Start Ups Insider – Jan 6, 2021

Welcome to Startups Insider for Jan 6th, 2022. We analyze deals across AngelList, Republic, WeFunder, and more.

Today we’re looking at Nuovo, an intriguing flexible leasing company.

The analysis into this one reads like a mystery novel – a lot of twists and turns.

Let’s go!

Why Nuovo?

When I first saw Nuovo on Republic, I ignored it. Home sharing is a saturated market. Raising $1M on a $10M valuation? Absurd.

When I decided to take a look, things looked even worse. Nuovo was impossible to find on Google, and its link on Republic was broken. When I finally found the site, its landing page was blank (though in the time it’s taken me to write this piece, they do seem to have added a nice image, see below).

Yet, Nuovo has $500k ARR and $5.5M in revenue. If you’re like me, you’re wondering how.

Nuovo’s very hard to find website

Investment Overview

Opportunity

Nuovo is targeting digital nomads with what they’re coining “Housing as a service“. Really what this boils down to is subscription housing, or “flexible leasing”.

Renters pay subscriptions, Nuovo splits income with property owners, but no tenant is bound to any one location (or any one lease); renters are free to move between cities. This model guarantees landlords occupancy, and allows members of Nuovo freedom to travel.

Digital nomadism is a growing trend, and 2020 only added to that growth. Before the pandemic; weather, employment and social scenes prompted nomads to bounce around cities. Remote work was the remaining factor in mainstreaming peripatetic lifestyles.

The Digital Nomad subreddit has skyrocketed to a million subscribers.

Flexible leasing is going to be a model that attracts young and older workers alike. Millennials and Gen Z are generational job-hoppers, which often requires relocation. Even with families, older millennials are going to require relocation as well–the job market moves around.

Thus, digital nomadism, subscription living and flexible leasing are growing trends.

So the opportunity is attractive : 10/10

Problem

Pre-2020, tenants in one location that needed to move to another faced the obstacle of leases. Leases are often for one year, and breaking a lease sooner means losing your deposit.

This makes moving a nightmare. On top of the admin involved in searching for another residence, dealing with address changes etc, there’s the expense of packing and moving. And for some tenants, there’s the added stinger of losing your money.

Jobs (and internships) relocate. Seasons change. Pandemic cases flare up. Tenants need ways to easily move to another city if an opportunity arises, or another ends.

The problem is legitimate : 9/10

Solution

Nuovo’s solution is to secure year-long leases for any given location in place of a tenant. So they’re guaranteeing landlords occupancy, with year-long revenues at market rents.

From the renter’s side of things, Nuovo members are allowed to move about locations within subscription tiers (discussed below)—a “universal lease”—instead of one restricting them to one location.

Nuovo also guarantees that properties are furnished, have amenities (like Wifi), and are disinfected. A nice plus in a Covid-conscious world.

In an economy where companies have to bounce between hybrid and remote workplaces, Subscription leases offer workers (and landlords) stability: 8/10

Team

Nicolas Ortega founded Nuovo in 2015 with his two brothers. They are from Ecuador and have experience in the Latin American hospitality segment.

Nicolas led the commercial division of the largest real estate companies in Ecuador, while his brother Andres grew a real estate company from $3M to $70MM revenues.

What they lack is more American hospitality experience: 6/10

Business model

Nuovo offers three subscription tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, for $2k, $2.5k, and $3k a month. These tiers determine the size of the apartment and housing market a nomad can stay in. The higher the tier, the more beds, and the more expensive a market they can stay in.

Landlords split revenue for their properties with Nuovo, and the “proprietary” revenue management software allows them to maintain competitive (market) rents.

It should be noted that prior to 2020, Nuovo entered into lease arbitration agreements with landlords, where apartments were subleased. This model brought in revenue, but it was expensive. This means that their financials were based on this business model, even though their projections are dependent on the revenue sharing model.

Nuovo keeps their properties at the same standards as hotels (furnished, Wifi, clean). This allows Nuovo to list a property on more platforms than a landlord could otherwise. Their software “maximizes” revenue by listing on the optimal platform. Unsurprisingly perhaps, most Nuovo properties are found via Airbnb.

An example Nuovo property as listed on AirBnb

Guaranteed occupancy during such turbulent times will be welcomed by landlords : 8/10

Competition

Nuovo has two competitors in the subscription living industry: Oasis Collections and Inspirato.

Both founded shortly after Airbnb, and both curate vacation properties, carefully chosen to be nowhere near cities (think shorefront, vistas, historic villages). Nuovo, on the other hand, is pursuing urban properties, to properly serve remote/nomadic workers.

Unfortunately, this means Nuovo is fairly expensive compared to its peers, since urban market rents (as opposed to off-season rural rents) are more expensive.

Inspirato provides a good insight into the subscription housing market. They recently went public in a SPAC merger valued at $1.1B. With 18,000 members, Inspirato brought in $217M in revenue in 2019, falling to $166M in 2020, and has been profitable since 2017.

Inspirato has only had a model identical to Nuovo since 2019, when it released its tier “Pass”. Source: Inpirato’s Investor Relations pack

Inspirato’s Pass tier allowed for unlimited vacations in luxury homes and legacy brand hotels (Ritz-Carlton). How? Inspirato buys rooms at hotels (and other vacation resorts) for a whole year, thus decreasing supply and guaranteeing “occupancy” into the off-season. In return, these hotels and resorts give Inspirato a discount, which is passed to its members.

The Pass netted more than 2,350 new subscribers between its launch in June 2019 and February 2020. ARR grew to $75 million over the period.

Led by a superstar team, Inspirato is positioned to expand into Nuovo’s markets, but is not pursuing cities as of now.

Competition is stiff: 2/10 (very competitive)

Traction/unfair advantage

Nuovo saw $6M in revenue by 2019, which halved in 2020, a tough year for travel in general… But it should have been a great year for a flexible living proposition.

This prompted Nuovo to scale back operations from the six cities and $75MM of property it had under management. They are now exclusively concentrated on Miami, where they’re headquartered.

So unfortunately this means that they have experienced negative traction.

By contrast, Inspirato has continued to grow (profitably) and IPO’ed in 2021.

Thus Nuovo’s traction is worrisome, and this crowdfunding campaign is for a pivot, not growth: 3/10

Product

Due to this pivot, they are revamping their site, at a major cost. Searching for Nuovo on Google returns nothing except a very unflattering review. I had to dig through LinkedIn to find the URL.

This is during Miami’s hot market, AND their fundraise!

Poor timing for face lift: 3/10

Likelihood of successful next raise

Despite this untimely site revision, and a business model pivot, Nuovo has demonstrated that they are capable of turning $2M of angel investment into $5M of revenue.

Nico has not responded for clarification of the pivot strategy, or discussion of any other aspects of the business.

Despite their pivot and poorly timed facelift, their largest obstacle is the total addressable market of the subscription living industry. This industry is entirely dependent on affordability; if Gen-Z and millennials can’t afford to be nomads, they won’t be.

But perhaps young tenants will be more tolerant of high rent if they can move from city to city. No city is an it-scene year round. Pandemics and shutdowns appear to occur differently in different states, and as mentioned employment is not guaranteed for any one location.

Landlords will certainly appreciate the guaranteed lease. So it seems subscription living is here to stay.

Nuovo has a massive opportunity to provide stability in a turbulent time. However, as of now, Nuovo is missing out. The industry potential is great, but the company is playing catch-up: 6/10

Our recommendation

[Insiders Only]

How to invest:

Head over to Republic.

Startups we passed over

Here’s the shortlist of other opportunities we reviewed, before settling on Nuovo for this write-up.

FluentPet

  • Opportunity: 8/10 – FluentPet is a profitable company that sells “talking dog buttons” that allow dogs to talk when they press the button.
  • Problem: 6/10 – This struck us as rather a solution looking for a problem.
  • Solution: 5/10 Talking dog buttons seemed to be a luxury item that served as entertainment rather than a necessity. We passed on it.

Securum Capsa

  • Opportunity: 8/10 – Capsa is a pre-revenue company that has made a folding container for securing packages from “porch pirates”. The container contains a bunch of tech for verifying deliveries, disinfecting the package, and automatically stowing.
  • Problem: 8/10 – porch piracy is an issue and with the supply chain crisis, many products don’t have duplicates for replacements.
  • Solution: 5/10 – The product didn’t include an estimated retail price, which would be the primary limiting factor. The tech was largely unnecessary, and would make the item more expensive than it needed to be. We passed on it.

Pranos AI

  • Opportunity: 9/10 – Pranos allows car owners (rideshare drivers specifically) to advertise on their car windows with a proprietary projector.
  • Problem: 5/10 – while this could allow for an additional income stream for rideshare drivers, their projector allows playing video on any window, and rideshare drivers are a small market to pursue
  • Solution: 5/10 – Pranos’ projector is in the design phase, as is most of their business model. They were accepted into Y Combinator, but are still pre-product. For this, we passed.

Knightscope

  • Opportunity: 9/10 – Robots that act as security guards, mobile surveillance cameras essentially.
  • Problem: 7/10 – There are lots of opportunities for mobile security cameras. But the price range introduces new problems.
  • Solution: 4/10 – Knightscope has a lot of CGI renders of their robots, very little footage of actual products. Their financial statements were dreadful. We passed.

Atom Limbs

  • Opportunity: 10/10 – Robots that can perform surgery, what’s not to love?
  • Problem: 10/10 – people need knee replacement surgery
  • Solution: 5/10 – robots and 3D printed knee replacements. Entirely pre-revenue still. For this we passed.

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Author

Stefan Von Imhof

Stefan Von Imhof

Stefan lives and breathes asset analysis and valuations. Before founding Alts, he was the Head of Product at Flippa, he created and ran Flippa's Due Diligence Program, and has bought & sold dozens of websites & newsletters. Prior to Flippa he was the first product manager at HG Insights, a market intelligence company which sold to Riverwood Capital Partners. Originally from Boston and later Santa Barbara, CA, he now lives in Australia with his wife & Boston Terrier, Charlie.

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