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CasaHop, the first start-up out of former Huffington Post CTO Paul Berry’s incubator SoHo Tech Labs, has raised $1.2 million, led by First Round Capital, with participation from Betaworks, Lerer Ventures and a number of individual investors. The money will help the company ramp up as it prepares for a wider launch in the next couple months.
The site, which soft-launched in February, uses social networks like Facebook (s fb), LinkedIn (s lnkd) and Twitter to pair up users across their extended networks who want to swap homes. The goal is to become a regular resource for users, not just for occasional vacations, but for weekend getaways and other trips. Berry, who is also CasaHop’s CEO, said the service has enjoyed a lift from the popularity of Airbnb but it’s going after a different opportunity.
“Airbnb is more about making yourself a mini-landlord and finding a way to monetize your home. CasaHop is much more about communities and clubs and people exchanging and trading,” he said. “We’re allowing you to connect with friends you already have and it’s more about friends staying over. There’s much more of a feeling of community and trust.”
CasaHop has just a few thousand users so far but the goal is to open to a wider audience by the end of this summer. Part of the plan is to appeal to existing communities and clubs, letting them connect to CasaHop and allowing their members to share their homes through the service. Community managers, for example, would be able to plug CasaHop into their clubs and could charge a fee for access to the service, which would get shared with CasaHop. Users could also create their own clubs within CasaHop. That would be one of the ways CasaHop can generate revenue, Berry said.
The new money should give CasaHop 18 months of runway to get off the ground. CasaHop’s new investors will be key in helping the company realize its vision of becoming a go-to resource for travelers and a well-known consumer brand. The list of investors includes hotelier Andre Belazs, former MTV founder Bob Pittman and Nicholas Negroponte of founder of MIT’s Media Lab and One Laptop per Child. Other investors include TechStars’ David Tisch, Moat Co-Founder Jonah Goodhart and Simulmedia CEO David Morgan. Lerer Ventures, which is involved in SoHo Tech Labs, is also participating.
As I wrote about before, Berry founded the SoHo Tech Labs incubator in February after leaving the Huffington Post. Berry has reunited with a number of former HuffPo (s aol) execs, including co-founders Ken Lerer and Jonah Peretti; former CEO Eric Hippeau; Greg Coleman, former president and chief revenue officer; and Eric Ashman, the former CFO. All are part of the incubator. Berry said that start-ups out of the incubator must pass a few tests before they can take flight. They need to get greenlit by the board, find executives who want to join the team, obtain outside funding and ultimately find viral success with consumers. CasaHop has a team of 14 employees including CTO Kriti Godey and President Florent Peyre, who helped launch Gilt City.
CasaHop still has a lot of work ahead to win over consumers, but Berry believes the time is ripe for a service like this to flourish. He will have his hands full after recently launching RebelMouse, a social publishing platform, the second project out of SoHo Tech Labs. The incubator has two other projects on deck, but Berry said the priority now is to execute on these two start-ups first.