NEW YORK—The founders of Life House, a new collection of lifestyle hotels that makes its debut this month, set out to create a brand that fixes the shortcomings of the hotel and real estate industries.
“Life House is the [result]of my experiences both personally and professionally,” said Rami Zeidan, co-founder/CEO. “I have worked on all aspects of the hotel business, from real estate investing, to hotel development, to branding and operations, and have had great mentors along the way, but have also seen the hotel and real estate industries’ shortcomings. My vision for Life House sought to marry these learnings and together with [company CTO]Yury [Yakubchyk], my co-founder, use our collective experience to solve the industry’s age-old problems with a comprehensive solution and a modern approach to technology in a way that no other hotel company is set up to effectuate, either due to technical debt or to lack of capital or knowledge.”
Zeidan, who helped launch 1 Hotels and Baccarat Hotels at Starwood Capital Group before joining Sydell Group, where he primarily focused on creating experiential spaces including The Line, NoMad and Freehand, said that the brand is much more than a hotel chain. “Our innovation across construction, design, operations and technology allows us to create a new category of hotel that’s rooted in quality and experience, and do so while offering a lower price to our guests,” he said.
Unlike traditional brands, he said that Life House was designed with technology at the center. “Hotel chains have evolved from a time where they were once much less dependent on technology to function,” he said. “Today, their business models are set up much like their evolution, with tech as an afterthought. With nearly all reservations occurring online today, selling hotel rooms is very different than it once was. We’ve taken a bottom-up approach to selling and pricing rooms, the same way direct-to-consumer businesses have taken a new approach to selling retail products online. As the first and only Silicon Valley-backed hotel company in the U.S. with a tech-first approach, we are uniquely positioned to be the fastest growing hotel company in the world that’s built for the modern traveler.”
He continued, “There are many tools available to sell hotel rooms, which are a perishable good. As such, managing all of these tools and deploying dollars across all channels is complex, and can be quite ineffective if not done properly. We have learned from the direct-to-consumer space and are applying those learnings to be the first ‘direct-to-consumer’ hotel management company.”
In addition to a frictionless booking process, technology features like user verification, customer reviews and the ability to message other travelers establish trust, lead to more bookings and drive ultimate loyalty, according to Zeidan. “In short, we are using technology to automate mundane tasks, supplement complex digital marketing initiatives and enhance the guest experience,” he said. “In terms of automation, we have built our hotel tech architecture natively, which allows us to automate financial accounting robustly and securely, eliminating the need for on-property finance personnel (which increases returns to owners).”
One of Life House’s most defining features is its social network, and the ability to connect travelers—even before they arrive on property. “Guests traveling on the same dates to the same location can opt into an online community where they can chat, make plans, join forums based on interests (i.e. nightlife, wellness, history buffs, etc.), and ultimately meet in person on-property,” he said. “In the future, travelers in shared rooms will be able to meet their flatmates prior to arrival via the social network. To ensure the best group dynamic, Life House uses an algorithm to match guests based on their profile and preferences.”
After a booking is made, travelers can begin interacting on the mobile app with other guests and Life House-selected locals who can host activities like dinner parties or fitness classes on property or off. Guests can also use the mobile app for keyless entry into their pre-selected rooms upon arrival, and contact customer support for everything, including housekeeping requests and restaurant reservations. These services will also be accessible at Life House properties through modern kiosks instead of the traditional hotel front desk.
“We own the entire technology architecture, so we were able to create a social network that ties to a singular guest profile,” said Zeidan. “This allows us to deliver a modern social experience while fostering a high degree of trust and safety, which is not possible if you don’t own the technology stack.”
This type of hotel experience is what guests are looking for. “There is a tremendous amount of data that suggests that guests want experience-driven, locally rooted lifestyle hotels, and that the traditional notion of a hotel chain is the antithesis of what travelers want today,” he said. “Each property needs to have its own unique identity while still maintaining hospitality staples and a shared ethos. By developing, designing and operating ourselves, we have the ability to create special properties and do it at a fraction of the cost, and pass those savings on to our guests.”
The first of the properties to open is Life House Little Havana in Florida, for which it partnered with U.K. private equity real estate investor Henley [as profiled in the November 21, 2018 issue of Hotel Business]. The second to open will be Life House South Beach.
“After Miami, we are slated to open new hotels in Denver and Brooklyn,” said Zeidan. “We also have plans to expand internationally, although we are not ready to share additional details regarding locations at this time. As a business, we’re looking for locations where hotel prices are highest, as that is where we are able to add the most value. There’s so much depth to Miami that’s still undiscovered, and our goal is to have hotels in every unique, creative neighborhood in every market, as each neighborhood has a story to tell that our guests want to discover and belong to.”
In addition to partnering with Henley, Life House has raised $70 million in funding to date between venture and real estate capital, with investment from Global Founders Capital, Rocket Internet, Comcast Ventures, Trinity Ventures and others.
“Our goal is to reset consumer expectations around what a hotel experience can be—one where people do not have to choose between the experience they want and what they can afford,” said Zeidan. “We’re catering not only to those who can’t afford to stay at more expensive hotels, but to those who don’t want to, even if they can afford it. I certainly can afford a traditional luxury hotel, but feel guilty spending so much money on a space I spend very little time in, when really what makes me most fulfilled is an authentic experience with good energy around others who feel the same.” HB