The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: SF Local, Pete Ballotta of Couchsurfing — June 21, 2013

Interview: SF Local, Pete Ballotta of Couchsurfing

This week we interviewed the director of business operations for Couchsurfing, Pete Ballotta. Follow Pete on Twitter via @teknominds

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Pete Ballotta

What’s the biggest lesson from your startup experience before joining CS? 

Hire the best people possible at all levels.

When a company is successful and pressured to scale, it should budget time for assimilation and focus on recruiting top management.  If not, the early culture you developed will erode, top performers will leave, and momentum will be lost.

Is CS just for backpackers? How can professionals use the site?

Our members include backpackers, students, recent grads, professionals, and retirees.  Many professionals extend their trips for a few days, after a company has paid for the initial travel costs. I’ve hosted many Couchsurfers in SF the past year, and many of them were professionals that were in the Bay Area to attend industry conferences including GDC, PyCon, and Google I/O, or seminars at UC Berkeley or Stanford. Our community includes retired Hedge Fund Manager Brooke Allen, and pop icon Amanda Palmer.  I see potential for job seekers and entrepreneurs to use the site to attend conferences, interviews, or network without having to spend money on hotels.

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What makes the CS community unique? What advice do you have for other folks trying to scale yet maintain a strong community?

It’s a passionate and engaged community with members from over 100k cities in the world who bring a wealth of diversity and local knowledge to the platform.  Couchsurfers share bits of their daily lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.  The community has been growing for a decade, so of course there are different opinions and world views.  We’re excited about the ever-increasing interest in the sharing economy, and expect the CS community will continue to grow and evolve.

Do you notice a difference in style of users between Airbnb and CS?

Both options can offer a unique housing option to members, and I think there is a lot of crossover potential.  Couchsurfers usually have a desire to meet locals though, whether it’s for a home-cooked meal, a walking tour of a city, ride sharing, or a few hours of conversation.  There are Couchsurfing meet ups in 300+ cities every week, so many members interact with the community without leaving their hometown.

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What tips do you have for those people who have a hard time taking their vacation leave? Any mini-break suggestions from SF? 

Couchsurfers are practically everywhere and in the Bay Area, they are often using the website to share rides to Tahoe, LA, Napa or Yosemite.  A few weeks ago my girlfriend had a sudden itch to get out of the city for the weekend. It was a Thursday afternoon, but she decided to try to find a host near Paso Robles. We had wanted to explore the wine region there, and within six hours she received a message from a Couchsurfer offering to host us for the weekend.  Upon arriving, we found our host was not only a good cook, but worked as a winemaker for a 100% sustainable vineyard.  All of our stops that weekend were recommendations from locals, including a spontaneous invitation to join a half-dozen locals on a farm for dinner.

What professional and lifestyle events do you like going to? Any cool happenings coming up?

I’m a regular at SFRails events, and have been producing some of the local CS meetups. I’m a big fan of local comedy clubs, the Sunset/Stompy music events, Hardly Strictly, and the Treasure Island Music Festival. We’re hosting International Couchsurfing Day in our offices on June 12th, and there are “Couch Crash” events this summer in Boulder, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, and many other cities.

Favourite place for business meetings in SF?

I’m a fan of The View rooftop lounge at the SoMa Marriot, happy hour at Monarch, an SF Giants game, or free jazz at Rasselas.

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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.

Event Review: LeWeb London 2013 — June 17, 2013

Event Review: LeWeb London 2013

On the 5th and 6th of June Damon Klotz from The Fetch Community Ambassador team in London went along to LeWeb London to learn all about impact that the sharing economy is having on the world. 

3D printing pens and Loic Le Meur taking photos using Google Glass.
3D printing pens and Loic Le Meur taking photos using Google Glass.

LeWeb visited London for the second time in 2013 bringing together start-ups, entrepreneurs, venture-capitalists and the technorati from around Europe and beyond for two days to talk about the sharing economy. With my press pass in hand I was ready for an action packed two days to learn and hear from companies such as Airbnb, Yelp,  Etsy, Google Campus, Taskrabbit and Burning Man to name a few.

Day one and day two have both been covered in detail by a range of different media outlets and all the videos from the talks can be found online here. So rather than just repeat what you can find elsewhere I decided to sum up my favourite talks into tweetable quotes and bring them all together to highlight some of the key themes from the two days.

Day One 

What conditions are required in your business to collaborate and share.

Ideas can come from anywhere. But an idea is worth pursuing if you’re married to the idea and you know that in 10 years time you’ll still be thinking about in the shower.

If the 1st and 2nd acts of the internet were to get people to the internet and connecting then the 3rd will be how to get people back offline.

We will soon be able to use technology and the connectivity around us to help find a private space anywhere in the world to work in peace and gather your thoughts.

75% of the world population will be living in a city by 2050. This will cause excess capacity and goods that can then be married with a large marketplace ready and willing to use them.

By 2050 sharing in a large city will be second nature.

You never truly know how someone will use your product, platform or service. Sometimes the feature that you’ve hidden will end up becoming the most important part.

A small idea has the ability to change an entire industry. Taskrabbit started as a task and errand service that now has the ability to disrupt the whole jobs market and the way people find work.

This last point is not unique to this conference, it has been echoed by all start-ups and is constantly blogged about. One of the biggest problems start-ups face is recruiting. Finding people as passionate as you are, so that you can create a culture of cofounders.

Day Two 

The hippies from the 60s and the digital hippies today are not that different. Both of them search for meaning. Digital hippies want to create and purchase from meaningful businesses.

The sharing economy is not just a fad. There is now a financial component to sharing as well as platform to compare and share the services you use.

The legal implications that come with the sharing economy haven’t yet caught up entirely to this new model.

We are sharing so much that we are nearly at the moment when anyone could know what can be known about anything.

When a government can no longer help its people, then people will look to help themselves and then look to help others.

Don’t be limited by pursuing small ideas. Pursue a quest and a brand adventure and make the world a better place along the way.

Summary

I think most people will agree that access is becoming more attractive than ownership. But in order to provide a rebuttal, LeWeb invited Milo from Kernel Magazine to tell us 10 reasons why the sharing economy is bollocks. In summary, I walked away from the two days incredibly inspired and excited about what the future holds, but as I left, one question sat in the back of my mind. Where do we draw the line at what we personally make available to the world?

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About our Ambassador // This article was contributed by Community Ambassador Damon Klotz. Damon splits his time between being an intrepreneur by day at Ramsay Health Care, where he heads up Digital Strategy. He also cofounded a men’s mental health campaign, Soften The Fck Up, and blogs about the application of digital tools in business and the start up world.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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!

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