In February 2023, CircleHome launched a new home exchange network, with an annual subscription price of 99€. The founders hope to distinguish themselves from the myriad of other home swap networks with a focus on customer safety and updated technology. They are building features and a marketing plan to target younger people, a demographic that they believe is underrepresented in the home exchange community.
CircleHome currently has fewer than 100 homes on the network, covering 14 countries, with most members based in Europe. Fresh out of business school, the two founders, Xavier Lloveras Brunet and David Liria, raised a first round of funding last month. They describe their platform as the “Free Airbnb.”
Why do we need another home exchange network?
I asked Xavier, about the origins of and plans for this new home swap network. “David and I have been traveling with our families using other platforms for a lot of years. After university we decided we were not really happy with how things were going in HomeExchange with the point system. We wanted to create something like real swapping again without money or points between users, and that is more appealing to the younger generations.”
There are more than 60 home swap networks already out there. And I often talk to founders shortly after they’ve launched a new home exchange project. I always ask why they are driven to create something new. Xavier explained: “We want to target a different audience. We are focused on a younger audience who want to travel as much as possible. Also we want to include more security features so that the users feel safe. We have a 5 million dollar insurance policy covering all the swaps.”
A focus on security
In addition to the insurance coverage, CircleHome takes a deposit from the user for each stay. And they also require verification of both the individual users’ identity and their home. “We run an AI identity scan of all the users. We have a security partner who built this system. There is also a scan to verify that the house listed is a real home.”
During the verification process they use WhatsApp to talk with new members about where they want to go and help them get the process started. The matchmaking team then uses this information to help users find potential swaps. It’s a very high touch approach to home exchange in an industry dominated by hands-off websites.
While I understand that it’s a good marketing tool to offer insurance, I don’t think home exchange insurance is actually necessary. This is a very safe way to travel, and I would argue that homes are safer with an exchange guest than left empty. I asked Xavier about this: “We agree there is very little risk. But we think it helps people be convinced to enter the platform and post their house. It is something we will probably only use very very few times. But people feel safer when they know they have an insurance cover.”
Related to this question of security, one of the criticisms I have of many home swap networks is that they expose members’ personal information to anyone with a web browser in the name of advertising. I pointed out to Xavier that I could see all of the details for three homes before I signed up for an account. He assured me that these people gave permission for this use of their data and that other members are completely hidden. Only verified members can see listings within CircleHome.
Circular exchanges make it easier to find swap partners
It is always a challenge to find a swap partner who wants to come to your home during the same dates you want to visit their home. Without some concept of swap points, it is even harder to find exchange partners. CircleHome tackles this problem by offering a “Multiple Circle” exchange. I asked Xavier to elaborate on how this Multiple Circle works. “Imagine I want to come to your house but you don’t want to go to Barcelona, you want to go to New York. And there’s one guy from New York who wants to come to Barcelona. In this way we are doing a three way swap. Multiple circles are proposed by our matchmaking team. We collect all the data and see some possibilities and make a proposal to the users. We have written a program that looks for these matches.”
To succeed people must enter all of their desired destinations and travel dates. But the idea of making proposals through an algorithm that finds multi-household matches is quite clever. As long as the users are flexible enough in their destinations and timing this could be a nice feature. Xavier told me that in Europe most of the people want to travel in the summer so this system works well.
I look forward to seeing what new ideas CircleHome will bring to the home swapping industry. And I hope they hit on the right way to market to new people, particularly younger folks.