A hospitality startup survives the pandemic and goes on to conceptualize the next generation of membership clubs.
This post was originally written for investors of the ArkHAUS crowdfunding campaign. You can learn more on the campaign page here.
Nathalie Paiva (Co-Founder and Chief Xperience Officer) and I started working together in 2018, on a business that would soon evolve into CSTM HAUS — a beautiful multi-faceted hospitality business in NYC’s Meatpacking District. From a loft in the famed ‘Little Flatiron Building’ we opened up an event space and would immediately expand it to offer co-working during the days too. As we were located directly across the street from Soho House, we had also set our sights on opening a night-time membership — creating an all-encompassing day to night concept. Then COVID hit.
From Doomsday to Thriving
With a brand new hospitality business on our hands and a substantial lease to go along with it, we thought we were doomed. Thanks to a heavy dose of willingness to help our city, ingenuity, and aggressiveness we turned a doomsday scenario into one of the most effective, fulfilling, and profitable things we’ve ever done. You can check out our feature in The New York Times for more on that story, but for now let’s get back to our timeline.
Bienvenidos a Miami
By the time our “COVID project” wound down in September 2020, we were looking to get back to our expansion plans. CSTM HAUS was slated to open in 6 US cities, but only one of them was open enough to operate in — the Magic City of Miami. We didn’t have a location yet, so all options were on the table.
I had always been a fan of solar-electric yachts (the Teslas of the ocean) and kept tabs on Solarwave (which became Silent Yachts) and a slew of other designer-manufacturers. I thought one day, we would put a CSTM HAUS membership club on one of these yachts. Every time I saw a new model, concept, or Youtube video, I would show Nathalie and get a massive eye-roll paired with “Stop it with this crazy idea. We’re not putting a membership club on a yacht, even if it is solar.” Sometimes I’d show her a new video just to elicit that reaction. But ultimately, we both knew a traditional yacht couldn’t support our business model for a variety of reasons, and we focused back on-land.
A December 2021 business trip to Miami showed we could get an excellent short-term deal on the rooftop of the Faena Bazaar Building — within the Faena district that’s considered to be the pinnacle of luxury in Miami. We pulled the trigger in December and were open 3 weeks later in January 2021. We operated as a pop-up for 9 months with the goal of getting our feet wet in Miami (ahem) and identifying our permanent neighborhood and location. We never thought all of this would happen….
At First Sight
My friends and I have been playing in our very intense fantasy football league for 21 years running. No embarrassing tattoos for the loser, but we all travel and converge on a different city for our draft each year. So when one of our league members sent out a link about a show-stopping glass houseboat that could be rented for a weekend in Miami, I knew I had to show Nathalie my new solar-electric yacht crush.
From Eye Rolls to Jaw Drops
I prepared myself for the eye-roll and the “Stop it…” but it didn’t happen this time. Nathalie watched the video a couple times as she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This wasn’t a yacht. It was a gorgeous glass house, floating on water, and it could work for everything we were already doing with CSTM HAUS. I had never seen anything like Arkup, and neither had Nathalie. In fact, the world had never seen anything like Arkup. Instead of telling me to stop, she said “This is spectacular, and it’s absolute marketing gold. A membership club on this would sell itself. I can’t believe this”. That was the magic moment we knew we had something special on our hands.
It Was All a Dream…Until It Wasn’t
We actually attempted to purchase the original Arkup 75 before arriving committing to the Faena Bazaar Rooftop. It was too little too late — it had been sold to a private buyer. There was a silver lining though — the original Arkup 75 capacity was too low for our business model, based on US Coast Guard regulations. Thankfully, we kept in touch with the Arkup team and asked if they would build future boats with higher capacities. They answered that a new wave of even more modern and efficient boats was on the horizon for them, but they would be smaller, at 40' long. That footprint, 640 sq ft interior with an additional 1400 sq ft roof deck and patio exteriors was just too small for a membership club. So we asked about the possibility and logistics of connecting four boats together in a square. The Arkup team had already worked up an early image of this configuration, and when we realized that it naturally formed a pool in the middle, the decision almost made itself — we were moving forward on this project. We spent the next two months researching the feasibility, timeline, demand and much more. In June of 2021, at a BTC Miami satellite event we hosted at CSTM HAUS, we eagerly announced the project. The reception was tremendous, and again, we knew we had something spectacular on our hands.
If That Splash Wasn’t Enough
We had decided to announce ArkHAUS by offering the first “Forever Membership” sold by NFT (it was a crypto conference event after all). To our surprise, we sold the 1st (of 10) Forever Membership NFTs at 8 ETH.
With this much momentum it was time to set sail and create the next generation membership club.