Kasita, an Austin startup founded in 2015 amid significant local and national buzz for its prefabricated “tiny smart home” concept, is officially no more. Rising in its place is Kasita, a new firm fashioned in the rough image of its predecessor, but with a notably different application imagined for the modular dwelling technology constituting the previous company’s legacy — boutique hotel development, built one suite at a time.
The new startup, which shares no ownership with the previous company, is now described plainly on its site as a hospitality operation, and makes no bones about this radically different new identity. Though its predecessors managed to build an unspecified number of housing units, some of which can be found as accessory dwellings around Austin, the new Kasita will no longer sell tiny homes to consumers.
The previous Kasita tiny house company was founded in 2015 with an ambitious vision. They created one of the most innovative and highly regarded tiny homes on the market. Unfortunately, there was not enough consumer demand to support their plan to manufacture and sell tiny homes directly to consumers, and the previous Kasita tiny house company ceased operations.
It appears the design of the Kasita unit, previously described as ideal for prefabricated multifamily communities, works just as well in the context of a hotel. The new Kasita’s co-founders are self-described “serial entrepreneurs” Kenny Tomlin and Richard Lent, who both have previous experience in this world — Tomlin, also the CEO of commercial real estate firm Elevate Growth Partners, co-owns the Kimber Modern boutique hotel with Lent near South Congress Avenue’s entertainment district.
Even without considering the minimalist design influences shared between the two, you might think of the seven-room Kimber as a testbed for the type of experience Kasita’s hotels appear designed to deliver — with check-ins, keyless entry, and communication with staff all conducted via email and text message, a low-impact approach shared by boutique newcomers like Arrive East Austin.
From arrival, an authentic conversation begins with Kasita Hosts over text or via our app. Your self-selected PIN gets you on site and into your room. You can stream your music and movies from your own accounts and devices using our no-hassle entertainment system. You can set preferences like pillows and toiletries that become a part of your optional profile and show up when desired. Intelligent in-room systems learn, remember, and set all lighting, temperature, and sound settings to your preferences—automatically.
Each 360-square-foot Kasita unit, its design seemingly updated to function as an individual hotel suite, can be prefabricated in one of the firm’s partnered factories — which the company describes as “geographically distributed,” if you were unclear on its expectations for national growth — and placed atop properties that might not support the development of a traditional, permanent hotel building. Given its modular design, the key count for a Kasita hotel project should scale to the needs and constraints of a given site, its units linked by shared common spaces.
Kasita’s business model, assuming it’s successfully implemented, opens up some interesting land-use opportunities. Not unlike a food truck park occupying a vacant property until the financial stars align for the site’s development somewhere down the road, a Kasita hotel would temporarily activate and monetize empty lots that might otherwise sit vacant for years as part of an owner’s land-banking scheme.
For landowners, Kasita offers the opportunity to activate luxury hospitality on their properties in a fraction of the time and at a cost savings of up to 50% compared to conventional projects. Kasitas are permanent structures but are precision built in a factory and can be moved opportunistically at a low cost. This unlocks land-banking opportunities and the ability to “tuck in” Kasitas at existing destinations like wineries with minimal disruption.
In their previous lives as homes, Kasita units could be easily transported and placed via flatbed truck and crane, and the new hotel use likely hasn’t changed this feature — meaning these hotels could pop up quickly and leave just as fast, which the company says could cut development costs in half compared with traditional construction.
Though the demise of the original Kasita dwelling concept is disappointing, it’s not a complete surprise — the individual unit cost remained higher than what the market for this asset class would support. As an income-generating hotel platform, however, the benefits of its striking design and “smart” technology seem a bit more obvious. With the new Kasita expecting to launch its flagship Austin location in 2020, we’ll soon find out whether the startup’s second life sticks around.