This week we got some questions in with Chelsea Rustrum. Chelsea is an advocate of the sharing economy including coliving and coworking, a long-time entrepreneur and organises the Sharers of SF event series. She’s the creator of Startup Abroad – an initiative that saw 10 hackers, makers, doers and thinkers (including myself and Mat from The Fetch) head to Bali for a few weeks. 


You started Free Mania when you were just a teenager, what gave you the impulse and motivation to create something from an early age? (The business now has close to 44,000 FB likes!)

The mere idea that text and images could be communicated to anyone in the world excited me. Games never really did anything for me and until the internet, I thought the PC was a machine my brother wasted countless time killing demons on (unless of course, you count the Sega Mastersystem).

Once I comprehended the access I could have to others, I immediately wanted to be a part of it and put something out there. Thus, I created one of the first and best websites for free sample products and coupons on the internet.

Why free stuff? It was the first thing I typed in on Yahoo! And I was 14 – who could blame me? I wanted to see what I could get for nothing. As a kid I was a penny pincher, fascinated by the idea of turning something as simple as grocery trip into a money saving challenge. I remember telling my mom, “Hey, that one is cheaper by the ounce!” when I was just nine years old.

And so, I did. I taught myself everything I know about building websites and attracting visitors from the ground up. And mind you, this was still during the era where people were awed by simple technology. I recall being at a gas station and hearing two middle aged men discuss this “new thing” called email where they could send and receive electronic messages.

One thing led to another and before I knew it, I had over 1 million visitors a month, advertisers hounding me by phone and national publications talking about my little corner of the web in feature articles.

What is the ‘Sharing Economy’ and how does it differ from the collaborative consumption movement?

Good question.

I think both phrases allude to the same concept, but I prefer the “sharing economy” because sharing includes the idea that our needs can be met together.

Collaborative consumption seems to miss the mark on the cultural and social implications this movement can and will have on society. It’s not about consumption – it’s about doing more with less and connecting to other people more deeply.

Anything that gives consumers “access over ownership” is usually held up under the umbrella of collaborative consumption, whereas the new sharing economy relies on individuals trading goods and services on a peer-to-peer basis. So things like ZipCar and Netflix offer access and the ability to collaboratively consume, but they don’t have the human-to-human exchange that something like Airbnb or GetAround offer. They work on more of a timeshare model verses the idea that we have enough if we can just rearrange what we all already individually possess to be shared in a way that works for us.

What is the sharing economy? The sharing economy is an overlay on the traditional economy which re-imagines underutilized space, capacity, skills and time. Everything from a spare bedroom to a car that sits the majority of it’s life have value. New sharing platforms have emerged to facilitate references, trust and mechanisms for payment between individuals to share their assets as they choose, when it’s convenient for them. This allows people to save money, make money and lead more connected lives. And my favorite part of the sharing economy is that people I now think of strangers as friends I haven’t met yet.

You’re about to launch a campaign for your upcoming book – what’s the book about and why did you go for a crowd-funding campaign?

I’m co-authoring a book on the new sharing economy titled ‘It’s a Shareable Life‘, which shows people how they can practically apply the new sharing economy to their everyday lives to save money, make money and feel more connected to their community. The book has taken a full year to write and incorporates everything we’ve learned as users in an easy to understand format that guides you to a better, more fulfilling life.

You organize the Sharers of SF community – what other events do you like to go to around SF?

I enjoy Collaborative Chats, talks and the Commonwealth Club, local Skillshare classes and many one-off events and conferences that talk about intersections in technology, culture and how people as well as companies will respond to the fact that work can and will happen from anywhere for most people in the future.

The crew at a Sharers of SF event

You’re passionate about the emerging scene in Oakland and the East Bay. What are some happenings and spaces we should look out for?

The East Bay is emerging as this deeply artistic epicenter that’s slightly edgy, highly educated and decidedly cheaper than its SF counterpart. I’ve been spending time over there, sucking up the positive vibes, in tune with the raw potential that’s in the process of being transformed.

As Oakland becomes San Francisco as Brooklyn is to New York, I think we’ll see a lot more innovation and coworking spaces pop up. At the moment, there really isn’t much for freelancers and entrepreneur types, but I do happen to know of several interesting spaces and movements that are in the midst of generating the up and coming status quo in the East Bay.

For example, a group of self-assigned “hackers” have created a workspace unlike anything I’ve ever seen where they are melding the likes of computer hacking, bio-hacking and culture hacking with maker space tools and ideas. This space is community owned by the members who meet weekly to discuss how to best utilize the space. Currently, the space has a bunch of computers, a 3D printer and some biological experiments among other things.

I also know of a group who is aiming to open HUB Berkeley in summer of 2013, with pilots happening as early as spring of 2013.

And lastly, NextSpace will be opening it’s 7th coworking space in downtown Berkeley early next year where over 200 startups, professionals and creatives can accelerate serendipity with all of the necessary fixings including dedicated desks and office space, conference rooms, speedy wifi and all the caffeine one could ever want.

You took 10 entrepreneurs to Bali this past August as part of Startup Abroad – tell us more about the experience and the role remote coliving/coworking plays in creativity and connecting.

Remote work is the future for many professionals. As technology improves and internet becomes more accessible everywhere, our need to be consistently in the same environment every single day will lose their charm and necessity.

A snapshot of the villa from Startup Abroad 2012

 Location independent entrepreneurs happen to be the first group to successfully roam the globe while remaining productive. And services like Airbnb are making it possible to find new digs with all of the comforts of home (including pots and pans) anywhere in the world. When you know that you can plug in and instantly have community, location becomes who you are surrounded by.

Startup Abroad was an experiment into the future of work with entrepreneurs who wanted to have an experience working overseas, living together, coworking and eating meals with one another. The idea was that we’d be more innovative, motivated and connected if we could help each other grow in an environment which removed us from the comforts of our everyday realities.

There were no pre-scripted outcomes or assumptions. The result was a highly connected group of 10 people who became great friends and consider one another nearly family now. Even though every single one of us are stoked on the ways we intend to contribute to the world, the central focus ended up being one another as much as it was on work.


Yoga after a sunrise hike in Bali

Here we were in this self-reflective place (Ubud, Bali) secluded amongst rice fields – this helped many of us get values in line with our actions and offered a break for us to recognize how important the feeling of true connectedness is in our lives.

Being creative comes from allowing your mind to wander without limits and be unrestricted, so an environment like Startup Abroad offers the right context to think, create, plan and become a more focused entrepreneur. I’d say we accomplished that!

About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.