Episode 4

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

Kulveer Taggar, CEO of Zeus Living, shares how transparency and staying true to company values in the wake of the pandemic helped keep their business afloat and even come out stronger in the end.



Anthony Kennada Seemingly there’s some good news on the horizon with COVID. It seems cases are are going down here in Arizona. Now, I think we’ve actually been open for quite some time, but we’re seeing some more capacity in the hospitals. We’re seeing just overall some positive traction. But I was excited to hear that California, since our last episode aired, has opened up a little bit more obviously safely, cautiously, but at least some restaurants are opening up. How’s it been for you and in this sort of new kind of chapter in the pandemic journey, like, how are you guys thinking about getting out there a little bit and and getting back into the world? 

LB Harvey Yeah, it’s been really nice. And I was braced for a much longer period of lockdown in California. In fact, the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, had kind of extended the stay at home order indefinitely. And when one of my good friends who’s connected in the restaurant industry, she thought that restaurants were going to open back up until like March. Best case scenario. So it came as a really pleasant surprise that things are starting to open up here at the start of February. 

LB Harvey The reality is a lot of places are going to need a couple of weeks to get staffing back in order and restock their pantries on the on the restaurant side. And I think also just like come up with the right protocols and Safeway to reopen. 

LB Harvey So it still feels pretty locked down here, but it’s definitely a positive trend. Interestingly enough, I was reading in The New York Times this morning that 30 percent of Americans are planning on attending Super Bowl parties. 

LB Harvey And while I’m very excited about the Super Bowl, to me that was like a parallel universe moment just to juxtapose with the scene here in California and San Francisco specifically. 

Anthony Kennada Yeah, totally. And I think we’ve all had to battle this for the holidays and figure out how do we safely engage or not engage and make some of those personal decisions. 

Anthony Kennada I feel like that’s a lot more complex than the Super Bowl, which is a game we can watch on TV alone or whatever. And again, maybe I’m just an anti Tom Brady person, whatever an anti fan is. Is that a word? An anti fan message, too good. You know, to me, like the Super Bowl is something you could pass on not to virtue signal, but public health kind of stands to benefit from folks kind of watching this remotely. 

LB Harvey Yeah, I, I agree. 

Anthony Kennada The other big news from this week, LB, was about the stock market stocks. 

LB Harvey Yeah, I, I think I saw something about a company called GameStop. 

Anthony Kennada That’s right. And for those that have been following this, there was a community on Reddit called Wall Street Bets that apparently did something with investing in some of these perhaps undervalued stocks, stocks that have been hit hard in the pandemic and really tried to to help drive some, I believe, send them to the moon, is the words that they used in order to drive some return. 

Anthony Kennada Now, I’ll admit, LB, this whole thing’s been confusing to me. I’m a marketer. I’m a creative when it comes to stocks and finances. It’s not my strong suits. Have you really processed this? Can you explain this to me so I can make sure I’m understanding exactly what happened? 

LB Harvey Absolutely not. I love the stock market, but I turned to others to make any key decisions for me. So I’m kind of at the headline level, to be honest. We may need to call call someone else in here to explain. 

LB Harvey Well, in that case, it’s time for a new segment called We Don’t Know. We Don’t Know for We Don’t Know. 

Anthony Kennada We’ve brought in our producer, Matt Klassen, to tell us a little bit more about what exactly happened last week and how does this whole thing relate to the Heart of Business. 

Matt Klassen So it’s good to be here. I wish I was talking about something a little bit more interesting than the stock market. I think that there is a lot to talk about here. I’ll try and give the abridged version. First of all, what do you know about short selling?

Anthony Kennada So I think short selling is where, like a hedge fund will buy up stock and then sell it off. 

LB Harvey Yeah, I don’t know. You’re betting on the failure of a company, right? Your to companies like overvalued. And so you’re betting that’s going to come down? 

Matt Klassen Yeah, pretty much. So these hedge funds will borrow stocks, essentially. They’ll sell them, expecting them to devalue over time over a shorter long period of time, buy them back at a lower price, pocket the difference, and then give the stock back to whoever they borrowed it from. Essentially, what it’s doing is basically betting that a company, whatever you’re investing in, is going to be worth less over time. And that’s what a lot of these hedge funds did to a company called GameStop, a brick and mortar company that sells video games mostly in stores across the country. So what happened at the end of the month, at the end of January was this thread on Reddit.com. Wall Street Bets went viral and it was all about buying up this GameStop stock and, you know, essentially putting the value of it through the roof so that when these hedge funds went around to buy back the stock that they had sold off, expecting it to be devalued over time, that they would have to be they would have to buy it back for way more than they sold it for essentially putting them under water. And that’s what happened to a lot of these hedge funds, because as this thread went viral over time, hundreds of thousands of people were buying up this stock in Robinhood, which is a free-to-use app that allows people to make trades in the stock market without transaction fees. And essentially, at least one of these hedge funds lost over a billion dollars and had to get bailed out. And so it started this whole conversation about what’s the true value of these stocks? If a hedge fund can devalue it by short selling and this large public movement can pump the tires on it and make it worth something just by the act of buying it, what’s the real value of GameStop stock? I mean, it’s a brick and mortar store that sells video games when people are downloading them overwhelmingly. But the flip side of that is that GameStop also has investment from the guy from the Big Short, who is played by Christian Bale and also the CEO of the pet online pet store. Chewey has a big stake in GameStop. So was were these short sellers were really undervaluing it or were these predators actually closer to the mark on what the stock is actually worth? Of course, it all got way out of control and sent Robinhood into a death spiral overnight. They had to borrow over a billion dollars just to cover the volatility of these stocks. And they had to shut down trading on GameStop, AMC, some of these other ones that Reddit had just created a feeding frenzy around and that did not make those creditors happy. And Google at some point was removing one star reviews from the Robinhood app. And so there’s a lot of debate around is Robinhood free trading democratizing? The stock market is Reddit Wall Street that’s opening up this previously kept source of wealth to a larger market. And if so, is that really good? Like is it is it really good that some people made billions of dollars, some hedge funds lost billions of dollars and most people put ten dollars into GameStop stock and probably will never get it back? GameStop is decreasing now as we’re reporting this. So it’s a it’s a crazy debate with a lot of different sides and a lot of people passionate on all sides. I tend to think that access to this investment is really good, but it doesn’t make the stock market itself any less equitable and it doesn’t decrease income inequality, at least not without better guardrails in it. So that’s the whole issue explained as quick as I can get it in, as close as I can get it to the truth. 

Anthony Kennada That’s awesome. Matt, thanks for walking us through. It obviously is a super complex, but one of the big takeaways that that I have from this is Robinhood really found themselves in a bit of a crisis here, a crisis against the brand purpose that they’ve kind of put out into the world of really trying to make investing in the stock market more inclusive, less of a black box or invite only type of community for some people in our in our world. 

Anthony Kennada But at the same time, by taking this action, they’ve sort of gone against their customers and sort of made a decision that, you know, who knows kind of whether or not they’re forced into that. But at the end of the day, made a decision that compromised the heart of their business, which is which is obviously their customers. There was even some notes leaked from employees I saw on social media. And who knows, these things are all true. But talking about the same about this is this is a very kind of trying time for the company from a culture and values. So the big lesson here, and I’ll be with your thoughts, is needing to sort of stand by your purpose and stand by your your reason for being as a company, not just when things are good, but even when things are quickly or complex or pretty pretty difficult. And that sort of expectation that our customers and our employees have on us being able to to have that conviction in good times and bad. 

LB Harvey Yeah, I think this is an example where Robinhood may have gone a step too far in their brand promise. And the reality is that they have certain institutions that they are playing within those sort of like limitations and rules. That is that’s the reality. And so when you have a mission statement all around bringing the ability to trade to the kind of common person, this is a perfect example of that not being perfectly true and it really backfiring. 

Anthony Kennada All right. It’s time for one of my favorite segments, Heartbeats. 

Anthony Kennada All right, so for those of you who are tuning in for the first time, Heartbeats is our segment where we talk about the good news coming out of the business world when you refresh your news feed. 

LB Harvey In today’s environment, most of the news isn’t great, but we are focused in this segment on finding the silver lining, good news stories where businesses are going out of their way to get creative, pivoting, innovating and delivering great things for their customers. 

LB Harvey That’s right. And so the first piece of news that we’re talking about came out of a company called CloudFlare who have sort of been in the business of like web reliability and ensuring performance, the security of web pages. 

Anthony Kennada And they wanted to jump into the fight against Covid by really helping companies and health providers and whether it’s state departments or private folks who are providing vaccine registration sites to build more reliable sites through their Project Fair Shot initiative. So for those that have had a chance to register for a vaccine, you you’ll know almost undoubtedly that website reliability has been tough to register as sites have crashed just with the traffic that has been hitting these things. And so CloudFlare took it upon themselves to build a initiative that gave frontline organizations the technical resources they need to be reliable and to meet the demands of the market. So I’ll be I know vaccines are something that you’ve been watching very closely here. So tell me a little bit more about what you make of those Project Fair Shot, but also like what’s been going on and progress in the vaccine world. 

LB Harvey Yeah, this is really this is a cool story and props to CloudFlare for figuring out a way to get involved in the fight against Covid and specifically the rollout of vaccines. I think so many of us in the business world would love to lean in and help, and they found a great angle and a way to do so. 

LB Harvey So this is a really, really cool article. As you mentioned, I have been tracking the vaccine news pretty closely. I am very excited to get back to real life, hopefully in the second half of 2021, 2022 latest. And I’ve been following an author out of The New York Times that is is putting out some really interesting content around kind of finding the signal through the noise. I think there’s a lot of information out there on the vaccines and a lot of it is really kind of tamping down optimism. And he takes a very cool angle and one that really resonates with me, which is that the vaccine news is actually a lot more optimistic than it’s often reported. And I’ll give a kind of a specific example of that. I recently became a little discouraged because I was really excited about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine hitting the market or and thinking that be a great way for us to essentially produce more vaccines and get to more people. But I was disheartened to see that it was only like 60, 70 percent effective. And my first reaction was like, I would rather just wait for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, which is like 90-95% effective. Right. But when you dig in, efficacy really just means that if you got the vaccine, you showed no symptoms. And David’s kind of point of view is, look, what you really should care about is how many serious illnesses or deaths were caused by people who are vaccinated. Like that’s kind of the efficacy that you really care about. And Johnson and Johnson performed really well. Very few people who’ve gotten the vaccine have gotten seriously ill. And so a lot of the efficacy rate that’s being reported is people who got very mild symptoms. And I think we would all say, sure, we’d love to avoid even like symptoms and feel a hundred percent healthy all the time. But in the vein of ending this pandemic and getting life back to some semblance of normalcy, but we really care about is is removing Covid-19 as a serious threat to our health and kind of an escalating cause of death. 

Anthony Kennada Totally, totally agree with that. We’ve got time for one more LB. And so my favorite Heartbeats news always comes from TikTok. 

LB Harvey And so how many TikTok videos do you have out there in the world? 

Anthony Kennada It it’s funny. Zero, actually, I don’t even I don’t even have a TikTok account, but every time I see the words TikTok, and I get a chance to use them in the business context, I get very happy. 

Anthony Kennada I think this should be a cool one. OK. 

Anthony Kennada Exactly. Exactly. And Anthony TikTok video. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. I will work on it. Thankfully, someone named Jimmy Choi is already much better and more established at TikTok. He creates a ton of like high-level like athletic videos and he’s built a good following around basically extreme type of sports and weightlifting and all these types of things. He recently posted a pretty vulnerable post where this facade that he shows the rest of the world isn’t the whole story, because Jimmy actually suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a central nervous system disorder that causes tremors. And so he started to post pretty often about life, kind of with living with the disease and how you may be able to lift these weights and do all these things. But sometimes some of life’s easiest or seemingly easiest tasks like opening up a bottle of. To take your medicine or putting your button on your shirt are a lot more complex for all those obviously suffering from from this horrible disease. And so the good news in this story is, as he posted, there’s apparently a 3D print maker community on TikTok that watched it. They latched on to this idea and they actually put together an engineered a pill bottle that’s specifically designed for folks who are battling Parkinson’s or have kind of severe tremors. And they’ve actually 3D printed it and brought it to market. And it’s now going to be available for use and for distribution out into the world. So for those that aren’t on TikTok, don’t underestimate the power of a community is going to latch on to a story and help build solutions for the greater good. 

LB Harvey Yeah, that is so cool. I can only imagine the frustration of not being able to, like, do something as seemingly simple as opening a bottle of pills. So that is really cool. And it’s you know, it’s interesting. This is just kind of the second news story we’ve talked about that involves crowdsourcing. 

Anthony Kennada Well, let’s talk about this week’s interview. I’m so excited to to share the stories is actually a really, really good conversation. And it started when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed over the holidays and I came across a thread that honestly LB it hit me right in the feels. No, it was it was a thread from a CEO of a company called Zeus Living, Kulveer Taggar. And honestly, it was such an open, honest, vulnerable look into his journey and his company’s journey through the pandemic. And it was so moving and inspiring. I thought I’d love to get Kulveer on the podcast if we can have him. And guess what? 

LB Harvey Did you get him on the podcast? 

Anthony Kennada Yes. Yes, I talked to Kulveer and it was just as candid and vulnerable as a thread on Twitter, which honestly sometimes can be a pretty rare quality to a CEO. So let’s go ahead and take a listen at the conversation with Kuleer Taggar, CEO of Zeus Living. 

Anthony Kennada I don’t know if you’ve ever had a moment where it felt like the wheels were coming off, where your whole world felt like it was hanging from a thread, and you can see it fraying almost in slow motion before your eyes, I think 2020 gave us way too many of these moments. And for so many, that thread didn’t hold, however. My guest today is called Kulveer Tugger. He’s the CEO of Zeus Living. 

Anthony Kennada He faced just such a moment last year and I read about it in a now viral thread on Twitter, which read almost like reading the Book of Job or something, as I was kind of going through it, even though I sort of knew the ending and kind of understanding his business and the story kind of since it was a really emotional read and kind of took me back to different places of my life. And so I won’t steal the thunder here for Kulveer. Let let him tell us the story. So Kulveer, thank you so much for joining us today and for sharing your experience with 2020. It’s my pleasure and thank you for having me on. So we have a segment that we like to kick off with called The Weird Question of the Week. So this question I know that I understand you’re a Manchester United fan, congrats, by the way, I think as we’re recording this today there at the top of the table, there are three former red devil stars who famously made the move to America to play in the MLS, Wayne Rooney, Dave Beckham and Zlatan Ibramhimovic. If you have to be stuck in quarantine with any one of those three, who would it be? 

Kulveer Taggar Who I think in quarantine, I probably want to be stuck with that. I think he would be the most entertaining, probably have the most interesting stories to tell. Yeah, it seems like a lot of fun. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. I think I’d answer the same way. All right. So let’s let’s dive into this. Can you start by just telling us a little bit more about Zeus Living really before the pandemic? So back in December of 2019, what did your business look like? And just tell us a bit about the offering and just who you’re serving. Sure. 

Kulveer Taggar So to start with, you know, our product, we provide beautiful furnished homes that are flexible so people can rent them for six weeks or six months. A product is tailored towards people who are moving around the country or they have to go somewhere because they’ve got some sort of work project. And we started in 2015, 2016. And we’ve basically been growing three to four year over year. And in 2019 December we had just announced a Series B fundraise of $55 million and B was an investor in that and we were really setting ourselves up for having a blockbuster. 2020. We made a lot of investments into expanding into markets like New York and all these other metros around the country. We’d hired a lot of people. I’d built out my executive team and for those familiar with sort of startup lingo, we were in that blit scaling phase where we’re like, okay, we have product market fit. This thing works. We just want to really ramp this as quick as possible. So shifting from that to what happened a few months later was like a very big transition. 

Anthony Kennada Well, let’s talk about that. What was it like when you guys first realized coming out of that December that something’s going on here and whatever this is has the potential to be pretty catastrophic to our business model? 

Kulveer Taggar Yeah, I think it was in January when we had locked down first happened with the original lock down that I had started to think about it and become worried that this thing isn’t under control. It could spread to the US. Our business will be impacted. And then as we got into February, there was still so much uncertainty about how to react to this. I myself was feeling quite stressed. But even though I was aware of the situation and what could happen, I was still very, very surprised and shocked by how quickly things escalated in March. And I remember the first things that were happening were these conferences getting canceled. And we were meant to go to South by Southwest last year. And we had this panel set up. And I remember when that conference was canceled and then just hearing around me that trips were getting canceled. That didn’t immediately impact us at the beginning because, again, people don’t really use us for short term business trips or like, you know, just we can travel. But it was around the middle of the month when the international travel was halted, that we started seeing cancelations and about a third of our businesses, people coming to the US. And when those cancelations started, the stock market crashed. That’s when it became very clear to me that this is a scary situation we’re going into. And, you know, we have to, like, really pay attention now and be careful about what happens. 

Anthony Kennada And, you know, in the tweet storm I had mentioned, you talk about Airbnb being an investor, you talked about Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb,that he gave you some advice around. You can either make a business decision and do what’s best for the business or you can make a principled decision and consider how do you want to be remembered, irrespective of the outcome. When those cancelations started coming in, as you mentioned, what was it like making the decision to handle it the way you handled it? And you just reflect a bit on the learning, on the principle decision advice. 

Kulveer Taggar Yeah. So we we started getting requests for refunds and these you know, it wasn’t small amounts. This is millions of dollars and into the summer, like business contracts where people had expressed that they wanted a certain amount of homes, we’d gone and got those homes and prepared them and everything and really were just faced with what do we do? Because under our terms with our cancelation policy, maybe we could hold onto a bunch of that money or not. But then I was just thinking of the situation that these other businesses were in, where they were spending my. They could no longer travel, and when I was just looking at our balance sheet and how much cash we had, if I was to give away or give back all of this money, we were going to be putting ourselves under sort of immediate and quite severe financial stress. So I remember when we were just thinking about it and I was like, one of my principles is this idea of thinking long term and just having a long horizon. And at that moment I was like, wait a second. The relationship I have with my customers is more important. This is going to be painful, but we’ll find a way through. And then hopefully when the world is better and these guys can travel again, they’ll come back to Zeus. So we made the call that like we’re going to be as customer-centric as possible, refund as much of this money as people ask for and then figure it out later. 

Anthony Kennada That’s incredible. How did the customers sort of respond to that? Because I imagine from their perspective, this is pretty scary stuff. They have a lot of budget kind of tied into this event, this move. Many of them had planned to relocate, I imagine kind of that empathy, the customer empathy was rather well received. I’m curious, what was the customer response and then how did the team feel on the front lines of really delivering that relief to the customer? 

Kulveer Taggar Yeah, I remember receiving emails or seeing some emails from customers who were like, we appreciate this so much. Our plans have changed. You know, there’s also just a kind of a safety angle to this as well. It’s like people don’t want to be forced to travel in the middle of a pandemic. And so there was just a lot of gratitude. And I did receive messages where customers said as soon as it’s safe to travel again, we’ll be back. We will be using you. We won’t forget this. And I think within the company as well, being customer-centric is one of our core values. And I’ve always framed values in terms of trade offs. What are we willing to give up to live up to this value? And the example I would often cite internally was profits. You know, to do the right thing by the customer, we are willing to forgo profit. And so the team was supportive and it was the right thing to do. And again, it was it was a very different experience because just, you know, our daily revenue or net bookings has always tended to be up and to the right. And then we enter this territory where it was basically negative and negative for quite a while. And then it was a little bit of when is this going to end or how bad is this going to get? Because again, in March or April, maybe this sounds naive in hindsight, I didn’t think the pandemic was going to be as devastating and as widespread as it turned out to be. I almost I remember thinking, oh, by July, maybe by August, you know, travel is going to happen again. So this is a three to four month thing. But yeah, again, surprised to the downside by the impact. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. And. I think if the story ended there, you know, that would be one thing, but in addition to all of this, you know, you guys were forced, like obviously many businesses were during this really trying time to do layoffs twice and completely tragically. Your co-founder’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. And thankfully for those listening, sounds like she you know, she’s in remission. But going through all of this, it takes such an emotional toll on an imagine yourself as the CEO, let alone on the company. What did you learn about how how to communicate with your team during a time that’s so trying and where perhaps even yourself struggling, but needing to kind of put that leadership hat on and kind of carry forward? 

Kulveer Taggar You know, transparency is also one of our company values. And again, you know, when I talk about those tradeoffs, it’s like sometimes it can just be very uncomfortable to share all the sort of raw truths with everyone. And actually, this was a big lesson learned because we had been creeping towards being less transparent in the company with certain things as we had scaled just because there was this thought of like, hey, you know, if you don’t have the full context, you know, these numbers of this data, it’s kind of hard to understand it. But when the pandemic hit, we decided that we’re going to really lean into it. And then so we just kind of opened up everything, our daily cash balance to anyone who wanted to know in the company. Obviously, the revenue numbers, occupancy numbers, those things, the way we’ve built our internal software, it’s all accessible to everyone anyway. But we really leaned into that to bring everyone together to help us get through, because, again, my underlying sort of rationale for that is if you have access to all the information, the chances that you’re going to make the right decision, go up. And, you know, this was a team effort for sure. And I wanted everyone to feel like we trusted them and they had a responsibility as well. I mean, on the micro level with the leadership team, we set up daily meetings and we just we identified the one metric we needed to focus on. In our case, it was occupancy was the very first thing because it was just plummeting. We’d never really been below 85 percent occupancy. And. Right. I think in April, we dipped as low as 40 while we recovered it to 65 percent by the end of the month. But that was the one that every night we got together, we spoke for an hour or two and of course we had to discuss layoffs. There were things that we had to do to keep the company alive. And again, I don’t have experience of doing layoffs. We had to do them on Zoom. That was unpleasant. And so it was just a very tough time, you know, on so many fronts. And then, of course, you mentioned my co-founders wife’s situation. That was a moment that sticks in the memory because it was after we’d done the second layoffs, we had this emotional goodbye on Zoome. I became a bit teary, which I wasn’t expecting. And I was really worried about all these people that we were laid off into the middle of a pandemic and what would happen to them. And then I get this phone call and it’s just like she became very sick this week, taking it to the hospital. They’re now admitting her straight away and she has this aggressive form of cancer. And immediately I was like, whoa, I’m really upset and really sad about what’s happening in the company. But this kind of just put things into perspective. I was like, you know, I still have my health, we have our health and I need to support him now and do the best we can to help her in a recovery. And so, yeah, it was it was this interesting period and grateful to Stanford because that’s where she got treatment and she ended up getting a stem cell transplant and is in remission now. So things are much better there. But yeah, it was just this very challenging period. But I think the transparency and being customer centric and then just rallying everyone daily helped us get through it. 

Anthony Kennada That’s incredibly powerful. Gosh, we obviously wish her the best as she recovers at some point here. You realize that, you know, kind of referencing back to the tweet storm that there was there was a potential opportunity here to build back stronger. And I think from my understanding is you start noticing that people were looking for places to go work remotely as obviously as part of so many of us that lived in kind of urban kind of cities or what have you. There was a chance to now get out of our quarantine kind of situation and potentially go quarantine somewhere else and work in another city. And so places like Miami and Denver, there seem to be some demand for folks looking for housing. You talk a little bit about that moment because it feels like there’s a bit of either a turning point or just kind of a bit of a spark to kind of come out of someplace that was obviously so trying and dismal and offer now some hope moving forward. 

Kulveer Taggar The way I remember it was in L.A. that we saw demand really increase pretty early into the pandemic and occupancy within that market, I think approached 90 percent very quick. Wow. And I was like, huh, what’s going on here? And then we just saw that people thankfully, the homes that we have, they tend to be in the suburbs. We don’t concentrate too much in sort of downtown centers and we have homes with backyards and more space. So that was the very first thing that we saw. And I was like, you know, some of it just felt like you were like, okay, we had homes in the right places. People want to go there. L.A. took off and then we started seeing the occupancy creep up across the place. But when we were looking at where people were searching on the and how the search patterns were changing, even though at that time we didn’t have any homes in Miami, for example, we saw lots of people start searching on Miami and then these other markets, like you mentioned, like Denver and Austin. And then, you know, we within our own company, we can’t fully remove some of our employees were you know, people were going back to the East Coast if they were from there or using this as a chance to just explore living in different parts of the country. And so we realized that, OK, this might be kind of a glimmer of hope that on the one hand, the business travel was massively reduced. But on the other hand, we were seeing these new forms of demand. And actually this this was maybe closer to our original founding vision, which is we wanted to make it easy for people to live wherever and whenever they wanted, free from the traditional constraints of housing or signing a 12 month lease or having to buy furniture. And so we we rallied around this. And we we did we did our research. We looked at the numbers and we realized there was a 40 million dollar opportunity to find the right product for our customers in these other markets. If we could figure that out, a lot of companies similar to ours were being hurt in the pandemic. We’d heard occupancy had dropped to single digits or low teens. And it is especially the sort of short term rental companies. So then we were like, well, look, we have expertize in the 30 day plus market where our occupancy is back up to 85 percent, we’re seeing excess demand in certain markets. We’re seeing demand in markets that we’re not in. Why don’t we reach out to these other operators and see if we can connect our demand to their supply? And it’s a win win for everyone. And again, this was like a big shift in our sort of internal mentality because we’d always been the operator of our homes because we really believed in building a selling experience and building our own brand. You know, it worked. And again, that was one of the surprising moments where I was like, OK, people are coming to Zeus. They’re willing to trust our curation, our expertize to book with a partner that we found in Miami and, you know, do the transaction. And so, you know, we still wanted to find a way to grow in 2020. And thankfully, because of this, we were able to do that. And so we started, I think, 2020 with about two thousand homes on the platform. We ended the year with four thousand homes on the platform and we still found a way to grow revenue during this period. And it still sort of consistent with our mission and our vision because we have a job to do for our residents, which is provide them with high quality homes. And we found a way to sort of do that during the pandemic. 

Anthony Kennada That’s incredible. And that vision that you stated live without the traditional constraints of housing is super powerful. 

Anthony Kennada You mentioned that this was perhaps closer to that original vision now, or at least sort of a forcing function to really put that in motion. Was that something that was a rallying call internally, or how did the team kind of get encouraged throughout that process growing up? 

Kulveer Taggar My mom was a travel agent. I grew up in a single parent household. I got to travel a lot. My mom would get these cheap tickets. And I remember growing up I had this goal of owning real estate in a few of the major cities around the world, let’s say New York, San Francisco, London and others. But not really because I wanted to build a real estate empire was just this idea of having that mobility and that flexibility. I wanted to go to Europe for the summer. You know, I could do that if I wanted to go, you know, between the coasts. And I’ve been on this long journey. But that’s what we were building at to. And we focused on business travel as a sort of entry segment into the market because that’s where we just saw a high value customer with a pressing problem. So people in the company knew about this mission and this vision of just giving people more flexibility and more mobility. And originally, I used to talk about it in terms of opportunity. My life changed when I moved to San Francisco. So it’s like let’s just make it easy for people to move to wherever the opportunity may take them. But then after the pandemic, we were like, well, it doesn’t actually have to be about the opportunity, can just be because you want to be there and you want to try something different and a new lifestyle. So a lot of people in the company, they resonated with this mission and this vision. That’s why they joined zoos I. Definitely had some questions about the change in strategy, but largely, I would say everyone bought in because that’s what they wanted to do themselves and a lot of people would take advantage of that. And pre pandemic, we had a policy that folks could relocate to any any of their cities that we operate in. And so we tried to offer that mobility ourselves. And yeah. And once it started working, of course, that helped. 

Anthony Kennada That’s amazing and deeply resonate with that mission myself. So excited that companies like Zeus exist to go in and kind of make that reality happen for for the rest of us as consumers. Finally, just on this topic. 

Anthony Kennada You said you kept a good doll on your desk and you really leaned on your your five minute journal for affirmation during this time. I’m just curious, just on a personal level, kind of going through a year like this and obviously the exciting kind of rebound and finding the growth through it. How did you care for your own kind of mental health through this? And for folks that are, you know, perhaps listening, they’re still kind of in the thick of trying to figure out what their pivot is, kind of any any encouragement or recommendations that you have for self care for those folks. 

Kulveer Taggar You know, I do heavily recommend the five minute journal. You know, you write down things you’re grateful for each morning, an affirmation how you plan to have a great day and then you check in at night just before you go to bed. And it’s one of these things that if I forget to do it and a few days or a week or two goes by, I start feeling it and I’m like, huh? And there’s just something so grounding where, again, I’m in a safe situation. I have my health, you know, I have my friends. And there’s still so much that’s positive in the world around me, despite the sort of disaster that was kind of happening in the business. It just helped me stay a little bit more grounded. I don’t want to lie. The second half of March into early April was just tough. Every morning I’d wake up and there was just a little bit of dread of like, OK, what’s the bad news that I’m going to encounter today? And I’ve never sort of counted down the hours when I’ve worked as a CEO because I love building the business and executing on our mission. But there were days where I was like, okay, it’s two o’clock. All right. Now it’s three o’clock. All right. And just when is this day going to end? And then try to stay somewhat active, go for walks in the evening with my wife and try and focus on the positives. When you mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of soccer. When the Premier League restarted, that was a nice distraction that I had. I was like, OK, it’s kind of ridiculous and not important in the big scheme of things. But I really enjoy this and I can escape the day to day for a little bit. That was a big sport and I haven’t shared this before. But there was one night where I went to bed thinking we weren’t going to make it through. And I had these moments of thinking about when we first started Zeus, I spent months like driving around and meeting hundreds of homeowners around the Bay Area. I remember the first few homes. I furnished them myself with the help of my my wife and just all of these extra meetings you do when you’re trying to get your company started. And I was like, oh my God, this all might go to zero and feeling kind of, I don’t know, sad about it, maybe a little bit sorry for myself. But then I remember again in the morning I woke up, I had that belief and I don’t know where the belief came from. I was like, no, we’re going to get through this. It’s up to us, like engagement, be creative. Let’s figure out some solutions. Yeah. And then a little bit of superstition kicked in. I’m not really religious, but just those little things surrounding themselves. I was like, okay, I’ve got I’ve got some other other help here. 

Kulveer Taggar So that’s incredible Kulveer. And thanks so much for being transparently sharing this. You know, I think it started on Twitter and other places, but just hearing your stories is really been moving. 

Anthony Kennada And I think for folks listening that are, as I mentioned, either still going through this challenge of 2020, you know, it offers just just a lot of hope. So thanks for sharing it. We do have one final segment to to close things out. We call it speed round. So I’m going to ask a few questions here. And you have five seconds or less to answer each question. Yeah. 

Anthony Kennada First question, what’s the best book you’ve read recently? 

Kulveer Taggar It’s a book called The Courage to be Disliked. 

Anthony Kennada Also your favorite podcast other than this one, of course. 

Kulveer Taggar I’m a fan of Invest like the Best.

Anthony Kennada OK, this is actually quite perhaps controversial, like work from home or work from the office. 

Kulveer Taggar I’m actually going to say hybrid. Yeah. Yeah. Because we we saw an uptick in productivity being from home. But I definitely think there are some positives to being able to collaborate together and with Zeus home could be in many different places. 

Anthony Kennada That’s great. And the last question, what’s a brand out there in the marketplace that you admire the most? 

Kulveer Taggar Yeah, so hopefully this isn’t too on the nose. And I know I’m on the Front podcast, but Front this year, Mathile reached out to me March 13th, unprompted to check in on how I was doing and see the gesture just meant a lot because we use the product or a lot of our teams. And, you know, we exchanged some emails. She was very supportive during that time. And so I’m a big fan of Front. 

Anthony Kennada Awesome. Thank you so much for saying that. And likewise, we’re fans of Zeus Living. Wish you all nothing but success. And we look forward to hearing just amazing things from Zeus going forward. 

Anthony Kennada You’re listening to Heart of Business. Don’t forget to read, review and subscribe. Now back to the show. 

Anthony Kennada What an incredible, incredible story. LB I’m really excited to hear your last word. 

LB Harvey But the last and I loved this interview, and I think there were a couple of big themes that stood out for me, the first one is when times get tough, it’s a great chance to get back to your vision and your values. When things are going really well at a high growth business like Zeus, I think it’s easy just to double down on what’s working. But what I loved about this story is that when they hit some hard times, they were able to get back closer to the founding vision of the company, which was really essentially to be able to allow people to work and live wherever they wanted to, not just London or New York. And I think it’s a great lesson for companies in the good times and the bad times. If you center your strategy around your founding vision, good things will happen. The second is get back to your values as well. And I love when Kulveer said that. You have to really understand what you’re willing to give up to live up to your values. For me, one of the things that really stood out was that Zeus was willing to give up some short term profits in order to be customer centric. And I think that’s going to serve them really well in the long run. 

LB Harvey And you could just really see that come through and how vulnerable Kulveer was during the interview. And it’s so easy to creep away from this as you grow and you become more successful as a business. And it was really cool just to see how raw, transparent and vulnerable he was throughout that. 

Anthony Kennada Totally, totally agree with the LB. Well, look, that’s all for this episode. So for everyone listening, thank you so much. Remember to hit subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify or honestly, wherever you listen to podcast, if you enjoyed the show. And please leave us a rating and review. We really appreciate it and would love to keep bringing this episode. This shows to you forward. 

Anthony Kennada And as a reminder, you can follow the Heart of Business podcast as well as other great stories of how teams and customers are working together to make missions possible by subscribing to Front Page, the editorial site we’ve recently launched for founders, executives and customer facing teams. 

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