Meet the fintech billionaire making a fortune rewarding home renters


With support from American Express’ longtime CEO Ken Chenault, the founder of fintech Bilt Rewards has become a billionaire creating a membership rewards program for house and apartment renters across the country.

A few months after Tyler and Brian Albritton moved from Brooklyn, New York to Atlanta last year, they got an email inviting them to pay their $3,400 rent through Bilt Rewards and accumulate membership points for doing so. While neither had heard of it, they saw little downside. The couple are now saving these Bilt points for a trip-likely a Caribbean beach vacation. They can also get more points and other benefits by patronizing nearby merchants that are part of the Bilt alliance. That’s one reason Tyler Albritton makes sure to visit Bilt partner SoulCycle, especially on the one day a month when one random Bilt member wins a free month’s rent. “It’s really nice to be rewarded for paying rent,” she says.

Bilt Rewards is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Ankur Jain, who founded it in 2019. At the time he was chairman of Rhino, a fintech startup that offers low cost insurance policies in exchange for paying a renter’s security deposit. But he was looking for bigger opportunities. A friend with experience in the hospitality industry mentioned how much hotels and airlines actually make from their rewards programs.

digital-daily-cover-inline-1x1-ankur-Aleksandr Karnyukhin for Forbes
Aleksandr Karnyukhin for Forbes

Jain’s idea was to bring that to the rental industry. After all, it’s a huge opportunity: 44 million U.S. households pay rent, often their highest expenditure each month. But what if they could earn the equivalent of frequent flier miles or American Express points?

His creation has caught on with renters, property owners and rewards partners. While he won’t disclose how many people are using its app, Bilt says it has signed up property owners with a total of 4 million rentals (apartments and single family homes) in thousands of U.S. cities, plus more than a dozen airlines, several large hotel chains, gyms and restaurants. And it has turned him into a new billionaire. In January, Bilt Rewards raised $200 million from venture capital investors, who valued the company at $3.1 billion. With his 36% stake in Bilt plus other investments, the 34-year-old CEO is worth an estimated $1.2 billion.

That $3.1 billion is a fat valuation for a rather young company (Bilt launched its service in 2021), but Jain sees lots of room to grow, having signed up less than 10% of the nation’s rentals so far and with plenty of other potential partners to pursue. “We’re still very much in the early innings. We’ll be doubling or tripling our network scale this year,” says Jain, whose average renters are typically affluent Generation Z and millennials: The average age of a Bilt member is 29 and the average monthly rent paid is $2,800.

Jain’s plan appears to benefit everyone involved. It processes tenants’ rent payments–charging the landlord the same price as any payment processor. It then directs its members to use credit cards linked to the Bilt app at local businesses like gyms and restaurants in return for Bilt getting a sliver of the revenue those members bring in. Jain’s company then passes on a portion of that money to the property owners, though he won’t say how much. Bilt also partners with MasterCard and Wells Fargo, which issue a no annual fee Bilt credit card and return a tiny bit of the fee for every transaction made back to Bilt. (Every customer gets 250 points each month, but those who use the Bilt card get a point for every dollar spent on rent—up to 100,000 points a year). All of this adds up. Revenue for the Manhattan-based company should come in north of $200 million this year, says Jain, who won’t say what the company brought in last year.

Another draw: the option to have Bilt report customers’ monthly rent payments (for free) to the three credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian and TransUnion–with the goal of boosting the renters’ credit scores. Historically, landlords haven’t done this kind of reporting, says Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project. “For the most part, the only information about rent payment history that tends to appear on credit reports is if you move out of a property owing money,” he says. But Bilt’s offer to send in that payment information is part of a small but growing trend across the country pushing properties to report such information so on-time renters can lift their credit scores.

Despite its strong start, not everyone is happy with the fintech. Dozens of disgruntled Bilt customers have taken to Reddit to air their complaints. Last year, it was mainly about long waits for not very helpful customer service. Earlier this month they were upset about an email sent in error telling some members their accounts were being shut down. Jain says the company has ramped up its customer service. And Bilt gave 250 points to the people who received the erroneous email.

Bilt also promotes itself as an app that can help with users’ down payment on buying a home. That’s true, but only marginally. Each Bilt point is worth 1.5 cents, meaning that you’d need 100,000 points to get $1,500 toward the down payment. If members pay rent from their checking account, they get 250 points a month; if they pay using the Bilt credit card, they get 1 point per dollar. Even Jain downplays using Bilt for this purpose. “I don’t think the goal is to suddenly save up and cover your down payment with points,” he says. “We’re helping you understand what you can afford. We’re helping you build your credit.”

The extremely well-connected Jain has some high-powered believers backing him up. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whom Jain has known for about eight years, sits on the board of the now 140-employee startup. (Jain says they met through a mutual friend.) Bilt is the only private company for which Goodell serves as a board member. Goodell says via email: “Bilt provides a transformative opportunity for [consumers] to earn rewards in their own neighborhoods. It’s this commitment to hometown loyalty that resonates with me as a football fan and sports commissioner.”

Goodell was also the one who introduced Jain to former American Express CEO Ken Chenault–who’s now chairman and managing director of venture capital firm General Catalyst–last year. A legend in the credit card industry, Chenault became chairman of Bilt’s board in January. General Catalyst also led the $200 million fundraising round that month. Chenault knows a lot about rewards, having led American Express to introduce its Membership Rewards program in 1991. “I would not be involved if I didn’t think this could be a really big company,” Chenault says about Bilt. “This is an incredible payments and commerce platform.”

Jain has been steeped in entrepreneurship since he was a kid. His parents, both Indian immigrants to the U.S., moved from California to Seattle for his father’s job at Microsoft in the late 1980s, before Jain was born. (He’s the oldest of three siblings.) In 1996, when Jain was six, his father quit Microsoft to start Internet content provider InfoSpace. Every day, Jain would get picked up from school and taken to the office, where both of his parents were working on the startup. “I would do my homework, play video games and sit in on meetings,” he says. He remembers going on the road show before the company’s public offering in 1998 and getting up on stage. “It was for like a minute,” says Jain. “They were having me explain the ability to search someone’s phone number in the white pages online.” InfoSpace stock initially soared during the dot-com boom and Jain’s father, Naveen Jain, briefly became a billionaire in 2000.

Speakers At The 2015 Web Summit; Naveen Jain and his son Ankur Jain.

In their DNA: Ankur Jain’s father Naveen Jain (left) has founded several companies in the past three decades, starting with Internet content firm InfoSpace in the 1990s.

photo by Clodagh Kilcoyne/Getty Images

In late 2002 the InfoSpace board terminated Naveen Jain as CEO and chairman. Less than a year later, a judge ordered Naveen and his wife Anu to pay $247 million for violating insider trading laws in a case brought by a shareholder; the suit was later settled for an undisclosed amount.

The younger Jain has no comment about the roller coaster ride his dad took at InfoSpace. He was more focused on learning about computers. “I watched them build the InfoSpace website. That’s how I started learning coding, too,” he says. He went from coding at age 10 to building his first website at 11. After high school he headed to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he dove into entrepreneurship. During the spring of his freshman year, in 2008, he and some friends launched an incubator they called Kairos Society. “Most of it was a bunch of us building businesses together,” Jain explains. Sometimes he and others would invest in friends’ startups.

Upon graduating from Wharton, Jain and some friends moved to Los Angeles. There, in 2012, he cofounded a contact management app called Humin that combined users’ contacts, calendars and social networks. It gained some traction, and three years later, when Jain was 24, the startup landed him and his cofounder David Wyler on Forbes’ Under 30 list.

In 2016, dating app Tinder did an acqui-hire of Humin – buying the company’s technology (Jain won’t disclose the purchase price) and hiring many of Humin’s staff with generous stock packages. Jain became vice president of product at Tinder. There, he got a crash course in working at a fast growing arm of a public company–Tinder was then owned by Barry Diller’s IAC—shuttling between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jain left Tinder and moved to New York in the summer of 2017, wanting to start something new once again. He bought back the rights to his college-era Kairos group and rebooted it as an incubator and investing arm. That year he cofounded and became executive chairman of Rhino, a company that offers insurance for apartment security deposits. (Rhino raised money from investors at a reported $670 million valuation in 2022.)

In 2018, Jain and his friend Barry Sternlicht, the billionaire founder of private equity firm Starwood Capital, were talking about Starwood hotels’ guest rewards program. “It’s a shame there’s no loyalty and rewards on renting,” Jain remembers saying, thinking that such programs were cost centers and not feasible in a world of thin margins. “Then Barry explained to me that airlines and hotels make more profit from their loyalty programs than they do from operating hotels and flying planes.”

That sent Jain on a journey to learn more about rewards programs–and then to launch Bilt. “Delta makes $7 billion a year from their Amex Delta card,” Jain explains. “People are willing to adjust their spending behavior to earn those [Delta] miles. Delta gets paid for every mile and dollar issued. It’s a pretty amazing business model.” Jain calculated that the travel rewards market–which is mostly split among the five biggest airlines–isn’t nearly as big as the potential home rental market. “Could you imagine if we could pull together the residential market and give people a loyalty program for their home?”

In late 2019 and early 2020 Jain hired a small team of people from places like American Express Membership Rewards and JetBlue and got to work trying to sign up partners. Initial seed funding came from his Kairos entity. It was slow going at first. “The properties wanted to know if the merchants were on board, the merchants wanted to know if the properties were on board,” says Jain. “It was really this chicken and egg problem.” Then Covid-19 hit, which turned out to be helpful for Bilt. “Suddenly for the first time in this condensed period of time, everybody was willing to come to the table and try something different,” he says. As a result, a few property owners signed up, including AvalonBay Communities (which owns 90,000 apartments in 12 states), Related Companies (owner of 73,000 apartments) and Equity Residential (owner or investor in 80,000 apartments). Then some merchants signed up, including Soul Cycle and Lyft.

Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy website, came on as an advisor to Bilt in 2020, made introductions to the airlines and ended up becoming an investor. “From my perspective, Bilt is the next big thing since Chase Sapphire Reserve in loyalty.” He gushes about the special deals that Bilt offers–including double points on the first day of the month. And he points out that the Bilt credit card “offers you points like a $450 card would,” but without an annual fee.

In September 2021, Bilt raised $60 million from investors that included some of the early property firms in the Bilt alliance, like AvalonBay, plus Blackstone, MasterCard, Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital and Wells Fargo. Just over a year later, it raised $150 million from a group of investors that included more property owners–like Greystar Realty Partners and Invitation Homes. (Jain stepped down as chairman of Rhino in 2021 to focus fully on Bilt.)

Hurdles remain. The Points Guy’s Kelly notes that airlines are resistant to change and hesitant to partner, given that they have their own co-branded cards and rewards programs. Though Bilt has partnered with 14 airlines, including United and Alaska Airlines, Delta is notably absent. And American Airlines and Bilt are ending their partnership in June. In an emailed statement American says, “We continually evaluate our currency partnerships to ensure we are maximizing value for both our customers and American, and we have decided not to extend our partnership with Bilt.”

Some on Reddit have complained about the fees that Bilt charges. If you pay your rent with the Bilt Rewards MasterCard, there’s no fee (nor is there a fee if paying via bank account/ACH), but if you pay rent using any other credit card, there’s a 3% transaction fee–so nearly $100 on $3,300 a month rent. (To help offset that fee, later this year Bilt and Alaska Airlines will offer triple Alaska miles for each dollar paid on rent through Bilt.) Paying with a debit card incurs a $9.95 fee.

Chenault says he learned a few key lessons building Membership Rewards at Amex that apply to Bilt. First is the importance of building strong partnerships. “Ankur excels at that,” he says. Another is to keep the focus both on the end customer and the partners providing the rewards and experiences. “There’s a real commitment to coming up with rewards that people value,” Chenault says of Bilt. “They are constantly innovating.”

To that point, Jain is already looking ahead. He’s announced that Bilt is planning to expand beyond renters to serve Americans with mortgages. Details to come later this year, but with interest rates near all-time highs, it seems like another promising bet.

This article was originally published on and all figures are in USD.

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