Prior to becoming President of CasaHop, Florent was part of the founding team that started Gilt City, the local arm of Gilt Groupe, and served as VP Strategy & Business Development for the company, ramping up to 150+ employees. Florent also formerly ran Mobile and Emerging Platforms for Hachette Filipacchi Media, where he presided over the launch of several mobile and iPad applications for brands like ELLE, Car and Driver, and Road and Track, among others. Since he is French, Florent is a natural candidate for home exchanges in France for him, his wife, and his one-year-old son. You can follow Florent on Twitter @florentp.
CasaHop is the newest trend in travel that enables users around the world to save on travel costs by exchanging their homes with each other and bypassing traditional, more costly accommodations.
MO: Where did the inspiration for CasaHop come from?
Florent: Ever since the birth of my now 15-month-old son, my wife and I have come to realize how difficult and expensive it can be to travel with a family. Hotels are not exactly kid-friendly either, with everyone on top of each other, no quiet areas for kids to nap or play without bothering everyone else. Then we tried our first home exchange and the difference was like night and day. We had our own kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, plenty of space for our son to play or take a nap, and we could still carry on a conversation. We also really felt like we were immersed in this new culture, really living like a local. It felt like being at home, but a world away. Ever since, we’ve done home exchange for everything from long vacations to weekend getaways. But the one thing we’ve missed in our home exchanges was the social side of it – exchanging with people we already have some kind of connection to. That’s how CasaHop came about.
MO: How is CasaHop different from other home exchange sites and companies?
Florent: CasaHop is different in two distinct ways. First – it’s been built social from the ground up. Unlike other exchange sites, we’ve had the goal of being incredibly social from the start, so it’s been woven into everything we’ve done and plan on doing as we grow. Having that social aspect play such a prominent role in the home exchange process builds in an inherent trust. And trust just makes for a better exchange!
The other way that CasaHop is so different from other sites is that it’s free. We don’t charge you to register, to list your home, to browse, or even at the point of exchange. Home exchange is a great way to travel richly, without breaking the bank. We truly believe that’s the best way to see the world, and we carry that through into our business model.
MO: What are some of the advantages of doing a home exchange instead of staying in hotel or B&B?
Florent: Well the most obvious difference is that home exchange is free. Hotels are pricey, impersonal, and touristy. Home exchange, on the other hand, costs nothing, but is the most immersive way to travel. Hosts leave their guests insider information like the best local restaurants, must-see sites and attractions, even things like their babysitter’s contact information in case you want an adults-only night. Having access to things that only locals know about really enhances the entire experience. Also, instead of your entire trip being confined to one room, you know have access to an entire home. This makes traveling convenient, comfortable, and stress-free.
MO: Congratulations on raising $1.2 million in seed funding from well-known investors (First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures, Andre Balazs, Bob Pittman and more.) How do you expect your investors to help contribute to the growth and strategy of your vision?
Florent: We’ve been very strategic in the selection process of our investor base. In addition to the fact that they’re all leaders in their own field, each of them also brings something very complementary to CasaHop. For example, Andre Balazs (the hotelier behind the Standard Hotels, the Chateau Marmont, and The Mercer Hotel) is an incredibly savvy marketer and knows the hospitality business inside and out. On the other end, Ken Lerer and Eric Hippeau (the Founder and the ex-CEO of the Huffington Post) as well as Bob Pittman (the Founder of MTV) all have incredible experience in, and are knowledgeable about, how to build and scale brands and companies.
They all help us move forward with everything on our roadmap – better features and functionality, constant upgrades and improvements, and hiring and retaining the most talented, driven, and passionate people there are. Several of our investors have also been involved as mentors, giving us guidance and advice as well as introducing us to contacts that can help us grow quickly.
MO: How did you know when to look for investment? What are some tips for our readers on pitching to VC’s or angel investors?
CasaHop is the first company to emerge out of SoHo Tech Labs, an incubator started by Paul Berry (ex-CTO of the Huffington Post) and Lerer Ventures. The incubator provided the first very early stage funding, enabling the team to carry the concept from a simple idea to an MVP (Minimal Viable Product).
And that’s when we started looking around for funding. Here are a couple of tips:
– Have a vision and a drive: When an idea is young, VCs will really back a founding team and a general concept. Be convinced (and convincing) about your project and show that you’ve done the legwork, know the competition, and have a clear growth path (whether B2B or B2C, how you will acquire you users/customers/members, etc.).
– Be flexible: When a VC pushes back on a concept, sometimes he’s wrong, but sometimes he’s right. Be open for feedback and integrate that into your pitch – it’ll make you stronger and more confident.
– Share with as many people as possible for feedback, but don’t ask for money (just yet): Collect feedback, goodwill, and positive contribution, build hype, and perfect your pitch. And then go raise funding.
– Be selective: VCs and angels are selective – there’s no reason you shouldn’t be either. First Round Capital, who is one of our backers, actually does a ‘Reverse Pitch’ when they meet with entrepreneurs, where they pitch them on why they think they’re one of the best VCs to work with. Never work with a VC or angel only for the capital he’s bringing, but rather all of the non-transactional value he or she provides.
MO: Can you talk a little about the launch of your CasaHop Clubs product? I love the concept of enabling communities to create clubs around their affinities and interests.
Florent: CasaHop Clubs is something we’re super excited about and working very hard on so we can launch as soon as possible. Bonding with someone, or a group of someones, over a common interest, background, personal connection, career, etc. is an incredibly strong force. Members of the same club build a sense of trust with one another. There’s just something about sharing a hobby, for example, which makes us feel like we also share the same core beliefs and values with each other. CasaHop Clubs plans to tap into that feeling of community and trust by letting our users create their own clubs on our site. These can be pre-existing clubs – your golf club, your book club, a Facebook club for animal lovers – or clubs you create on CasaHop – the Andersen family club, mountain bikers club, or a club for wine aficionados. We plan on offering public or private clubs, and even clubs that can charge an entrance or yearly membership fee. Really, though, our goal is to help users create communities with other people they feel they can trust. This allows for more relaxing home exchanges, but also creates opportunities to experience vacations tailored to your specific interests and hobbies. It simply makes for better travel!