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Inside Bilt Rewards, a credit card and loyalty program for renters

September 27, 2022, 10:00 AM UTC
The Bilt Rewards Mastercard on display at a launch party in New York City. June 22, 2021.
Sean Zanni—Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

There are a lot of difficulties with renting right now, and as far as logistics go, just getting the payment to the landlord can still be an issue. While some landlords and rental companies have gotten onboard with online payments, many still insist on receiving paper checks.

On top of that, even if you pay rent online, you have to make a bank transfer. Sure, you could pay via credit card, but it almost always comes with a significant fee, usually a certain single-digit percentage of your monthly rent.

Bilt Rewards says it wants to erase all that frustration. Founded in June 2021, the company says that customers can can pay rent with a credit card and earn points with no fees, and then use those points on travel, local gyms and fitness, credits toward the next rent payment, or even redeem them towards a down payment on a home.

Founder Ankur Jain recently shared more with Fortune about what these offerings could mean for the rental market and how they translate to home-ownership.

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Could you share a bit about your professional background before launching Bilt Rewards?

My career started by wanting to solve problems I was facing myself. I accidentally started my first company at age 11 after getting a cell phone and growing frustrated by how long it took to text using T9. I learned to code and built a service where you could send a text straight from your web browser or AIM.

Out of college, I launched Humin, a contact management app, which sold to Tinder, where I served as vice president of product for a time. But I wanted to do more than help people swipe, and that’s when I left to form Kairos HQ, the venture fund and start-up studio that incubated Bilt Rewards and several other companies focused on making life more accessible and affordable for our generation. 

My career has always been rooted in solving problems through common sense solutions, and rent was the next issue I was looking to tackle, which led to the creation of Bilt Rewards. 

What inspired the launch of Bilt Rewards?

Bilt was created to change the renting experience and help renters earn something back on their largest monthly expense. We took inspiration from the loyalty programs of hotels and major airlines, and created a modern version with our own currency for the $600 billion annual rental market. We then formed the Bilt Alliance, a network of more than 2 million apartments across the U.S. in partnership with the biggest property owners and managers, giving them a way to interact with their residents. 

And in the same way these loyalty programs have their own co-brand credit cards, we created the Bilt Mastercard, so that anyone at any apartment in the country could earn points on rent with no fees. 

Ankur Jain attends the Bilt Rewards Launch Party at Equinox Hotel New York at Hudson Yards on June 22, 2021 in New York City.
Sean Zanni—Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Being able to get reward points on rent let alone being able to use that credit toward home-ownership (especially in this competitive housing market) seems almost too good to be true. Could you outline an example case of a renter profile who would be able to make use of all the service Bilt says it offers? 

The renter who will gain the most from Bilt Rewards is the one who uses our platform to pay rent, where they’ll earn points on every dollar, and takes advantage of our earning structure to build points on bonus categories like travel (double points) and dining (triple points) with the Bilt Mastercard.

They can then use their points to travel the world, book fitness classes at the country’s top boutique studios, build their art collection, redeem for credits towards rent, or even apply Bilt points towards a downpayment on a future home.

We’re always offering promotions for members to earn even more points, and anyone who opens the Bilt App has access to articles and resources from our team of experts on how they can use them.

The skyrocketing cost of rent, especially in major cities, has been a hot topic in the public conversation amid inflation and a potential recession. How could Bilt make a difference in the future of the rental market?

With the cost of renting at an all-time high, we’re offering renters a chance to get a second life out of money they’re already spending. Our hope is that with Bilt, the act of paying rent now enables their next vacation, workout class, or even a pathway to their future home.

And we’re excited to announce that renters are about to have more things to look forward to when we launch our first Rent Day campaign on October 1. Going forward on the first of every month, Bilt will be giving members access to exclusive experiences, events and promotions with our partners like SoulCycle and Virgin Red, plus rent giveaways and double points earnings when using the Bilt Mastercard.

We know the thought of rent day is not something that most people look forward to, but our goal is to reinvent the experience of paying rent, making the process easier and even enjoyable for our members.

How is the company funded? Is it self-funded or have you reached out to investors? What has the financing process been like?

We’ve been lucky to count the majority of our Bilt Alliance real estate partners like The Blackstone Group, Equity Residential, and AvalonBay Communities as investors, as well as our business partners like Wells Fargo, Mastercard, and Kairos HQ, which is really the ideal scenario. When we win, they win, and we are all even more incentivized to work hand-in-hand in making Bilt a success.

Looking forward five years, how do you want to Bilt Rewards to grow? What kind of services do you want to add in the future?

We are laser-focused on enhancing the renting experience, and making the act of paying your largest monthly expense something that renters can actually look forward to.

For now, that means making free rent reporting available to all Bilt members, incentivizing renters by offering them points for renewing their leases or referring a tenant, and also building out the best loyalty program possible to give our members flexibility and access to experiences they may not otherwise have, all just by paying rent.

In the future, we’ll look at more ways we can help renters on their journey towards homeownership, and how to support them through that next stage of their housing journey.

This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.