The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: SF local, Chelsea Rustrum — December 20, 2012

Interview: SF local, Chelsea Rustrum

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.

Interview: SF Local, Emily Castor — July 16, 2012

Interview: SF Local, Emily Castor

Name: Emily Castor
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, 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!

%d bloggers like this: