).
This model is quite differentiated from existing home-sharing platforms:
Stays typically cost 10% of what you’d pay for Airbnb or short-term rental because there are no nightly rental rates. Members just pay a cleaning and service fee.
Supply is 95%+ primary residences – people sharing their real homes, not property managers with investment homes.
We’re one of the first marketplaces with a give-to-get model; you can’t just pay to buy nights. Everyone is a guest and a host; we all have skin in the game.
Sar: Talk about the emotional appeal behind the product.
Justine: Home swapping offers an authentic travel experience where people can form real relationships, stay like a local, and embed into a neighborhood instead of feeling like a tourist. The homes feel more human: they are warm, well-furnished, and have a soul— a stark contrast to empty, sterile, or generic rentals.
Kindred also resonates with those looking for a more sustainable way to live and travel. Many are bothered by the inefficiency of a system where we let our homes sit empty for weeks while overpaying for rentals elsewhere that take homes off the market for residents and exacerbate the housing crisis.
Sar: Founders often use spreadsheets for MVPs. It is not common to hear Instagram play a role in testing a marketplace idea! Can you tell us how you used Instagram?
Justine: Since Kindred stays are absurdly affordable compared to the alternatives, people are willing to be flexible to make the trip work. We dramatically increased liquidity with the same inventory by driving demand instead of waiting for people to come to us with destinations and dates. To drive demand, we needed to catch people early in their travel journey and inspire them to want to create their plans around home availability.
One of the first lessons we learned was how important photos are for inspiration. Something as simple as putting home pictures in the body of an email vs. clicking a link to view the photos resulted in dramatically higher conversion. We realized we needed to get photos in front of people with as few clicks as possible. When you see a beautiful home that’s available with such low pricing, it almost feels crazy NOT to go. Instead of having “plan my trip” as another thing on your to-do list, you have a good reason to say “yolo!” and book a trip. Our success with Instagram led us to build an app instead of just a web experience. This earliest phase of travel planning is visual, inspiration-based, and social, unlike a more utilitarian web page.
Sar: What early ideas or instincts were wrong?
Justine: We got quite a few things wrong at first, especially when understanding what defines people’s trust boundaries. There are many existing social graphs (Facebook, LinkedIn, your phone contacts, etc.), and we learned that no single social graph could predict who people are comfortable with staying at their homes.
Trust boundaries aren’t static. People come in with different starting points and evolve dramatically, especially as they get over the hump of their first home swap.
People are bad at self-reporting or predicting their trust boundaries – their answers to hypothetical questions differ from how they behave in real life.
People look for trust proxies, and sometimes those proxies are logical (e.g., “my friend hosted you before and had a great experience”), and sometimes they aren’t logical at all (e.g., “your dog looks just like my dog, I trust you!”).