Interviewed on January 23, 2020
Interviewed by Yingying Zhu
Britt Zaffir is the CEO of Kin, a first-of-its-kind housing brand that meets the changing needs of modern families. Britt started her career at Deloitte, where she consulted for world-class hospitality companies before transitioning into formative roles at Airbnb. While at the tech hospitality giant, she developed localized strategies around marketing and operations analysis. Prior to starting Kin, Britt spent three years as a senior Real Estate acquisitions lead at Common, working with real estate partners to expand Common's coliving footprint across the East Coast. In 2019, Britt spearheaded the creation of Kin, securing its first-ever family-focused residential buildings in Long Island City and other markets. Britt graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School and an HBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business. She lives in New York City and loves to travel and to try delicious foods in new cities.
What is Kin? Kin is the country’s first residential brand tailor-made for families in and near cities, created by Common and Tishman Speyer. When we started Kin with the goal of bringing the same values that Common created in its coliving product to a segment of renters entering the next stage of their lives. Kin dedicated to providing community, convenience and attainability to young urban families. We’re working with multifamily owners across the country to design, lease, operate and manage residential buildings and cities that young families want to be a part of.
What are the components of the Kin product offering? We think about Kin in three ways, the physical building, the convenience in our operations and, most importantly, the community we foster. Physical product - Kin accommodates both the parents’ and the kids’ needs with family-specific services and design that just don’t exist in today’s housing market. Namely, thoughtful amenity spaces, stroller parking, soundproofing between units, baby-proofing outlets, and customized storage. The convenience – The most critical service that young families need is affordable childcare. Through our proprietary app, Kin families will have coveted on-demand perks like onsite licensed childcare services through our operating partners and a “date night drop-off” service, car seat rentals, and family programming organized by our team. We’re able to keep costs down by leveraging the scale of a building and prioritizing the power of sharing. The community – Before we launched, we did a national survey on 1,500 people, 50 one-on-one interviews and 5 focus groups of young families on both the East Coast and the West Coast. The biggest pain point, ahead of childcare options and living space, was the social isolation that comes with suddenly entering a different stage. Kin facilitates community by allowing parents to find families in their buildings with kids at the same age.
How do you respond to the notion that city parents generally still choose to move out to suburbs once they have a kid or when their kid hit the school age? Just as people are delaying having children, they are delaying the move to the suburbs. Kin focuses on offering an option that doesn’t really exist for those families who gravitate towards city life and the benefits from denser, amenity-richer communities. We focus on young families with one or maybe two kids below six years old. Kin’s parents are millennials or young single professionals, but with an additional one or two years of progression into their lives. They will want to be close to the actions and be able to go to a bar or a coffee shop on a Sunday. Now they just have a stroller next to them and they need more flexibility and support.
Does Kin work with both new constructions and retrofits? Yes, absolutely. We think about balancing both ground-up and existing buildings so we can create readily available products now and ideal buildings of the future. New construction has the benefit of purpose-designed spaces for families. Existing buildings will lack that flexibility but they bypass a zoning, entitlement, permitting and construction process that can last sometimes more than five years. There is a long waitlist of families who want access to the Kin platform today.
How do you work with Tishman Speyer at Jackson Park and potentially with other developers? Kin is a joint venture between Common and Tishman Speyer founded in the spring of 2019. We’re so lucky that Tishman Speyer’s incredible Jackson Park, an 1,800-unit beautifully built high-end rental complex, was our first building. Although it wasn’t built with Kin in mind, it’s perfect for us: Jackson Park is home to many families, beautiful amenity spaces, and high-quality construction. However, Kin will be working with many different owners and developers to bring Kin to the cities that need it the most. We are opening our second project in Columbia Heights, DC this spring with a local developer and owner who is passionate about creating family housing for his community.
How has your experience been partnering with Tishman Speyer? Tishman Speyer has been an incredible corporate level partner in many ways, but especially when it comes to helping Kin scale. What does it entail to partner with institutional developers? What kind of data points are needed to get partners comfortable building a purpose-built Kin building? How do we raise equity or finance Kin projects? Their extensive development expertise compliments Common’s understanding of how to foster connections between residents.
You cofounded a dating app at Harvard Business School. How does that affect your career today? Community has been the overarching theme, taking different forms throughout my career. In fact, I got my first job offer at Monitor Deloitte Consulting when I noticed a big missed opportunity in my onboarding experience. I worked on a side project with Deloitte’s HR department to create this app called Deloitte Day One, where the new hires can ask questions about their future work, take Excel and PowerPoint crash courses, and benefit from this community of colleagues before they hit the ground running. When I was in business school, I was so inspired by community-focused companies like Soho House and WeWork. That’s why I cofounded Fiddler, a dating app which leverages community to set friends up and introduce people to their future matches. This translated especially well during my years growing Common, a coliving residential brand’s, real estate development pipeline.
What’s the difference of being the CEO of Kin and your previous role of the acquisition lead at Common? Being CEO of Kin feels like a really natural and exciting evolution from what I was doing at Common. It takes time and education for developers to fully see that demand from young families for housing in urban environments is growing, and understand the increase revenue they can see from buildings this way. I am therefore very involved, together with our acquisition team, on building Kin’s pipeline in the same way I worked with Common.
What has been the most difficult being the CEO? Building a brand from the ground up is difficult. In our case, we are building something that can be very personal and emotional to families across the country: housing. I am taking what we do very seriously. I make sure every single decision, from insurance to security to vendor selection, reflects the standard of care that Kin needs to provide for our customers.
Where do you see Kin next? We are still in the very early innings. As I learned from the way Common managed their successful growth trajectory, Kin is starting with smaller projects in NYC and DC and trying to understand what our customers really want and iterating the brand from there. Building housing for young families is completely different city to city, but I believe that being rooted in the needs of the community is essential. Cities need growing, dynamic families to thrive, and I know Kin will be successful everywhere.
Which tech founders or professionals inspire you? Brad Hargreaves, the founder and CEO of Common. I have been working with him for over three years, and I am constantly impressed by him. Brad is one of the very few people who is capable of being a complete and utter visionary, while making sure his business is grounded in reality. He was able to expand a 25-person team into 175 people working at Common across the country who share the same vision and maintain its great culture. I am beyond excited to do the same for Kin.
Edited and condensed for clarity.