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This is just a very good pitch for an Airbnb for horses

Dream Machine’s Alexia Bonatsos makes a surprisingly good case for a joke startup

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Alexia Bonatsos has watched countless startups come and go. First as the editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, and now in her current role as the founder of venture capital firm Dream Machine, Bonatsos’ job has been to understand what makes a tech company succeed. “A lot of it’s gut, but gut’s not magical woo-woo dust,” she says. “It’s taking in data and information and eventually making a decision based on that.”

Bonatsos has seen thousands of companies, and so on today’s episode of Converge, we turned the tables. Using two decks of cards — one with a set of famous companies and the other with a set of random nouns — we invited Bonatsos to draw two cards, and pitch us the resulting company.

It’s a game called Startup Bubble, and we last played it on a very special episode of The Vergecast. Bonatsos drew “Airbnb for horses,” and her pitch deeply impressed us. “I’m actually pretty sure that there are horses and barns all over America that just need a Casey to ride them,” Bonatsos said. “That they’re sitting there unloved and just want to be taken out for a drive.” Her suggested name for the company: Horse Power.

Startup Bubble caps an expansive interview with Bonatsos on subjects including technology that dehumanizes us, gender in venture capital, and her investment style on this episode of Converge, an interview game show. It’s a game that’s easy to win, but not impossible to lose — because, in the final round, I finally get a chance to play and score a few points of my own.

You can read a lightly edited transcript of Bonatsos’ pitch below, and you’ll find the full episode of Converge above. You can listen to it here or anywhere else you find podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Google Play Music, Spotify, our RSS feed, or wherever fine podcasts are sold.

Casey Newton: Alright, Alexia has drawn two cards. What do they say?

Alexia Bonatsos: Airbnb for horses.

Airbnb for horses. Very good, Alexia.

I actually think this is a viable idea.

That’s great. That’s how you win Startup Bubble. So pitch me this business.

Have you ever wanted to ride a horse—

Have I?!

... But not had a horse?

One hundred percent of the time.

There are a bunch of horse across the US, and perhaps even globally, that are just looking for somebody to ride them. That could be you.

So how will this business work?

Well, you build a platform—

A barn, you mean?

No, it’s an online platform where people could upload pictures of their horses, maybe even have a trust score. Like a horse score.

What goes into a horse trust score?

Not kicking you. Not bucking. Not relieving themselves while you’re on them.

All good things.

Personality, how congenial the horse is.

I love a congenial horse.

Who doesn’t? So, I’m actually pretty sure that there are horses and barns all over America that just need a Casey to ride them. That they’re sitting there unloved and just want to be taken out for a drive.

They say most cars go un-driven 90 percent of the time. I bet most horses go un-ridden a similar amount of the time, if not more.

Yes. It’s a simple yield management problem.


So what if there was a way to take the latent supply of horses and actually match it to consumer demand?

That seems like you could maybe make some money doing that. Now, here’s a question: what happens if a horse goes limp? Would you require the guest to take the horse out back and shoot it? Would that be a requirement you’d put on the guest?

If your Airbnb isn’t up to par, do you burn it down?

Certainly I’ve thought about it.

No, definitely not. We will definitely not require the guest to kill the horse.

Okay. That’s good. I’m glad I asked because you never know. Are any good names for this company coming to mind?

Horse Power.

Horse Power? That’s fantastic.

There you go.