Name: Emily Castor
Website: lyft.me, collaborativechats.com
Twitter handle (s): @emilycastor, @lyft
Works: Lyft Community Manager at Zimride, Co-Founder and Host at Collaborative Chats

You recently starting looking after community at Zimride’s new product Lyft – what is Lyft and how is it positioned in the market?

True story! I am pouring all my energy into starting up Lyft these days and having a blast.

Lyft is a new iPhone app for on-demand rides from awesome local drivers. You request a pickup and the nearest driver responds immediately to confirm. You see their name, star rating, personal and vehicle photos, and ETA. They arrive within minutes, scoop you up, and you sit shotgun on the way to your destination. Upon arrival, you see the suggested payment amount for your ride, which you can adjust to reward a great driver. Drivers go through a selective vetting process and background checks to make sure they are cool peeps AND safe behind the wheel.

Real-time ridesharing is obviously a hot space right now and different companies are taking different approaches. What distinguishes Lyft is the experience we offer to our users, both in the app and in the car. Taking a Lyft is like getting a ride from a friend. We see drivers using the service as passengers and passengers becoming drivers. So we’re offering incredibly affordable, convenient on-demand transportation as well as a social experience.

We just finished our first month of beta testing in San Francisco and the lightning pace of growth is keeping us on our toes.

How do ride-share services get past regulatory hurdles?

The current regulatory framework governing ridesharing and passenger transportation in California was crafted years ago, long before mobile and location technologies made a service like Lyft possible. That means the law is a few steps behind this kind of innovation. Fortunately, it still leaves enough space for our drivers to operate legally.

I would love to see policymakers adapt the law to actively encourage ridesharing as a environmentally-friendly, community-based transportation alternative.

Ridesharing reduces road congestion and carbon emissions and brings people closer together. It allows people to defray their costs of car ownership while providing a valuable service to their neighbors. Our task is to educate lawmakers about these benefits while acting in good faith to comply with the law as it is currently written, even though none of the existing boxes were designed with something like Lyft in mind.

You started Collaborative Chats just near the beginning of the year – what are the events like and where can people find out more?

Collaborative Chats has become a wonderful community for a diverse mix of players in the growing “sharing economy” of peer-to-peer marketplaces (think Airbnb, Zimride, TaskRabbit, or Wheelz).

The series attracts folks working at related startups, VCs, journalists, sustainability-minded graduate students, and power users.

Each event is a multi-disciplinary panel discussion with interesting thinkers from the tech world, academia, and government. I engineer the panels to include these different perspectives to break us out of the Silicon Valley echo chamber. Collaborative consumption has gotten pretty trendy; I like to bring in people who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid to ask tough questions.

I post news and video from each Collaborative Chats event at collaborativechats.com, and you can also find us on Facebook or follow us @CollabChats. We’re taking a summer break right now to cook up some exciting changes for the series – stay tuned!

What was your first job?

I worked as a pizza cook and phone order-taker at Round Table Pizza when I was 15 years old. I loved it. I can still remember the script I said every time I answered the phone and the computer codes for all the different toppings. I got a charge out of connecting with people I’d never met before. I guess I’m still that way!

My first real job when I graduated from college was as a Staff Assistant to Congresswoman Susan Davis on Capitol Hill in D.C.

It was a far cry from pizza, but I learned a lot about what happens in the kitchen of American politics.

You come from a background in public policy and politics – how did you go about pivoting your personal brand, so to speak?

When I first decided I wanted to work at a startup, I was intimidated. I thought no one would take me seriously because I had no professional background in technology. But I was relentlessly passionate about it, and I knew it was what I would love doing most. I began attending startup events, reading tech blogs, and engaging with people on Twitter until I started to understand the ecosystem and get connected.

Then, I was fortunate to stumble into a niche that was a great fit for me: collaborative consumption. The sustainability and community benefits of peer-to-peer marketplaces for sharing assets resonated with the goals I pursued during my years in the public sector. It was a specific enough niche that I was able to get to know a critical mass of the players in the space very quickly, and I became incredibly passionate about it. Passion is always compelling. I also established my credibility by becoming an active power user on a few of the sites and writing about my personal experiences. That made me valuable to the companies involved, who were able to leverage my stories to generate earned media coverage.

The other big pieces of the puzzle for me were extremely active networking, the magic of Twitter, and the exposure I gained by creating and hosting Collaborative Chats. Speaking at events – and giving others a platform to speak – is a great way to build your personal brand.

It all snowballed quickly this spring and led me to the most exciting, fulfilling challenge I have ever tackled – joining the team at Lyft.

How important has your Ivy League education been for your work today?

Going to grad school at Penn was an empowering experience. Succeeding there bolstered my confidence, teaching me I could compete and excel at the highest level. I am sure the prestige of that credential also continues to benefit me among those who use the school’s reputation as a proxy for my abilities when evaluating me. That being said, I am equally proud of my undergrad work at UC San Diego, which is where I really learned to think analytically and to write.

Who other events in our community do you attend and recommend?

I enjoy Women 2.0’s Founder Friday, events at RocketSpace, Chelsea Rustrum’s Sharers of SF Meetup, and various others I find through The Fetch and Startup Digest.

Lately, however, I’ve mostly been working through prime event hours! Duty calls.

What’s your favorite SF neighborhood?

My utterly biased opinion is that NoPa is the best neighborhood in SF. It also happens to be where I live. Its central location, relaxed vibe, proximity to the park, and great coffee shops earn it high marks in my book.

What’s next?

Blowing up Lyft!