New York-based MyPlace, a social network designed to help friends share their private homes, has raised $5.8 million in seed funding led by Freestyle Ventures. The platform was originally launched in 2019 by entrepreneurs Zach Bell and Rameet Chawla as a way for them to share their private homes with their friends. Since then, the platform has grown into a social network used by thousands of people in 86 countries.
The pair told TechCrunch in an interview that at the time of the launch, they were both traveling for work and didn’t want their homes to sit empty for a long period of time. They wanted their friends to take advantage of their empty homes, so they created a Squarespace website and added calendars on the website to indicate when their homes would be empty. Then, they gave the password to the site to around 100 of their friends.
“We indicated when our houses were available and told our friends to let us know when they wanted to stay there,” Bell, the CEO of the company, said. “One thing led to another, and a friend asked if they could add their house. Then someone else said their friend was looking for a place and if they could add them to the list. It kind of snowballed like that — we never anticipated doing this as a business or starting a company together. It started with us just wanting to share houses.”
MyPlace hasn’t done any paid advertising and is growing based on word of mouth among friends, Bell says. The platform has a running beta community of over 3,000 community members and a waitlist of over 7,500 people. Throughout 2021, the company saw organic user growth of 40% month-over-month. Over the same timeframe, MyPlace also saw a 50% increase in trips each month.
To join the platform, you need to be invited to the network by a friend who wants to share their house with you. Once you get onto the network, you can find your own friends on it. The platform also has private groups that users can invite each other to. MyPlace is currently working through its waitlist of people who currently don’t have friends on the network to help them get their own friend groups on the platform.
Chawla said the platform currently has two different demographics. The first demographic is people who have a space and want to offer it to one of their friends while they’re traveling instead of having it sit empty. The second demographic is users who want a trusted source to stay in their house while they’re away, potentially to care for their pets, or to house sit.
The pair says MyPlace can’t be compared with short-term rental services, such as Airbnb or Vrbo, because their platform isn’t about rentals. Bell notes that MyPlace is for sharing private spaces with friends or friends of friends, whereas short-term rental services are dedicated to renting out spaces for profit. Unlike short-term rental or home swapping sites, Bell says MyPlace members are not looking to publicly list their homes on the open market. Still, if MyPlace were to achieve broader scale, it could cut into the short-term rental market.
“We don’t talk about prices, we talk about exchange,” Bell said. “We ask what people want in exchange for their house. Do you want the other person to just pay for the cleaners? Do you want someone to help you with something while you’re away? Are you looking to just gift a stay?”
Chawla went on to elaborate that there are two things you can do with MyPlace. “You can offer your house to your close friends for free and then you can offer your house at cost, or cost-plus, to friends of friends. At the same time, you can offer a discount to your close friends and family while offering your place close to a below-market rate for their friends,” he said.
In 2021, 30% of all stays on MyPlace were free, as members shared their spaces with their close friends and family. Across the stays that were paid, MyPlace saw $2.5 million worth of transactions between members last year.
As for the new funding, MyPlace plans to use it to bring the product out of beta and launch its iOS app in the summer in time for the travel season. The funding round included participation from Haystack, Oceans and OnDeck, as well as angel investors from Tesla, Facebook, SpaceX and Paypal.
In terms of the future, Bell said he sees a world where everyone can share more with their friends as a way to connect with one another. He noted that the desire to control sharing within a trusted network, paired with the acceleration of remote work, will change the way we approach travel.