French entrepreneur Aziza Chaouachi was a broke student studying to be a lawyer when she first tried to rent her Paris flat for the weekend. She says there was no place for her on Airbnb.
“I went to Airbnb but my flat was too crappy for Airbnb’s concierge service and I was coming at it too last minute with no way to hand over the keys,” says Chaouachi.
“Friends took care of it in the end and that’s how the community started. I was the original Leavy.co member.”
It was two years ago when Chaouachi started Leavy, which announced a $14m funding round led by Prime Ventures on Tuesday, as a way to broaden the reach of the short-term online apartment rentals popularised by Airbnb.
The model is slightly different from its larger US rival. With Leavy, hosts receive a predefined amount of money when they hand in their keys, regardless of whether anyone stays or not. This is typically slightly less than Airbnb, but with less admin and it's guaranteed.
For renters Leavy apartments are generally a bit cheaper than Airbnb and there is a heavy focus on community for travellers. Members of the Leavy online community can make money by taking care of listed homes and showing their city to guests.
The startup is one example of how Europe is coming up with its own tweaks to models that have expanded out of the US. The region may be ripe for alternatives as mayors from London to Paris and Barcelona tighten the rules where technology is changing the way locals live, get around cities and spend money.
“We sat around with friends and talked about how we were broke but wanted to travel anyway and how we could fix that,” Chaouachi said. “The target is people who want to travel but can’t afford to, with a strong community to help fix that equation.”
That idea first grew into a WhatsApp group of locals helping each other out with renting their flat for extra cash to travel with. It’s now an app and a community of 65,000 members, with flats in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Madrid and Rome.
Chaouachi said that she was working on the next funding round and that the company is planning to expand to the US by the end of this year to cities including New York.