BLCK aims to help people make money hosting short-term rentals – without owning property

By Nancy Dahlberg

Hosting short-term rental properties without owning them – also known as rental arbitrage – is rapidly growing in popularity, with Airbnb influencers regularly touting the practice. But now, one new Miami property-tech startup plans to make it easier for anyone to become a vacation rental host or grow their business.

BLCK is the first to tap into the rental arbitrage sector via technology,” says founder Samella Watson about her new startup in development. “While there are many hosts who have made millions using rental arbitrage, our marketplace will help to streamline the process and offer this model to the general public.”

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has said his company will need millions more hosts to meet the surging demand he sees ahead. To help, Watson says, “here comes BLCK.”

She describes BLCK (pronounced block) as a turnkey investment marketplace that allows the average person to unlock passive income by bidding on long-term leases for pre-approved short-term rental properties. This helps users launch and grow their own short-term rental businesses.

Watson is no stranger to the hospitality sector or to the startup life. Her first startup was Sebiya, a guest experiences startup that partners with independent lodging professionals to offer guests more than a place to sleep, while increasing ancillary revenue streams. With 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, Watson has also worked in hotel operations, guest experience and team development roles at large hotels across the Midwest and Caribbean as well as SLS Brickell.

How will BLCK work? Once BLCK is launched, planned for Q1 of next year, prospective hosts will be able to go to its website and see and bid on potential short-term rental properties that BLCK has already secured from landlords, Watson says. They also can use a tool to calculate potential profits in-season and off-season. Upon winning the bid, the new hosts will get properties that come furnished by BLCK and ready to list. They will only need to create a host page or add it to their rentals on Airbnb, for instance. BLCK plans to surround the hosts with services that make the experience turnkey, Watson says.

BLCK touches the fintech space, too: “We are using blockchain smart contracts, which will allow BLCK to focus on innovation and efficiency while removing the traditional intermediaries such as banks, brokers and lawyers for the entire leasing process,” Watson says. ‘We’re doing something new in 2022, so why not make it the most cost efficient, the most innovative?”

Watson is part of Microsoft’s Black Partners Growth Initiative and has received pre-seed support from the organization. Daniel Ikem, the program’s partner development manager, said her solution shows promise.

“BLCK represents the generation of innovative solutions providing Housing-as-a-Service and is definitely going to make waves in major vacation destinations across the country,” says Ikem. What’s more, he says, “Samella showcases the tenacity and creativity needed to succeed in the tech industry as a Black female founder.”

Watson hopes to raise a seed round while continuing to develop BLCK. Watson says BLCK came to her in a vision from God several times before she decided to put Sebiya on pause to focus 100% on the new opportunity. The CEO has been busy assembling a team – now four: herself, a CTO, a blockchain architect, and a business analyst – and partners for the turnkey experience envisioned.

The proptech’s current partners include AirDNA for data, Sebiya for Guest Experiences, and ResidentScore by TransUnion for tenant screening. BLCK also has secured a partner for housekeeping services and is in discussions with a renters insurance partner and a large department store for the furnishings, Watson says.

BLCK hopes to launch first in three areas – West Palm Beach, Chicago and the US Virgin Islands. Property owners and potential hosts can join their waitlist here.

“There is no process that exists right now. There’s no technology, there’s no way to search [for potential properties], so we have a first mover’s advantage to bring this to life,” Watson says. “It’s go time.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg and email her on [email protected]


Nancy Dahlberg