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.

23 March 2013

Interview with Colleen Sollars, Community Outreach Manager, Couchsurfing

Host and couchsurfer in San Francisco

Though the practice of opening one’s home and hosting family when they’re in town has likely existed since the first humans traveled away from their parents, the generosity of offering a bed to outsiders has not been as widely observed. Couchsurfing.org was one of the first online platforms that made it easier for travelers to meet local denizens and experience their native culture by staying with them. Couchsurfing has been called the “grandparent of the collaborative consumption” movement and continues to serve as an introduction for millions of people into sharing their lives with strangers.

I recently connected with CS’s Community Outreach Manager, Colleen Sollars, to find out some of the history behind CS’s mission to “create inspiring experiences”, and learn a little more about its evolution and growth. She also talked a bit about her new role and the developing need for Community Managers at CS.

Caterina Rindi: Let's get a little background on Couchsurfing itself. 5.5 million members, including every country in the world. That's amazing! What is the Couchsurfing family tree, going back to its inception in 2003 or so? Who else was promoting this kind of sharing of "cultures, hospitality and adventures"?

Colleen Sollars: When the Couchsurfing website became public in 2004, there were a couple of organizations that were connecting people for home exchanges, but in a low-tech way. In the case of Servas, exchanging information involved getting a list via the postal service, and Hospitality Exchange came into existence online about the same time as Couchsurfing. 

A group of dedicated volunteers worked in collective households to build the early Couchsurfing site collaboratively, but without much organized planning or architecture. Couchsurfing began offering something unique, leveraging technology to give people an opportunity to see more information about potential hosts and guests, including photos; information about their home, their city, and the things to do there; and references from others in the Couchsurfing community who had significant experiences with that member.

CR: What do you think made the existence of Couchsurfing possible? For example, many analysts of the sharing economy cite the recession, and the growing ubiquity of social media and tech+mobile communication platforms for its appeal, but that came several years later. Couchsurfing started before that, right? So which technologies, movements or companies led to Couchsurfing?

CS: More than anything, what made, and what makes Couchsurfing possible is the deep desire in people to connect with others and have richer experiences when they travel. There was really no mechanism by which people traveling could meet locals without starting random conversations in hostels, hotels, pubs and the like. In some cultures, it’s impossible to break into local culture without an introduction from someone inside it.

Also, Couchsurfing is free, and that facilitates travel for many people who would not be able to travel as broadly, were they paying for accommodation, but it’s really a side benefit of a network that is, essentially, a global community of like-minded friends you just haven’t met yet. Upon using it, people quickly become aware of the meaningful connections that are possible through Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing has been called a grandparent of the collaborative consumption movement, and we are honored to be thought of in that way.

CR: Lastly, recognizing that your mission is to "create inspiring experiences" who do you think are CS's contemporary peers, either in the sharing economy or not?

CS: In my view, our closest peers are cultural exchange programs in schools and colleges, as we share a motivation: to bring people into better intercultural understanding. Lower-cost travel accommodation is a side benefit of the connections people make through our site. The real value comes with the exchange of hospitality and the shared adventures people have with no money changing hands. When someone hosts you purely because they want to meet you, and share their life for a brief period of time, you get a profound experience of the basic good nature of others. That creates lasting bonds between people.

Colleen couchsurfing in Turkey

CR: Now let's talk about you and CS. Can you tell us how this new community outreach manager role developed at CS and for you?

CS: Couchsurfing is operating in a fast-paced and dynamic way. Things change daily, and our organization has seen tremendous change in the past twelve months. I’ve been with the organization since 2009, and have worked in a number of roles, seeing the shift from a volunteer-run non-profit to a for profit corporation in the start-up fast lane, more capable than ever to continue fulfilling our mission. 

As Community Outreach Manager, I do a huge variety of things including: working with the media, finding amazing Couchsurfing stories from our diverse and active community, working with Couchsurfers who take media interviews (as is sometimes requested), and with the broader Couchsurfing community as well.

Having spent the last seven years as an active Couchsurfer, and more than three of those years deeply involved in the evolution of this organization, I was ecstatic to be offered the opportunity to share my passion for Couchsurfing more directly with the public as the Community Outreach Manager, and to support our members who are creating amazing events all over the globe.

CR: How does this position differ from the more common community manager position that many sharing economy businesses are embracing, not to mention CS itself, with Sam Houston's and Martina Steinmann’s roles?

CS: The community management roles at Couchsurfing are focused on how to best to serve our community as we, the community and the company, continue to grow and evolve. In addition to the traditional community management concerns that I, Sam, and our new Community Manager, Martina Steinmann, work together to address, my role as Community Outreach Manager, encompasses a few externally-facing responsibilities, as I mentioned. Really, community management is about acting as a champion for your community members.

CR: Any other thoughts or impressions you'd like to leave with our readers?

CS: Couchsurfing is not just a place to share resources, it’s about sharing your life.

CR: Thank you, Colleen!

If you’d like to get involved and learn more, you can join the Couchsurfing community online, read some members’ stories, and follow the CS tumblr for travel tips and posts.

Couchsurfers from around the world

20 February 2013


SHARE shadow
Teenagers spreading the word

Sharing advocate Taylor Emerson sent me this great photo she had her students create using shadow art.

Find this and other inspiring images on my evolving Pinterest board (CaterinaShares).

23 January 2013

RelayRides’ First Lady of San Francisco


Great title, eh? Lucky for me, writer Nicholas Pell has an excellent sense of humor. He slathered me with other complimentary titles, like "cultural shift early adopter", and "good at math".

Ok, I made that second one up, but take a minute to read the short article he wrote and get some tips on renting out your car through RelayRides or other car sharing services, something I actually AM good at.

Join me!

02 January 2013

Shareable video

In December, Neal Gorenflo asked me to do a video interview talking about why Shareable.net is important to me. I joined Shelby Clark (with his great new haircut) of RelayRides and April Rinne at the Hub and we had a blast talking about our passions for sharing and collaborative consumption. I was flattered by the smart company, and the video turned out really well!

Check it out, and then join me in making a donation. Shareable is a true hub of information and a brilliant resource for what's happening in the sharing economy. They're a non-profit, and your support means they can keep doing this important work in 2013.

Watch the happy video (I'M IN IT!) and donate whatever you can. Thanks!

30 November 2012

Sharing in a corporate environment?

I've been at Dolby a little over a month now and three significant things have stood out.
  1. It turns out I'm really good at being an Executive Assistant, even though I don't really enjoy the work. 
  2. My bank account has already leveled out, which is a surprise and a relief.
  3. I've met some very nice and smart people at Dolby, including an engineer who helped start a skill-sharing program in Australia.
I keep mulling these things around and around in my brain, trying to coalesce them into my next professional moves (by April, presumably, when this contract gig ends). But I end up with more and more questions, sussing out my values (again!) and priorities (again!) and desires (again!).

Can I live long-term with the satisfaction of a job well-done, even if it's not a job that's saving the world? What if Dolby asks me to continue with the company? Could I go part-time so that I could continue to do Sharing projects as well? Could I do different work with them that would be a better match to my social values, or is it ultimately always going to be working for a consumer products company?

How much of a difference will it make to not have to struggle financially for the future? I have done such a good job of living within my means for the past few years that in just one month with a steady paycheck I'm paying off debt and saving significantly. That was unexpected, and though I'm still restraining myself (haven't yet bought that new bra I promised myself), this new income is relieving stress I didn't totally realize I had. And it's also really a lot more comfortable to buy my friends (and partner) drinks for a change.

Lastly, in my internal explorations of the company I've found that Dolby has some existing Sharing initiatives (rideshare, CSA box distribution, internal community board for swapping, sharing, services, & support) and a culture of collaboration in research & development and across departments. There are significant efforts to keep communication flowing and encouraged; as an example, the Dolby archives library is mounting a huge project to collect study results and data from the research arm, to create an accessible internal database. This is an environment and a group of people that I enjoy working with, much as I didn't expect a corporate company to promote these and other sustainability values. The friendly Aussie colleague I met recently helped found 12 Thousand Days (with the blessings of Rachel Botsman, no less), a "serendipity engine to let people explore the abundance of a vibrant gift economy". We'll be talking more about his project, and what their next steps will be, when he visits San Francisco in December.

And maybe that's what will happen in these 6 months - I'll discover that choices that I thought were full of compromises are actually offering up opportunities. It would be serendipitous indeed to turn this temporary contract gig into clarity for my own professional development. I'm becoming more optimistic. :)

24 October 2012

Sharing vs Making Money

This week I started a full-time job at Dolby, the famed audio company, as an executive assistant and project manager in the sound research department. Though I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with smart people in a well-established and respected tech company, my move to full-time employment was not completely by choice.

For the past year or so I have been hashing out a living as a sharing micropreneur, sharing my car, rides, services, skills, and stuff, as well as doing contract work (bookkeeping, editing, research, translations) and I would have preferred to keep doing that. I love connecting with strangers, introducing them to collaborative consumption and the excellent city of San Francisco. I love sharing resources to reduce our environmental impact, and building community both in my immediate neighborhood and online. I'm thrilled to discover new tech sharing solutions that avoid waste and extend the life of our stuff. And I thrive in the schedule flexibility and variety of contract work.

But a few months ago our building was sold and the new owners moved themselves in and us out. After 8 years of living in Potrero Hill in a rent-controlled apartment, we were forced to find a new place in the toughest rental market SF has seen since the last tech boom. And with the increase in expenses came my need to have a steady and higher income. Thus, my move to Dolby for a temporary position (6 months) replacing an employee on maternity leave.

I feel quite lucky to have found this job so quickly, and to have the organizational skills and experience to be able to step into an EA position. I'm determined to make the best of it - to learn as much as I can, do a good job supporting the research department, and to save as much money as possible. And in keeping with my sharing evangelism, I am going to take this opportunity to see what kinds of sharing initiatives already exist at Dolby and, if the corporate environment is receptive to it, what kinds of sharing programs I might be able to introduce.

A quick brainstorm with the generous folks at Shareable (thanks Millicent, Neal, and Seth!) netted these ideas:
  • ride sharing
  • Scoot station
  • meal sharing
  • CSA box distribution point (a carryover from my Share | Kitchen plans)
  • media/book exchange. 
What are some other possibilities? (Please leave suggestions in the comments.)

I'm going to track this effort on my website, and try to balance my enthusiasm with an honest description of the results, be they successful or not. There are some interesting questions to be answered along the way: what factors motivate a corporation to institute sharing initiatives? How can we best elucidate the benefits? Is it all about the financial bottom line?  How does sharing improve employee morale and how can we measure that? Within the corporate structure, who is responsible for bringing a sharing initiative to life?