🦄 Unicorner Startup of the Week: Bilt Rewards
 
 ✍️ Notes From The Editors  
Happy Halloween! 🎃
 
It’s not just the spooky season we’re celebrating today. For the first time in two years of Unicorner history, we’re bringing you a special edition of our weekly rundowns. Bilt Rewards (whose seed round we covered a year ago) hit unicorn status last week following a whopping $150 million growth round.
 
It’s always been our goal to highlight early-stage companies before they become unicorns. Yet we've also learned that the journey of getting from early-stage to unicorn status is just as important to discuss. So for this week, we sat down with Bilt CEO Ankur Jain to revisit Bilt’s mission and vision, as well as detail what it takes to grow from a seed founder to a unicorn executive.

P.S. If you’re paying rent right now and not earning rewards, think about signing up for their card!
 
Arek and Ethan 🦄
 
 
Earn rewards by paying your rent
 
 
Bilt earns you rewards points each time you make your rent payment. Rewards can be earned in two ways: users can either pay their rent directly on the Bilt app (for properties in Bilt’s rental alliance), or they can pay and earn using the Bilt Mastercard, which is the only credit card currently available that allows individuals to pay rent with no fees. Points can be cashed in for a variety of rewards, like travel credit and fitness memberships, or they can be put toward next month’s rent.
 
 
🔗 Check it out: biltrewards.com
 
 
💰 Business Model
Bilt charges standard merchant fees on non-rent purchases made on its credit card.
 
📈 Traction and Fundraising
  • Raised $150 million growth round from investors like Left Lane Capital, Smash Capital, Wells Fargo, Greystar, Invitation Homes, Camber Creek, Fifth Wall, and Prosus Ventures
  • Processed over $3 billion in annualized rent payments and over $1.6 billion in annualized card spend in less than a year
  • Rental alliance includes over 2.5 million apartment units nationwide through partnership with groups like Blackstone, Related Companies, Related Group, Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities, and more
  • Founded under the umbrella of Kairos HQ, an organization that focuses on building companies that solve foundational day-to-day issues
 
👫 Founders
  • Ankur Jain, CEO: Currently Founder & CEO @ Kairos HQ, Co-Founder & Chairman @ Rhino; Previously VP Product @ Tinder, Co-Founder & CEO @ Humin (acquired by Tinder), Economics @ UPenn
 
💼 Opportunities
 
🔮 Our Analysis
When we first came across Bilt a year ago, we had just newly signed a lease for our first apartment. Very soon, one of us remarked, “Imagine if you could just put all these charges on a credit card for points.” We learned that it wouldn’t be possible with our credit cards due to the merchant fees that greatly outweigh the potential rewards that could be received.
 
Soon thereafter, we discovered Bilt. When we last covered Bilt, we focused on its connection to the mission of Kairos, its parent startup studio that builds solutions to the world’s leading problems. But when we revisited it, we had some questions. Earning points with no fees… sounded more complicated than it was on paper. How did Bilt make it work? When we talked with Bilt’s CEO, Ankur Jain, we asked him about the building process.
 
We were surprised by a lot of what we heard. Bilt’s life as a startup has been anything but an easy one; in fact, despite the many obstacles it has cleared and the new funding it has secured, its journey is still a nascent one. Ankur shared a story of a phone call the company received while developing Bilt’s core product. Due to the laws that governed credit cards and rewards programs, Bilt’s lawyers couldn’t find a way to legally create a service that could give rewards on rent. From there, the majority of Bilt’s lifetime has been spent pushing legislation, building rewards partnerships, and creating a real estate network. This process of bringing all these people to the table was critical to Bilt's launch. Per Jain, “if we had known four years ago how difficult this would be, we probably would have never done it.”
 
At the moment, Bilt is in a unique position. It’s the first and only service to offer rewards on rent. It's built a robust rewards marketplace and a rental alliance with millions of properties. Industry giants in the finance space haven’t made clear moves into this area, but it is something Bilt needs to pay attention to. According to the team, the new funding will help cement strategic partnerships in the space (and perhaps also stifle the possibility of new competition). As Bilt steps up from its newly claimed unicorn status, it enters a world of challenges that—in our opinion—it’s well equipped to face, and we’re eager to watch its progress.
 
📚 Further Reading
 
 
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Made with 💜 by the Unicorner Team 🦄
 
🎁 Bonus Content - Founder Q&A
 
We wanted to share some insights on building a unicorn. To shed some light on that, here are some segments from our Q&A with Ankur Jain, Bilt's Co-Founder & CEO.
 
Unicorner: What drove you to create mission-driven organizations like Kairos and Bilt?
 
Ankur Jain: In my opinion, building things that help people is the foundation of building a good business. My story starts with my dad, who grew up in a poor village and immigrated to the United States. After starting out as a junior employee at a mainframe company, he had the opportunity to work at (what was at the time) a small startup in Seattle revolutionizing personal computing. That company was Microsoft. From there he went on to build his own company in the dot-com era.
 
My dad came here with very little and was able to get ahead, much like many of our parents and grandparents did as immigrants. I don't think the economics and circumstances of today make that kind of personal advancement possible. Kairos and Bilt were launched to change that: in Bilt's case, rent is the largest expense for most people. Anyone should be able to get rewarded for paying their largest expenses.
 
U: A founder's story isn't without its highs and lows. What's a memory that has really stuck with you during the startup building process?
 
AJ: It was Christmas break. We had everything ready to launch our new credit card offering—after more than a year of negotiating, we had a great bank partner ready to co-issue the card with us. Right around then, one of the execs called me saying they were backing out of the deal. It was pretty devastating at the moment.
 
But there was a silver lining. We found Wells Fargo. It was a good time for us to come to them (it may not have worked had we come before that point), and the team we ended up working with had just joined. I think a lot of our story (and the story of many founders) has been these back-to-back highs and lows that you need to navigate without dwelling too long on either.
 
U: How do you build a billion-dollar company?
 
AJ: It sounds simple, but build a solution to a $10 billion problem. For reference, $500 billion is spent annually on rent in the United States.
 
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