Why have five men started a “girls only” club in New York City?

Why have five men started a “girls only” club in New York City?


Kiki, a startup with an all-male founder team, has announced a pivot away from its invite-only subletting platform model to focus on launching a “girls only” club in New York City. 

According to The Australian Financial Review, Kiki, previously known as EasyRent, raised $US4.5 million ($7 million) and was valued at $US28 million ($42 million) in August 2023. Blackbird Ventures, Australia’s largest venture capital fund, is reported to have a 16 per cent stake in the company.

The pivot was announced by Kiki co-founder Toby Thomas-Smith, who said in a video on Instagram, “We’re not doing subletting anymore. I know it sounds crazy but we’re launching a girls-only club in New York City.”

Recently, the team of five young men at Kiki employed the company’s first and only female employee, 25-year-old Australian, Caitlin Emiko as a “TikTok lead”.

Thomas-Smith described Emiko as “the first girl to join the team” and said she had enlightened him about a problem experienced by “girls” who move to New York City but struggle to connect socially.

“Ever since Caitlin joined the team, she’s really enlightened me to this problem I never even knew existed where so many girls in the city have moved here thinking that they’ll live their best possible life, but they’re just living, not thriving,” Mr Thomas-Smith said in the video on Instagram.

“There’s no central way to overlap. You can’t truly love New York if you don’t have the right people around you. So Caitlin, myself and the team’s new goal is to give you that life you saw in the movie, on Friends and Sex and the City.”

Kiki or EasyRent was first established as a subletting platform in New Zealand before closing down and launching in Sydney. It went on to close down in Australia and then launched in New York City last year. There have been reports of user issues with the subletting platform, as reported by writer Emily Sundberg.

Now, with the company set to launch its “girls only” club, many are questioning why the male-founded company would be dipping their toes into the women’s club space.

As entrepreneur and startup founder Lucy Wark highlighted on LinkedIn on Wednesday, how is it that these young, male founders were given funding for a subletting model that failed in two markets to relaunch in a third market?

And why are they able to pivot to a fresh business idea, a “girls only” club, with “no revenue plan”, as reported by the Australian Financial Review?

“Honestly best of luck to Kiki.nyc and I never want to wish failure on a startup, I know it’s hard. BUT the sheer volume of “things the average female founder could never do, let alone be rewarded for” in this piece is staggering – from flying international in their underwear and being applauded for it, to being given funding to try a model that failed in two other markets in a third market, to pivoting on a dime to a new business with no revenue plan after demonstrating an appalling disrespect for their early users,” Wark wrote on LinkedIn.

As we’ve reported time and again on Women’s Agenda, there is a obscene funding gap for female founders in startups. Just 2 per cent of US$238 billion allocated by VCs in 2022 went to all-female founded teams, according to PitchBook, while in Australia, the figure sits at just 3 per cent.

“I rarely get truly angry about funding imbalances and who gets the ‘benefit of the doubt’ these days because I really prefer to channel my energy into building businesses and doing pragmatic things to improve the situation, but yikes, this one got me,” Wark continued.

“Also – it’s “women”. Not “girls”. If you want to launch a business for us, do us the courtesy of referring to us as not-children.”

The pivot from Kiki comes as the startup sector faces harsher conditions amid economic uncertainty and as female founders continue to face roadblocks in accessing funding and wider discrimination.

And, as entrepreneur Emma Bates raised on Instagram, is it concerning that “an all male team (barring one woman)” is building a social space for girls?”

“While more men/male dominant industries (like tech & VC) do need to recognize the need for these safe spaces for women & girls to connect as HUGE (business) opportunities, building them with a male dominant team with only it seems (weeks?) of knowledge on this space is really alarming to me.”


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