Kasita isn’t the smart tiny home startup it used to be.
It’s something bigger now — and its IoT-equipped dwellings have changed a bit. Also, Kasita has a new CEO, Martyn Hoffmann. He replaced Founder Jeff Wilson, mostly because Hoffmann has luxury home and planned community development experience — and Wilson is more akin to a visionary and chief evangelist for disrupting the real estate industry.
Since Austin Inno last caught up with Kasita during SXSW earlier this year, they’ve grown to 40 full-time employees, moved from the Canopy development in East Austin to a much large space further East and they have landed approval to sell their 370-square-foot homes in Texas, California and Nevada, which sets them up to launch in most states as demand requires.
So, let’s meet Martyn Hoffmann.
The smiling, relaxed CEO met me near the front door of their big warehouse-style building, which has cozy lounge area just inside the door. Right away, as we walked up the stairs to the office spaces, Hoffmann asked about my connection to founder Jeff Wilson (everyone seems to know that guy) and pointed through a few windows overlooking a warehouse floor where three Kasita dwellings were in varying stages of construction.
He gestured to a few design meetings going on in nearby offices, and, then, spotted a vacant conference room to chat.
Hoffmann has been CEO for about three months and he’s leading the company as it heads toward a Series B raise to take on new markets like FEMA disaster housing and big residential develop deals.
Hoffmann has been a long-time luxury planned community developer in California and Costa Rica. He first met Kasita while he was with Greenfield Partners, where he helped vet Kasita ahead of Greenfield’s contribution to Kasita’s Series A. After joining the company as an advisor, he became COO. Then, because he had a skill set for Kasita’s execution phase that Founder Jeff Wilson didn’t have, he became CEO.
Wilson, who is well-known across Austin and the globe, became Kasita’s chairman and brand leader and champion.
“I’m an evangelist, I’m just not the same personality that he is,” Hoffmann said.
To Wilson’s credit, Kasita has been featured in almost every major publication you can think of.
“So I got dragged back into corporate life,” Hoffmann added. “But it’s not too bad.”
Kasita’s Expansion to Disaster Relief Housing
A year ago, Kasita was based at Canopy on Springdale Drive in a space that looked like an artist studio. They moved to their new space closer to Highway 183 in May to start building up to five Kasitas at a time.
Since then, the company, which offers high-tech homes with a variety of app-based customizations, has gotten approval to sell their homes to residents in Texas, California and Nevada. California is particularly important because it has some of the toughest housing code regulations in the nation, designed to ensure homeowners are safe and the state isn’t liable for problems, Hoffmann said. So the winning California approval set them up to expand as demand increases.
“So what we end up with is a house that is built to a much higher standard than a stick-built home would be,” he said.
And that, Hoffmann said, separates Kasita from many competitors. It’s also prepared — to the extent one can be — for our evolving tech future.
“Our technology platform is designed and built with flexibility in mind,” he said. As new products, devices, protocols and tools become available, we can extend and upgrade our platform to include support for these tools as necessary.”
Now, after meeting with FEMA officials in the past few weeks, Kasita hopes to begin selling its homes to people who lost their homes in hurricanes and other disasters.
But it’s not easy. FEMA housing must meet HUD guidelines, which include having a dwelling that’s 40 feet long — Kasita’s are 30 feet long.
“We build housing like a product, and that’s easy to say,” Hoffmann said. “But when you think about a product you don’t think much about regulatory oversight.”
So Kasita has been working on a trimmed down version of its smart home — it has less technology and has more sleeping space for families. But it’s still tough to comply with each jurisdiction’s rules.
“We’ve been kinda falling through the cracks and trying to find ways to go straight to local municipalities and say ‘despite what FEMA is requiring of you, we’ve got a better housing solution that is stable for decades — not just 18 months or three to five years — and it’s reusable,'” Hoffmann said. “You can pick it up and move it.”
To date, it has raised about $11.5 million, which included investment by Gary Keller, the founder of Keller Williams, the world’s largest real estate firm, which is also based in Austin. That appeared to be a direct angel investment from Keller (not out of Keller Williams’ new $1 billion innovation fund).
Kasita recently went to Port Aransas where Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc. Hoffmann said residents and governments have largely given up on FEMA and they’re looking to Kasita as a possible solution. So Kasita is now expecting a big order may hit.
“If that happens, it’s a game-changer for us,” Hoffmann said. “And we’re planning our facilities for next year with the anticipation that one of these big orders might hit.”