02 July 2015

3 Questions Bitcoin Beginners Ask

I recently did a workshop at OuiShareFest conference in Paris, an introduction to bitcoin and the blockchain for a non-technical audience. I loved it. The attendees were from all over the world - many had signed up for my session in advance, and several more came after we met at the conference and I told them about my presentation.

ChangeTip integrations
At the end of the session (and for the rest of the week) I sent everyone their first bitcoin, €1 worth. For most people I sent it via ChangeTip, the great app that uses bitcoin for tipping, supporting writers, artists and charitable organizations, and making the world a genuinely nicer place in the process. I also tied the giveaway in via Twitter, since that's a simple way to send and receive tips, though ChangeTip is integrated with many apps, making it as easy as possible.

One of the best parts about the workshop came afterwards. People approached me and thanked me profusely, in Italian and Spanish and French, telling me that they had tried to understand bitcoin but it had been too dense and confusing. That this was the first time someone explained it clearly enough for them to grasp. That they were starting to see how the blockchain could offer all these other potential uses. And they asked questions - three of which stood out:

Why should we use bitcoin instead of fiat currency, especially when it's so volatile and insecure?

 In my talk I discussed the climate in which bitcoin was birthed, the disillusionment and distrust of governments, banks, and large corporations without the best interests of its users in mind. I brought up the economic struggles in Argentina and Greece, and the bank bailouts in the US and UK. The 3-day OuiShare conference itself addressed the conflicts between big "sharing" companies like Uber and the people who provided the services, not to mention others impacted negatively. So this audience had the background already, but had heard all about bitcoin's price volatility, Mt. Gox, and Silk Road. They believed the negative hype, repeatedly trumpeted in the news, and thought that bitcoin wasn't going to last anyway.

I could have also emphasized that the people who can most benefit from using bitcoin as a currency, however, aren't attending conferences in first-world nations. I'm talking about the unbanked and underbanked, populations that transact in micro-payments, who use their cell phones to pay bills, or who send remittances to their families back home every month. These individuals are laboring under exorbitant transfer fees, lack of access to credit or loans, and limited technological infrastructure. Check out some of the efforts of 37coins and BitPesa for examples of how bitcoin is another tool helping narrow the wealth gap around the world.

Who is running it all?

Even though I explained the peer-to-peer network, and this was a Sharing+Collaborative Economy conference, it was still very hard for people to grasp that this technology is truly decentralized. There continued to be a suspicion that someone somewhere can shut it down or break it or manipulate it all. Maybe I should have added this image of active bitcoin nodes to my presentation?

Source: getaddr.bitnodes.io

Why isn't it easier to use?

This question made me laugh every time I heard it, because I agreed. Why isn't it all easier to use? It reminds me that to use a tool created by brilliant engineers, we still need designers and educators and economists and writers and philosophers and more. It's also fair to note that we are in the early stages of this technology. I've heard it compared to the internet in the 1980's, which in the beginning utilized strings of numbers for email and dial-up modems to connect. Look how far we've come in 30 years!

The focus now is on the layers and services being built upon bitcoin and the blockchain. So the more people know about it and support its development, the more that momentum and engagement will propel it forward. This is exactly why I presented the workshop in the first place, and will continue to speak and educate the populace wherever I'm invited (check my Twitter for upcoming talks). I encourage you to come 'drink the lemonade' - it's delicious and exciting!

Photo credit: Scott Kennedy

Addendum 6-July-2015: This post has also been published on the Coin Congress Events blog - check it out and share it there!

26 May 2015

Introduction to Bitcoin+Blockchain for a Non-Technical Audience

I enthusiastically returned to OuiShareFest in Paris last week and gave this presentation to an eager and very appreciative audience. At the end I gave everyone their very first bitcoin too (thanks ChangeTip)!

Testimonials (in French, Italian, Spanish, and English) went something like this: "Oh my god I am so grateful to have someone explain this stuff in a way that I can understand! Thank you thank you!"

Want me to come speak to your organization or at your conference? I'll happily travel. Sample slides below.

13 May 2014

Recap of OuiShare Fest 2014, The Age of Communities

OuiShare Fest 2014 brought together 1,000 sharers from 31 countries under the big tent of the Cabaret Sauvage in Paris. On May 5, 6, and 7, we met in the middle of Parc de la Villette, by the scenic Ourcq Canal. Titled The Age of Communities, the five themes spurred us to Inspire, Debate, Co-Create, Connect, and Play, offering sessions ranging from the hands-on fabrication of furniture with a laser-cutter to philosophical explorations asking Is the Collaborative Economy a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? (Short answer, yes-ish.)

Conference co-chairs Francesca Pick and Benjamin Tincq of OuiShare opened the event by urging the crowd to create the event attendees want with the “platform” that OuiShare provided. After Tomás de Lara’s meditation on moving from an Egocentric to an Ecocentric Economy, the enthusiasm was palpable, embodied by Rachel Botsman’s declaration that the empowerment we gain from sharing will drive the momentum of this worldwide collaborative movement. The rest of the day was packed with activities and speakers in four different venues around the Cabaret Sauvage: The Circus, The Boat, The Camp, and the Factory, not to mention the pedicabs and vendor stands outside, along with the solar and pedal-powered generator providing music and phone recharging.

A few highlights from Day One:
  • Tomás de Lara opening the fest with a heartfelt talk framing the shift to sharing as a spiritual one.
  • Liam Boogar interviewing Airbnb Europe/Africa Managing Director Olivier Grémillon.
  • Manjil Rana’s creation of the first free educational institution in Nepal
  • Lisa Gansky emphasizing the business value created by the collaborative economy.
  • Professor Arun Sundararajan suggesting the role that sharing platforms like Airbnb and Uber can play in clearing regulatory challenges for the collaborative economy at large.
  • Economic historian Alexa Clay calling out the “misfit” personalities driving much of society’s experimentation and change -- and that was all before lunch!
  • After lunch, Ariane Conrad led a special conversation on the “Love Story” between OuiShare and Shareable concluded with the audience singing happy birthday to Shareable and the presentation of an amazing French birthday cake for Shareable's five beautiful years of existence. It was one of many thoughtful acts of love that brightened this year's OuiShare Fest.

Afternoon sessions brought in:
  • Discussions with French VC’s investing in the collaborative economy.
  • A bio-hacking presentation demonstrating bacteria pens that produce their own ink. 
  • Open-source beehives.
  • The “manically positive, professional try-er” Nils Roemen inspiring us with his celebration of the abundance economy.
  • The day closed with P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens on-screen from Ecuador via Google Hangout, explaining FLOK, a national project introducing commons-based solutions for areas like agriculture and education.
European ride-sharing platform Blablacar bookended the second day with a morning session and a party at night, both headlined “Fun & Serious” -- a good description of the day’s tone. Several other large companies discussed their involvement in the growing collaborative economy, including supporting start-ups as a low-risk exploration of innovative economic solutions.

There was also a focus on cities in the collaborative economy. Shareable’s Neal Gorenflo exhorted us to “rethink cities as commons instead of markets” and invited the audience to join the effort to build sharing cities with a new video; Vincente Guallart, Chief Architect of Barcelona, showed off several great projects they’re instituting; Michele D’Alena of Bologna impressed us with his vision of using government as a platform; and April Rinne gave some more examples of successful city programs worldwide. This seemed to also be a day to connect with people -- in sessions, in bathroom lines, during lunch, while watching performances, and working together. And, speaking of connection, one particularly notable and well-attended session pushed the boundaries of the sharing economy by creating a forum to discuss “new models and social contracts for love and intimacy” -- props to the organizers!

The third day of the conference brought a solid confirmation that this is a movement and not just a trend in Europe: France’s Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, came to OuiShare Fest “to learn, to meet, and to get feedback from people on the ground,” interviewed by OuiShare co-founder Antonin Léonard.

The Future of Currencies panel demonstrated the world’s first live payment of university fees in Bitcoin. Peers.org’s Natalie Foster named Sara Horowitz and the Freelancer’s Union in New York as a prime example of the kinds of mutual aid circles needed for P2P entrepreneurs. Zero waste and circular economy speakers Robin Chase (Zipcar + Buzzcar) and Helen Gould (Nesta) focused on the dangers of climate change. Pearl Werbach (daughter of Yerdle’s Adam Werbach), one of the youngest OuiShare Fest attendees at eight years old, read her essay urging grown-ups to share more. Ariane Conrad declared us all champions of this new economy, and Benita Matofska, of The People Who Share, insisted that the movement provide equal and open access to all. Sessions on co-working and co-living presented various sharing models throughout the world (and internationally, like Copass), and the day wrapped up with exhausted attendees catching cat-naps before the awards ceremony and dance party.

Questions of definitions came up throughout the three-day conference, as well as debates over the tensions around corporate backing of the movement, efforts to change financial and economic systems from within, and outsiders wanting to create altogether new communities. I saw big companies discussing how to adapt to economic changes and met people living without money. The atmosphere was positive and driven. This was an assembly of doers, creators, and thinkers. The thoughtful planning was matched by playfulness and generosity throughout, embodying abundance over scarcity. We ate well, laughed, and shared joyfully, learning, connecting, and recharging to take this energy back out to the rest of the world.

The challenge for next year will be how to bring more people into the circle, how to engage disenfranchised communities (scholarships for those unable to afford the registration fees?), and how to address the social and economic needs arising from a growing freelance workforce. I’m already looking forward to it! You can read more on the OuiShare blog, watch the wrap-up OuiShareTV videos, see the full schedule on the OuiShare Fest site, and find better photos as well as podcasts and tweets here and here. OuiShare is also hosting a Berlin Summit, June 4-8. See you there!
Images by Stefano Borghi.

This article was originally published on Shareable.net.

12 May 2014

Paris car borrowing - Drivy

I borrowed Elodie's car via Drivy to drive from Paris to southern Belgium. It's a French version of RelayRides. My quick synopsis: it worked great, included additional insurance options; the required actual paper paperwork for owner and borrower to sign was funny but effective; appreciated the flexibility on owner's part to charge more/less for return with more/less gas and more/less mileage.

Conclusion: I'd do it again if necessary but with the rental/insurance/gas (expensive)/highway tolls it was more costly than taking a train. With such a competent public transportation system in Paris/France/Europe, it doesn't make much sense to use cars most of the time.

08 May 2014

OuiShare Fest 2014

OuiShare Fest 2014 conference in Paris, France.

I presented on shared mobility - specifically car-sharing.

Here's a sweet little Day 1 wrap-up video with yours truly at 0:54.

Full summary to come on Shareable.net, with highlights and my impressions here later.

18 April 2014

18 April 2013

How to Share Your Car Like a Pro in 5 Easy Steps

Find out how to share your car... and make money doing it! (Photo by Toby Sanderson)

So, you want to dip your toe into this sharing economy thing, but you don’t know how to start? Peer-to-peer car sharing is an easy and safe way to do it. Follow these 5 easy steps from an expert and in no time you, too, will be making money with that under-utilized vehicle, connecting with your community, and joining a powerful movement.

My story: I’ve had my car since 2005, and as my jobs, projects, and schedule have changed, so has the frequency of car use. I’m now down to driving it only once or twice a week, but since I started sharing it in 2010, I have made about $10,000 off its use, which is its approximate current value. So, financially it has made sense for me to keep the car, use it occasionally, and share it the rest of the time, rather than sell it. My car has been borrowed over 250 times, and I have done between 10 and 15 interviews on television and in print talking about it.

There are now over 15 companies world-wide facilitating car sharing (a list is compiled below). They traditionally offer insurance coverage while your car is being borrowed and most of them have smart-phone apps for easy management. Car sharing reduces traffic congestion, oil consumption, and air pollution.

(Infographic courtesy Fast Company)

Ready to give it a go? Let’s get started.

1. Make sure you and your vehicle qualify*:
  •  Are you at least 18 years young?
  • Do you have a driver’s license and good driving record?
  • Is your car less than 15 years old, has less than 150,000 miles, and runs well?
  • Does your vehicle have a value of less than $50,000?
*These details vary a bit by company, so be sure to read the fine print before signing up.

Pro Tip: If the company you choose gives you the option to have a GPS kit installed in your car, do it. The keyless entry makes borrowers happy, reservations instant, and the company can easily find your car at any time.
2. Take photos -- lots of photos! Show people what both the inside and outside of your car look like. People like to see what they’ll be getting into. You can photograph your car in fun environments, put a local monument in the background, or take pictures from interesting angles. Basically, it helps to give your car a personality and make it look appealing. This is also a good way to track the condition of your car and make yourself and future borrowers aware of any pre-existing scrapes and scratches.

Pro Tip: Clear out and clean your car inside and out before taking the pics, and on a regular basis, to keep your borrowers happy.
(Photo courtesy Getaround)

3. Name your car and write a catchy listing. My car is The Proton, because it’s a Prius and part-electric and I’m a nerd. You can name your Mini “Minny,” or your Subaru “Shazam” or your green van “Godzilla.” Get creative!

     a) For the general info you’ll need:
  • Make, model, year, mileage, and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).
  • Color, features (e.g. moon-roof, audio-input, bike rack, all-wheel drive, etc.), condition, and a description of any pre-existing damage.
  • Any specific times or days of the week that your car is not available -- plan ahead for when you’ll need to use it.
Pro Tip: Inside your vehicle, occasionally leave special items or notes for your borrowers, like a picnic blanket in the trunk, or a list of good non-metered parking streets for the return. You can mention these in the listing or hint that there may be a special surprise for borrowers.

(Photo courtesy Wheelz)

     b) Set the rental price for your car -- you will receive about 60% of this. In some countries you should plan to pay taxes on it. Set an accessible price to start. Compare your car with other similar cars in your city (this makes a difference -- Honolulu and Paris have different needs!), and price yourself either below or at the average. Here is a handy chart from RelayRides with some suggested rates that I think are too high.

Pro Tip: Once you’ve had several successful borrowers and you start getting positive reviews, then you might want to increase the rates. Don’t be afraid to change the price up and down to find your sweet spot. You first want to get more people borrowing your car so that you get plenty of reviews.

4. Advertise! Many car owners forget this part. You have to tell people that your car is available. Several car sharing platforms offer referral credits, and some will even give you flyers to distribute.
Good online venues to post a listing are Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media you use. Don’t forget to spread the word to your friends and local network. And take this opportunity to tell them how righteous it is to minimize the number of cars on the road, how much money they’ll save by not buying themselves a car, and how they’re contributing to a more livable city.

Pro Tip: Since immediate neighbors are the most likely to benefit from the available car, I used to walk around my neighborhood with a stapler and put flyers in my local laundromat bulletin board, at the library, in corner stores, and pizza parlors. Remember to ask the establishment if it’s okay, and be prepared to do some educating about car sharing too.

5. Lastly, COMMUNICATE. (Good advice for all kinds of relationships!) Talk to your borrowers -- send them a short email or text when they reserve your car.
During the reservation, be sure to respond quickly to any inquiries. Answer the phone when an unknown number comes in because it could be your borrower. Make a good first impression by sorting out key exchanges easily, and setting clear expectations. This has been reported as the number one way to encourage more borrowers for your car, and Response Rate is often tracked in your owner profile.

Pro Tip: I have a brief script that I use whenever someone makes an instant reservation. It welcomes them, lets them know to expect the car to be tidy and clean, and that the tank should be full. Apart from being friendly, this alerts them to how they should treat and return the car.

So, now that you see how easy it is to get started, are you ready to join other sharing smarties?

To make it even easier for you, see below for an international list of peer-to-peer car sharing companies. 

Tell us in the comments if we’ve missed any. We’d also love to hear about your experiences sharing your car, or if there’s anything still stopping you.

Have a good ride!

(Photo by Toby Sanderson)

United States
Martinique, Caribbean (!)

This article was originally published on Shareable.net, an excellent resource for all things shareable.