For me it's natural to lend my worldly possessions to strangers - but then again I reside in hippie San Francisco and have been living, breathing and researching the depth and breadth of the new sharing economy while writing It's a Shareable Life.
I frequently share my car through GetAround (which allows you to rent out your car by the hour, day or week to strangers) but this time my needs were different - I wanted to find transportation to and from the airport and share my car with someone who could benefit in one shot.
Just needed a ride to and from the airport
On the day I was leaving for the UK, I needed to find my way to San Francisco International Airport. I could have parked my car on the street and used BART, but I live 1.5 miles from the nearest BART station and it's a pain to get there on public transit. Even if I could get a friend to shlep me to the airport, finding the proper parking in my hood without getting a street cleaning ticket would have been tough to say the least.
The crux of it? There's no easy way to and from the airport without spending an arm and a leg or enduring a 2-3 hour journey each way on public transit. A taxi to the airport costs $50-65. And then there is the options of airport parking, which will put me back $10-15 per day at the least expensive lots. The issue with airport parking lots is being at the mercy of someone to come pick me up in time to make my flight. I've definitely spent 20-30 minutes in the cold waiting for parking buses to come pick me up late at night at SFO. Urgh!
Taxi: $55.00 each way making the total cost $110.
Airport parking: A total cost of $90.00 for 6 days ± 1 hour getting to and from airport parking lot.
Public transit: $2.00 bus ticket, $8.00 BART ticket each way with total cost $20.00 ± 4 hours.
Ride from a friend: free, but cost of street cleaning ticket is $62.00.
So I offered my car to my extended network
My needs: A ride to and from SFO.
What I had to offer: A free Nissan Xterra for 6 days.
Since I'd lent my car to friends when I've left town in the past , I decided to offer anyone in my extended network (read:facebook friendsandtwitter followers)the keys in exchange for a ride to and from the airport. This involved tweeting and facebooking about the exchange just hours before my departure. With several thousand twitter followers, many people who follow me are people I've never met in real life.
So I put it out there:
Jesse Taggert responded to my twitter offer within minutes, a mere 4 hours from my departure time:
I was excited to see her response and responded immediately. Since I didn't hear anything further for a bit, I began considering alternatives.
Then I looked at other options
A friend on my facebook car exchange request reminded me that there is a new startup called FlightCar. The idea is that they will give you free airport parking, a $10 gas card and a car wash in exchange for the ability to rent out your car while you're away. Whether they rent your car out or not, you get the benefits. And they have a $1 million dollar insurance policy to cover you for liability or in case of any damage.
With FlightCar don't get paid, but you get super convenience. I called the support number and spoke with Kevin, the founder who informed me that a chauffeur would come pick me up as soon as I arrived to drop me at my gate. I liked the sound of that and since I hadn't heard anything more from Jesse, I made the appointment to drop my car with FlightCar.
Although FlightCar wasn't exactly what I wanted, it seemed like a better option than city street parking and a 2+ hour voyage to the airport on buses and commuter trains. And a taxi just seemed like a waste of money and resources. Plus, I liked the idea of someone actually using my car and getting something out of it vs. the likely outcome of my car being rented out by FlightCar in exchange for a gas card and some tire shine. Don't get me wrong - I love the idea of FlightCar, but I like the idea of helping out a friend or stranger more.
Had to go back to plan a - gifting my car to a stranger
Miss Taggert finally got back to me.
And from there, we spoke on the phone for a few minutes. She was way more detail oriented than me, asking questions about insurance, liability and giving me ideas for who our mutual friends might be for a reference. To be honest, I really didn't care or have the time to call any references. And from what I've learned, much of this stuff is about trust in the end.
I saw that she had a great twitter profile and googled her to find out who she was in the world. Everything checked out and we even had two mutual friends. I felt I could trust her. And the fact is, even if she crashed my car - my life wouldn't be over. My car is worth $6,000 and is fully insured. I'm allowed to lend my car to friends for up to 500 miles of driving with my AAA policy and they'll be covered under my insurance.
After the phone call and agreement for her to meet me at my house in a few hours, I called FlightCar to cancel my drop off appointment.
At that point I had a quiet reflection:
Trusting feels good. The mere act of trust gives the other person this warmth that they are valuable and worth trusting, which I think makes them want to be more worthy of that trust and therefore more worthwhile trusting. See where I'm going with this? Trust is loop - not a linear line, just as gifting is. Combine trust with the act of gift and magic can happen.
The Ride to the Airport
Jesse arrived at my doorstep 5 minutes early and I rushed out the door to greet her. When we met in front of my apartment, I instantly felt like we'd met before although neither of us could nail down where we might have crossed paths. Perhaps we just felt comfortable with one another.
I offered her the keys so that she could drive to the airport and get the hang of the car while I was in the car.
We had a great talk on the way to SFO, realizing that we've led very parallel lives in the past few years with deep interests and involvement in coworking, collaboration and marketing. Wow! And it turns out, we went to the same coworking unconference more than 2 years ago at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
I showed her the new bluetooth stereo I'd just bought and listened to her exclaim what she might do with the car while I was away. At this moment, knew I'd made the right decision. What a beautiful way to use a resource - to share it when it's not being used - stranger or not. How else do you make friends? You start out with some commons interests and begin trusting them.
Jesse pulled up to the United Departures and I hopped out to grab my bags. She got out too and said, " I don't know if I should hug you or shake your hand." We mutually opted for a hug.
Since she already had my flight details in a forwarded email and we'd spoken about pickup time earlier on the phone, I consciously decided not to mention it again - instead to simply trust that she'd be there.
Off and away I went...
Upon return - a hiccup or two perhaps
Upon enduring an 11 hour flight and one hour in customs, all I could think about was flopping directly into my cushy bed. And as picked up my suitcase from baggage claim, I had a strange pang of excitement - would Jesse be there with my car?
She was! Jesse arrived curbside within 2 minutes of texting her that I was outside the terminal. Yay!
The first thing she mentioned was that she got a street cleaning ticket - ack! A few things went through my mind at this point to the effect of, "SHIT! I hope I don't get stuck paying this. Urgh. This is the downside, isn't it?"
Then, I reminded myself of the trust I'd given her and held back my fears from showing in my tone or on my face. She said she'd pay the ticket by mail, but I requested she give me the money so that I could pay the ticket directly since I was liable. She'd also gone over a bridge and used my FastTrak - no big deal there, but that's more cash. She offered to write me a check and that calmed my nerves quickly.
On the ride into the city, Jesse started telling me about all the wonderful things she'd done because she'd had the car. She went hiking at Mt. Tam, went to the beach, dropped stuff off at Salvation Army and did some major shopping and grocery runs. Hooray, she really took advantage of having a car! Even if I did get stuck with the expense of the street cleaning ticket, which was a hefty $62 - its still would have been worth it.
Jesse requested that I drop her off on the way back home since she was meeting some friends in SOMA for some drinks and I obliged.
Upon arriving to her destination, we both popped out of the car and hugged one another goodbye, this time more naturally.
And away I went, jetlagged and happy.
I have to admit... I had the $67 on my mind the next day, but I choose to hold off on writing a "friendly" reminder message. After all, I'd trusted her this much thus far - what was a little more? I'd rather allow and trust and be pleasantly surprised than act out of the premise of fear of being taken advantage of.
Within hours of my urge to send a nudge, Jesse had PayPal'd me and sent me a friendly message instead!
For me? #missionaccomplished :)
Jesse's take on the experience
Jesse volunteered to give me her take on the whole experience and this is what she had to say:
'I almost didn't respond to Chelsea's tweet, but it was such good timing. I thought "What do I have to lose by responding?" It's part of how Twitter works. You are allowed to reach out to people. It can make you be more open to meeting new people, but also even considering arrangements like this.
To determine our level of trust, I felt we did our own rapid-fire Airbnb trust center best practices. She checked me out online and I did the same: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. I also knew I had chosen to follow her on Twitter for some reason or another, that helped.
When we actually met I was aware we were checking each other out to at the last minute make sure there were no major trust issues we needed to consider. Driving her to the airport demonstrated I would take good care of the car.
Insurance was definitely something I did consider and wanted to confirm. Does CA does have insurance that could cover her car in case something happened? I didn't want a simple act of generosity to cost me thousands of dollars if a fluke accident occurred. We agreed up front I would have paid deductible if something had happened that was clearly my fault, but her insurance would cover most major situations.
I was so grateful to have the car and not feel under a dollar-ticking timer like I do when using CityCarShare (which is awesome, btw). I went to: Fort Funston, Mt. Tam, Trader Joe's, Ikea, Target, and met up with a friend over in the Richmond neighborhood one night
Picking up Chelsea from the airport: it felt great to help her out after having use of this car for six days! Who wouldn't want to get picked up from the airport after a 12 hour flight?
The entire exchange from my point of view was all about transparency: This is where your car went, this is the toll, this is the 1 parking ticket. How should I pay you? No surprises. And I helped her get to and from the airport. Although clearly certain aspects of extending trusted in a fast tracked manner takes up brainpower, it was energizing. We weren't letting "the system" tell us how we should act around possessions. It's much more fluid than we realize.'
Wait - so why did I hand my keys to a stranger?
1.) It felt good
Jesse was awesome and I could tell that before I'd even met her. The sharing economy helps you find friends you simply haven't met yet by virtue of common interest and social connections. She not only ran a coworking space for a year, but does similar marketing work to me. Plus, it felt incredible to know I was helping someone else while meeting her.
2.) There wasn't much risk
I'm fully insured and my deductible is low. I'm technically allowed to lend my car to friends and family for up to 7 days or 500 miles, so she was insured under my policy anyway. Regardless, my car is not some Porshe I kept shined up in a garage for fancy occasions. The beast probably has a market value of around $6,000 so worst case scenario, it's still worth the risk.
3.) I trust my gut
Through visualizing friendships and our interconnectedness online, it becomes easier and easier to paint a picture of who someone is by virtue of who we might know in common. And twitter gives you a live stream of what's been said over time to a multitude of people. Take that a step further and Google the person and even take a gander at their Linkedin - do I need any more information than that? When I have three networks essentially lightly vouching for someone, gut feel is simply a matter of sorting through the information.
4.) We could both save money and time
We both saved money and time (see above for more detailed info).
What does the future of sharing look like?
After having the experience of serendipity and meeting someone new, exchanging goods and services human-to-human, I felt a surge of positive energy - which is the same energy that's fueled writing It's a Shareable Life. But I also came to wonder how long sharing economy will last as it is today? What will change and how will it change? To read more of my thoughts on this, with transportation in mind - please check out What does future of car sharing look like?
So a little backstory:
A few years back I spent a weekend in Austin, Texas. Being that Austin is one of those "must see" cities in the US I decided to Couchsurf so I could get a better sample of the local culture and scene. Never being a fan of long lonely drives I posted a rideshare offer on the CS Texas Group which ended up being accepted by a very new to the US and very pregnant Ukrainian woman. Our host for the weekend was a fun loving Engineer who was debating going to Seminary and his 200 lb Bernese Mountain Dog. While we appeared to be quite the motley crew we all hit it off wonderfully and toured around the town together.
On our second day in town we stopped outside the massive Whole Foods store downtown to rest and have a drink (those Texas summers are no joke) when we started chatting with a man named Aengus Anderson about decisions. Namely the tough decisions in life. It turns out Aengus was motorcycling (and couchsurfing) his way around the country interviewing people about their toughest decisions. We gladly participated and right there in front of the Whole Foods in Austin I told a complete stranger holding a microphone about the toughest decision I ever made and we parted ways with a handshake and a promise that if he ever came through town I'd gladly host him.
Fast Forward to early 2012: After a few other chats and interviews Aengus contacted me again about his new project. It's called "The Conversation" and its goal is to get a varied cross section of "American Thinkers", as Aengus puts it, to discuss some pretty heady topics relating to the state of the world, the future, where we're headed and more importantly, why?
When he contacted me to discuss the revolution in sharing, technology and community building I was thrilled to take part. I hope it's even half as fun to listen to as it was to record. So feel free to join Aengus and I in a Conversation about Sharing and its impact on the future.