Sentral is Redefining Home
Sentral’s much-anticipated urban network of connected, residential communities establishes a new category in flexible living – combining the comforts of home with the adventure of travel. In this interview, Base New York partner Geoff Cook discusses his decision to join the Sentral board and explains what the brand’s Home+ concept means for this new approach to living.
Hi Geoff, congratulations on joining the Sentral board of directors! What made you decide to join?
When Iconiq approached me about joining the Sentral board, we had already been working on the brand for quite some time. And the more we worked, the more it became clear that the business model is completely novel within the residential and hospitality worlds, and that there is an opportunity to create an entirely new business sector.
For me, there's “Before Sentral” and “After Sentral.” Before, there were artificial lines drawn between the amount of time people would stay in an apartment, “longer than 30 days,” extended leases that were typically signed in yearly increments, and “short-term stays” that came more in the form of corporate housing and furnished apartments. And then to keep things interesting, Airbnb came on the scene. What's so compelling about Sentral is that from the outset, they said, “This model is no longer applicable. It's broken. And these lines are artificial.” In an ideal world, one should be able to walk through the door and say, “I want to stay X amount of time (a day, a week, a month, a year)” and have that process be standard. I found that idea, of truly redefining the concept of home, extremely compelling and ambitious. So I jumped at the opportunity to join the board.
What do you personally bring to the Sentral board in terms of your expertise and background?
I joined an immensely talented group of six people from the worlds of property management and development, real estate investment and hospitality. But I think the reason that Jeff Felder, who's the head of real estate at Iconiq, asked me to join was because he realized that we are looking to build a brand that, quite frankly, is unlike anything the world has seen. So there was no playbook as to how to go about that.
We're setting out to redefine home, and that ambition is obviously enormous, so the brand and communicating that idea requires nuance and an innovative approach. So I believe the reason he asked me to come on was for my brand expertise in helping to bring that vision to life.
Sentral has just launched in the US. What is the initial offering, and how will that grow and develop over time?
Sentral is launching with nine connected communities in the city centers of Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Austin, and Miami, with others across America to come in the short term, and around the world in the longer term. An underlying tech foundation allows for residents and guests to have an enormous amount of flexibility, the possibility to explore, and opportunities to earn money. Specifically to that last bit, imagine that as a long-term resident you travel two weeks a month. You can connect to the Managed Homeshare Program that rents your apartment for you. Turnkey. And offset your rent (on average) 25% per year.
What do you think has caused the shift in attitude change between a traditional rental model and the one that Sentral is proposing?
Prior to the pandemic, people were already changing the way that they were living. The younger generations were already mobile-first. They were working on the fly out of a backpack. The fact that co-working spaces became such a prevalent part of our society is just one indication of that shift to a much more mobile workforce. With the pandemic, the mobile workforce became a mobile live-force. We saw evidence of this throughout the pandemic. As a little anecdote, here’s a conversation I had with a friend of mine last year:
“Where are you?”
“I'm at home.”
“Oh, because it looks like you're someplace tropical.”
“Yes, I'm at this little surf town in Mexico.”
“Wait, but you live in New York?”
“Well, for the moment I live in Mexico.”
“How long are you going to live there?”
“I don't know, probably the next three, four, five, six months, and then I'll decide where I'm going after that.”
I’m sure many of us have friends like this, and I think this is much more emblematic of the way that people are living today. Sentral’s model is simply a reflection of this macro-shift.
Are these people part of a specific demographic?
There are definitely certain industries that lend themselves better to mobile and remote work: the creative industries, tech, lifestyle. My friends who are financial traders or in commercial real estate, they're not leaving NYC. They've been back at their desks for a year. So traditional white collar industries may have less flexibility than others.
However, for millennials, young Gen-Z’ers, and mobile professionals, Sentral will be an absolute magnet. This group tends to be single and sociable, so the connected community aspect that is provided not just through amenities but culturally relevant programming is also a big draw.
Who is behind the creation of Sentral, and how did it come to be?
Sentral is a partnership between two main groups. There’s Iconiq, which is the lead investor through its real-estate arm. And then you have Highgate, another investor that is one of America's largest hospitality management and development companies. In addition, on the board there’s Alex Halpern from Ascendant Capital Partners, and Toby Bozutto, who is a top player in residential real-estate management primarily in the DC metro area.
Basically, the company started as an idea between Ascendant, Highgate and Iconiq, and it was germinated at a board level. Once the seed had been planted, the board hired the very talented CEO, Jon Slavet to then grow the business.
What was the scope of work for Base, and how fundamental was it in developing Sentral as a brand?
Even as early as our initial presentation, something that we stressed was that this should not be thought of as a traditional real-estate business, because it's not. It's really a new model that merges much larger ideas about how we live, and travel and how we explore.
From the outset, we were looking at this from a much more emotional perspective than from business fundamentals. This was the starting point of a larger premise – the concept of Home+, which is shorthand for the accretive nature of Sentral. It’s a home + flexibility + exploration + world class amenities + passive income. And so on.
How is the concept of Home+ translated through the visual identity, campaigns and other branding?
It starts with the tagline for the brand, “Home is when you belong” (an obvious play on “Home is where you belong”). This idea of a community that is connected not just emotionally, but physically through a tech-enabled foundation. Next to this, we incorporate the “+” symbol, an iconic mark that can also have a functional purpose of demonstrating all the various aspects to Sentral.
How are the + icon and other elements of the visual identity applied to things like architecture, marketing materials, paraphernalia?
The way that we always work is that we really think of identity in terms of flexible and powerful systems. So at some points, you'll see the logo front and center. But a logo, as we know today, can't do all the heavy lifting, because there are myriad communications channels that we need to address. The graphic elements like the plus or the color yellow, or a certain tone of voice, you'll certainly see online or on premises.
Then photography plays a very important role. We really took a page out of our hospitality or even fashion playbooks to really illustrate the different aspects of what Sentral is about. And we've cast a wide array of characters that reflect the inclusive nature of the brand. Each of these elements play an important role.
What most excites you about Sentral?
There are so many things that come out of the tech world (read: “Silicon Valley”) that promise to change the world. To disrupt things. Very often that's a lot of smoke and mirrors. But I actually think that Sentral will fundamentally change the way that people live.
As we said earlier, the doctors, the lawyers, the bankers may go back to their desks. But there are a lot of people for whom the world has profoundly changed, and I think that Sentral will be the standard for the way a new generation of people live. Being a part of something that is behind such a seismic shift in our society is super exciting.