Posted inInterview

Reinventing rental: Stella Stays and the future of community living

Stella Stays’ Co-Founder and CEO, Mohannad Zikra, details his mission to reinvent global rental and living experience through their portfolio of tech-enabled branded residences

Stella Stays is a prop-tech startup with a clear mission to revolutionise the global rental landscape. The company envisions a future where individuals can seamlessly integrate into new cities, kickstart their careers, embark on adventures, and immerse themselves in cultural experiences, all while surrounded by like-minded people.

To achieve this vision, Stella Stays is reimagining the global rental and living experience. They do this by offering a portfolio of tech-enabled branded residences that provide residents and guests with a dynamic, community-driven lifestyle. These residences are equipped with modern amenities like co-working spaces, and they offer the unique flexibility to live, work, and travel anywhere.

Mohannad Zikra, Co-Founder and CEO of Stella Stays, highlights his vision, which centres around fostering community living and embodies the Future of Living movement in Saudi Arabia.

Can you tell us about your background and what inspired you to create Stella Stays?

I have a Software Engineering and consulting background, which led me to travel for business worldwide for months, feeling trapped and somewhat isolated in cramped hotel rooms. Stella Stays was born out of a desire to offer a place to stay that feels like home within a community of like-minded people. I combined my passion for technology and real estate to create our tech-enabled residences. We started in 2019 and have rapidly expanded across seven regions, offering beautifully designed and community-oriented apartment buildings with a seamless digital experience.

What are your long-term and short-term goals for Stella Stays, and can you share some insights on the company’s journey, especially your traction in Riyadh?

Stella Stays aims to create what we call the future of living and rental, offering fully-furnished apartments with community amenities such as co-working spaces in our branded tech-enabled residences in major cities worldwide. Our journey in KSA began with the Riyadh Olaya Tower 1, and we followed that up with another tower just a few months later. Both towers are operating at full capacity after about two months of launching with excellent feedback from our guests and residents.

We are expanding our pipeline to include several thousand units in KSA for 2024 and 2025. Saudi Arabia is set to welcome a massive influx of visitors and residents with Vision 2030 and the Winter Olympics bid, and we are ready to support by creating flexible living solutions as part of the housing infrastructure of the kingdom.

‘The future of living’ has been a hot topic in KSA’s real estate discussions. How does this concept align with Stella Stays’ mission and vision?

Saudi Arabia is one of the few places, if not the only place on the planet, that provides a blank canvas for real estate and infrastructure development with an unprecedented level of investment. I am very impressed by the ‘reimagining the future’ atmosphere at every major event that we have been a part of, such as CityScape Global, World Tourism Day, and many more. Similarly, from day one, reimagining the rental and living experience has been our mission. We create our version of modern living in Stella Stays residences that seamlessly blends the comforts of home with the services of hotels, creating a community of like-minded individuals where everyone can feel a sense of belonging and thrive.

Stella Stays in Saudi Arabia

With the rental market evolving in the MENA region, how does Stella Stays envision its role in shaping the future of housing in Saudi Arabia?

We realised that finding and renting a place to call home in many cities in the region is a painful and expensive experience, which I’m sure everyone can relate to — going on the listing sites, dealing with real estate agents, signing multiple checks, activating utilities, furnishing the apartments etc. As tenants, the prospect of signing a year-long lease only compounds the frustration of inflexibility.

As frequent business travellers, we often encountered the dull decor and cramped spaces of traditional hotels. Seeking a more flexible solution, we turned to vacation homes, but inconsistent experiences with messy homes and poor customer care were common.

It was clear that there was a problem that needed solving: How can we refine the modern living and rental experience for residents, leisure and corporate travellers? Our solution is simple yet powerful: tech-enabled branded residences in major cities, including Riyadh and other cities in KSA, are in the pipeline, offering fair prices and flexible terms.

Fostering a sense of community is a key goal for Stella Stays. How do you implement this approach, especially in the Saudi Arabian context?

We implement a ‘Live, Connect and Thrive’ structure in our residential buildings worldwide, including Saudi Arabia. Our co-working spaces, communal areas, gym, pools, and community events create a unique living experience, fostering a community that blends well with the Saudi culture.

In fact, more than 50% of our residents are Saudi nationals moving to Riyadh, and more than 90% of them cite “feeling at home” and “community” as reasons for staying long-term, returning and referring us to new customers. At Stella Stays, we often say that we don’t just offer a place to stay; we offer home and community.

Traditional property operators have their own ways of doing things. What sets Stella Stays apart from them, and how does this difference benefit your residents?

Behind the scenes of the physical experience of Stella Stays residences is Stays.AI — our enormous technology infrastructure that digitises and automates the entire life cycle of property management and guest experience. This translates into a seamless experience for guests and residents, with minimal headcount and fewer operational costs than traditional hotel and serviced apartment models, hence generating more profit for building owners.

Our brand, community and high occupancy all year round are driving the property’s value, resulting in several highly lucrative resale deals for property owners.

Finally, how does Stella Stays align with Riyadh’s vision to establish itself as a regional business hub?

As Riyadh becomes a regional and global hub for business and tourism, the demand for high-quality housing solutions will continue to rise sharply. In the last two years, Stella Stays has proven our business model in the KSA market, and we are working with multiple real estate developers and government agencies to scale our portfolio in the kingdom. We are here to support Riyadh’s ambitions as a fast-growing and reliable FDI partner in innovative housing solutions.