Twenty-six people loaded onto a party bus that left Spokane, Wash., at 10 a.m. on Wednesday with three cases of beer and a professional driver. The destination? Seattle, and the 2019 GeekWire Awards.
The team from Stay Alfred, a Spokane-based startup transforming the hospitality business, wasn’t just hard to miss Thursday night because they were all wearing matching and quintessentially Northwest flannel shirts. They were also wearing ear-to-ear grins as if they were crashing a big-city party.
“This is a big deal for us,” said Jordan Allen, founder and CEO of the 8-year-old company. “For some of the other folks here, maybe they’ve done this before, but for a Spokane company to be invited to this, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to join the likes of some of the companies that are here. So we are thrilled.”
Stay Alfred, No. 48 on the GeekWire 200 index of Pacific Northwest startups, certainly earned its place at the event and as a nominee in the Next Tech Titan category, which was ultimately won by pet-sitting juggernaut Rover. The company, which operates upscale apartments for travelers in prime downtown locations, has been “growing like wildfire,” according to Allen, raising $62 million to date and expanding to 32 cities across the U.S. They have their sights set on Europe, next.
On the bus ride over to Seattle, the day before the Awards, Allen shared a selfie of his team, beers in hand, as they made the 5-hour trek west across Washington.
The bus journey fell on Steve Helmbrecht’s first day on the job, as Stay Alfred’s new president. After joining from a private investment company, he knew the trip would be part of his initial experience with the startup, and he was looking forward to it.
“During [the drive] Jordan and I made two investment banking calls and then I had a couple of beers before noon with the crew,” Helmbrecht told GeekWire at the Museum of Pop Culture, site of Thursday’s Awards. “It was great. I already love it.”
Helmbrecht said that Stay Alfred had a board meeting in Seattle during the day and then geared up for the big event later on.
“What I really like about it is not only did Jordan bring over the executive team, he brought the five longest serving members of the company to come over, including employee No. 1,” Helmbrecht said. “They get to share this tonight. We’re honored to just be even nominated. We feel really good about it.”
Stay Alfred leases hundreds of apartments and condos to short-term travelers in its bid to get ahead of the likes of Airbnb. Allen believes tourists and business travelers have outgrown that 10-year-old company and now, with families in tow, are looking for a consistent guest experience that still comes with a unique, boutique-hotel-style setting. Part of its plan is to take over entire floors or buildings so as to control guest amenities.
“We’re really forming an army of people that are excited about changing what the future of hospitality looks like and multifamily real estate,” Allen said.
In Seattle, Stay Alfred operates eight properties and the team took advantage of that this week, which Allen said illustrates just what their mission is.
“We had a pre-funk in one of the buildings,” he said. “That’s why our model exists — 10 people in the living room having a great time, we’re able to hang out versus being scattered across 10 hotel rooms. And it was just super cool, to have beer in the fridge and have appetizers out for all the employees and stuff. It was awesome.”
Performing at the start of the Awards, comedian Jesse Warren, from the tech comedy startup Socially Inept, had a little fun at Stay Alfred’s expense and the company’s Spokane roots — which drew approving laughs from the team themselves. But with 1,000 people in attendance at the Awards, from some of the most successful, innovative and fastest growing companies in the Seattle area, the flannel-clad Stay Alfred team mixed and mingled and perhaps tried to do a little recruiting for anyone who might want to jump ship and head to the other side of the state.
Allen’s pitch was pretty impressive.
“We’re a big deal in Spokane, we’re a big fish in a small pond,” he said. “If we were in Seattle maybe we’d be the 20th coolest company. But it has a lot of advantages because we can get to recruit the best of the best in Spokane. There’s close to a million people in the overall metropolitan area, so there’s a lot of really talented people there.
“Spokane is the greatest place to live, especially once you have a family and kids,” Allen added. “You can buy a really, really nice house for what you can buy a parking space in Seattle for. It’s a 37-minute flight back and forth, and it’s really cheap to do. If you’re into the outdoors, there’s 10 ski mountains and 75 lakes within an hour, so it’s a pretty attractive place to live.”
As good as he made Spokane sound for the business he has been building, and for the team he bused over with, Allen was clearly feeding off the Seattle energy Thursday night as he made his way around MoPOP.
“I really can’t say enough, for our team to be able to come over here … we don’t have events like this in Spokane for the startup community,” he said. “Everybody’s so damn excited they can’t even see straight.”