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87. Living with Landing
Digital nomads have the luxury of working remotely from anywhere in the world, but it's still a hassle to actually find an apartment to call one's (temporary) home. Landing is a service that provides fully furnished, lease-free apartments all across America. Daniel Klein, one of its software engineers, explains the appeal behind being able to roam.
Jason Salaz is a member of the Heroku support team, and he's leading a conversation with Daniel Klein, a software engineer at Landing. Landing is a network of pre-furnished apartments that provides its users with a lease-free place to live for as many months as they need to. As remote work has becoming increasing necessary, the people who use Landing are able to live in any city they feel like across America. Aside from a monthly rent and annual membership, there are no other fees. In addition to furniture, the apartments have kitchen and bathroom basics, and maintenance is taken care of 24/7.
Obviously, Landing has been affected by COVID and the lockdowns, which has limited people's ability to travel. With restrictions slowly easing, they've been seeing growth returning. In particular, Daniel's noted that retirees make up the most surprising portion of their customer base. Older individuals with no job and the freedom to travel can visit cities which they've always dreamed of seeing.
Links from this episode
- Landing is a network of fully furnished apartments in cities all across the country
Jason: My name is Jason Salaz, a member of the Heroku support team and a lifelong road tripper. Today, we're talking about living life as a nomad and adding flexibility, and having a place to live without needing to commit a year or more of your life to the location. My guest today is Daniel Klein. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Daniel: Sure. Thanks, Jason. I'm Daniel Klein. I'm a senior software engineer at Landing. I've been at Landing about six months. I focus mostly on scalability, reliability, performance, but being that it's a startup, I write and ship a lot of application code and solve a lot of business problems at the same time.
Jason: So Landing is a network service of pre-furnished apartments. As the intro spiel said, it's giving you a place, not just a couch to crash on for a small amount of days, but it truly is intended to be a place to live for as short, or probably if it winds up being as long as you need it to be, a place to actually live, be comfortable and call your own for whatever amount of time that's necessary for you.
Jason: So you have these apartments available in many cities already. What exactly can people expect after they choose a particular location to live?
Daniel: The way it really works is, if you decide, Hey, I want to start off in, let's go back and say Austin, Texas again, you'll go to our website. You'll search for apartments in your timeframe in Austin, pick one that you love, click reserve. You pay the first month's rent upfront with a credit card and then submit some extra tidbits of information about yourself. And then, we go through and we do the verification process.
Daniel: There's no lease for you or anything like that. There's no security deposit. The monthly rent, you'll pay, and then the annual membership fee, you'll pay. But otherwise, you never have to talk to the property. You never have to call the property up and say, "I need maintenance." You just show up. Once you're approved, you just show up with your clothes, your luggage, your essentials, and you show up to a beautiful apartment that's fully furnished. It's got your kitchen basics in it, your bathroom basics in it, all your linens and those types of things.
Daniel: And anytime you have a problem, you have the Landing member app. You can ask for assistance if you need somebody to come check something out, somebody to fix something. If your AC's on the fritz, that sort of thing, you just put it in the Landing app and we get a host out there to help you out.
Daniel: On the same topic of the app, if you say you want to move to a new landing in a new city, you can go in the app and pick one out for whatever your dates are, whatever your budget is, whatever kind of amenities you're really looking for, and we will get that transition set up.
Jason: I find a lot of really interesting middle service available here because from my own past experience of working graveyard, renting apartments, in my current house dealing with the homeowners' association for certain topics exterior to the unit, there's a lot of detail here that's interesting to me. Because when you live in an apartment, as far as I know, the majority of apartments, anything that you need to do that isn't like, everybody can replace a battery in a smoke detector or things like that, but when it comes to any of the things that the apartment does furnish, you generally should go through whatever the apartment's maintenance options are. If it is an emergency or something else larger, some sort of a contracting or other sort of device repair firm can come in. And this is really interesting in the fact that you have a company-owned concierge that handles all of these particular issues specific to members in an established multi-dwelling unit.
Daniel: One of the nice things about Landing is it takes away a lot of those rough edges of renting, because in a lot of places, there's so much paperwork, there's so much process. There's so much waiting around when you want to rent an apartment. And with Landing, we really rip that out. I mean, with the maintenance example, if you need maintenance as a Landing member, you don't actually care if it's the property doing the maintenance or if it's a host, one of our hosts just coming to change a light bulb. You just put it in the app and it happens.
Jason: And that's probably the other biggest part of all of this that appeals to me is that having previously worked graveyard, considering this as the place that you live, if you work graveyard, it's a double boon for you because if you're sleeping while the front office is open, I assume with Landing, you don't necessarily have the same daytime hours only restrictions that the scale of a front office at a given apartment complex may have.
Daniel: Right. Yeah. We will always have somebody answering the phone, answering emails 24/7. If we've got to do a, replace a light bulb in the middle of the night, because that's the only time you're awake, we can make it happen.
Jason: I think the most interesting thing that I saw in the description here was fully furnished bedroom, living room, dining room, everything along those lines. But I was surprised that Landing has your own line of custom furniture.
Daniel: Yeah. I'll admit when I started, I was kind of surprised by that too, but it's such a unique touch, that you know that in every landing you might live in over your course of your membership, it's going to have that same brand, that same feel, that same experience. You know it's going to be that same level of comfort in the bed and the couch, and that same familiarity that so many people love.
Jason: There was something that I read a while ago that this reminds me about hotels that do and don't maintain furnishing consistency. I believe what I read was talking about how hotels, being as prominent as they are and having so many in the same chain in the same region, that you can have a surplus of all of these things on hand, so that if something breaks, is broken, needs replaced, whether this is the dresser or the entertainment center, the bed frame, of course, everything else like that, acting as your own warehouse essentially means that yeah, the experience is consistent and replacements are immediately viable.
Daniel: Yeah. The whole furniture and furnishing supply chain is, to me, a really interesting piece of this business, as we scale. It's really integral to making sure that every landing feels like home for the member, no matter where they are. I think it's worth adding that on top of having our own line of furniture, we have an entire interior design team. So no matter the floor plan, it's going to have exactly that same sort of beautifully designed feel, because some individual interior designer had put the thought into finding a way that that floor plan is going to work best as a landing.
Jason: So we have properties, human interaction. What's the tech stack that goes into powering all of this?
Daniel: I'm not sure if I'm proud to say or ashamed to say, but I would go with proud. I'm proud to say it's, right now, it's completely vanilla, Ruby on Rails, running with the Postgres database on Heroku, funnily enough. And then, we've got a little bit of data science, data pipeline-y sort of thing running at AWS, but really it's a Ruby on Rails app at its core for the public site, the API, and our backend administration site.
Jason: Have there been grandiose aspects of tech desires that have been interesting, but pushed back on for any particular reason?
Daniel: There's always things like that. There's always that desire to play with the coolest, hottest toys, and let's rip it all up and make it a microservices architecture, or let's migrate it all to AWS for whatever reason. But I think we try to stay really really hyper-focused on, how are we serving the business? Because we are a technology company, but at the same time, we're not all a technology company, because the technology is really just a part of it. And there's so much more that goes into creating an amazing experience for our members than the technology. So we also run a pretty, a fairly lean engineering team. So we stay really really focused on shipping things and getting things done.
Jason: The technology is the facilitator perhaps for the location, but then it's literally the human experience of living and dealing with the issues that arise from the course of living in a particular location.
Jason: This is a topic that's come into mind recently. I have more and more smart home devices that I just kind of play around with as a hobby, but I'm aware how all of these integrations are so distinctly me. And if or when I sell this house or have another occupant roommate or what have you, that needs to be part of this. I can't have this sophisticated patch panel of switches when I need a light switch or a fan switch, or anything else along the lines of these. For as much as I love all of this tech, having a light switch and somebody to replace it when the wiring shorts cut loose, what have you, is way more important. Being able to get in there and get all of the living stuff out of the way so you can work on your day job is way more important than having the latest smart lock that you can unlock remotely from, even though it's your place to live. This situation can happen, just, it's not the focus and that's exactly the point that you're making.
Daniel: No. Nothing against smart locks. We do love our smart locks for our Landing members to let them do that. Nobody has to go hand them a key. They can just say, Hey, here's my code and I'm in.
Jason: I see this as a pretty big benefit to anyone in any myriad of situations. I've talked about my own after hours, night owl, all those sorts of situations. What kind of uptake have you seen in this service?
Daniel: It's been really interesting through the COVID period. Back in what I would call the before times, starting in January, February, early March, we were just seeing it really start to take off. People were getting it. We were getting crazy growth getting rolling, and then COVID really hit and we saw the lockdowns, and we saw that drop off a cliff and stay pretty low for quite a while. But then as we started seeing reopenings, people starting to do things.
Jason: People being allowed to travel again.
Daniel: Yeah, people being allowed to travel, exactly. We have seen that huge growth just pick back up right where it left off. So we are seeing really impressive growth right now, really starting to have to figure out, how are we really going to scale this thing? It's really interesting because I think this COVID and so many people being allowed to work remote has started to make a lot of people realize that they don't necessarily have to be tied to a single place for a long time. And they can start to think about, I don't have to be at a certain place, so where do I really want to be, and why and for how long? That concept is really driving a lot of the growth we're seeing right now.
Jason: My last full-time job here in Colorado, a number of years ago, ended in 2011. And I had a couple of different things going on until my next full-time job, which was remote, San Francisco-based company. And I've worked from home since 2012. There is, of course, the human effect of being in person that is not able to be entirely replicated by video calls, voice chats, all those sorts of things. Are there particular types of feedback that you've gotten from people whose situation was a bit of a surprise that Landing has benefited?
Daniel: I think one of the really interesting customer types, I would call it, is retirees. We've seen a lot more retirees than I maybe would have guessed. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If you want to travel and get around in retirement and see cities that you haven't seen ever, or haven't seen in a long time, then Landing makes a ton of sense, because it's got all the basics that you need to not have to worry about lugging furniture around the country as you are moving from place to place and enjoying your later years.
Jason: Has anything about Landing, or the mixture of Landing and the role as we know it today, taught you anything new socially, technologically, anything along those lines?
Daniel: Yeah. So Landing's not my first tech job, but I think that Landing is my first company that I would call a true startup that I've worked for. I worked for a couple companies that were also tech companies back in Birmingham, Alabama, but they were much more mature, definitely not in a startup phase like Landing is right now. I've learned that it's a completely different ball game when you're working in a startup, and a completely different mindset, where it's much more like, let's get things done. Let's add some value as quickly as possible. Let's try things out and iterate on ideas, and make sure that we're actually giving our members what they need and making sure that they're having a delightful experience, and less, much less focused on process and making sure that you check every single box.
Jason: Do you have any advice for people that want to become nomadic based off any of the stories you've heard and any of the things you've seen so far?
Daniel: Yeah. I think the most important thing there is, really go through your belongings and do a little Marie Kondo job and get rid of stuff, let stuff go. There's so many things that you think you need that you do not need at all. You are just holding on because you think you are supposed to have that thing, when it's not actually doing anything for you. And on top of that, I mean, let go to the feeling that you need to be in a certain place, unless you truly do need to be there. I mean, if you have family that you've got to be close to, that's one thing. But if you just feel compelled to stay in a place because of a job that you're working remotely now, then you can go see the world. You can go see the country.
Jason: We've been steadily moving towards this ecosystem for a really long time. The sheer number of desk shares that have opened up in the last, at least decade, possibly more than that, has certainly led us in this direction of giving somebody a refuge from working solely at home, or if an office is just crammed and there's an alternative available. And of course, with this flexibility, one of the best parts is you start in Austin, you go somewhere else, you can continue to sample. These are the locations and if none of them pan out and you wind up back in Austin, great. You found a place that you're interested in and you have a means of being able to continue living there.
Daniel: Yeah. And you felt at home, I think, the whole time, if you were in Landing, that is.
Jason: Right. And exactly as I said at the start of this, going month to month in a new location or deciding to stay there for just one more month is a huge benefit for somebody who regularly travels or wants to regularly travel and has the ability for this sort of situation. And if it doesn't suit your needs, even if it's just for moving from one side of town to the other, because another place is closer to the things that you want in your general vicinity, the month to month basis timetable is well-defined and very specific. And that's what all of this revolves around.
Daniel: Yeah, and I think there are platforms out there that you could realistically be a nomad and move from place to place on. But I don't think there's anything that would let you do it as affordably and with as consistent of an experience as Landing would give you, if you wanted to be a nomad or whatever you want to call it, if you wanted to move around city to city, place to place.
Jason: Roll in with what you need to get by on a daily basis, what you need to get your work done, unpack, and you're off to the races.
Daniel: Yeah. We cover everything else.
Jason: Daniel, thank you very much for your time. It was great talking to you.
Daniel: It has been a pleasure. Thanks, Jason.
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