Chelsea Rustrum


Author & speaker
Lives: San Francisco
Nominated by: Kate Kendall

Chelsea Rustrum is a writer and speaker who believes we’re better off sharing. And she’s not just in it for the warm and fuzzies. She thinks we’re better off financially too.

The author of It’s a Sharable Life has devoted these past few years to exploring the ins and outs of how we can cooperate, give, exchange, rent or swap our way to a richer life.

This is her take on what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur, how to get someone to try something they’re scared of, and why it’s so hard to pin down what value really is.

How do you explain the sharing economy to newcomers? And why is it important?

It’s about deeply connecting people while being more efficient; using underutilised resources that enable people to save or make money using a peer-to-peer exchange.

So that’s kind of the sterile version. But why I do it? It’s because I think we need to go somewhere different. And where we need to go is more distributed value.

It’s about deeply connecting people while being more efficient.

What were the things that led you to believe there was another way to become more connected?

For me, one of the first things was co-working. My friends started a co-working space in Santa Cruz and it was one of the first that ever existed. I was fascinated about how it could work.

Chelsea rustrum_1

I’d been an entrepreneur for a long time but I’d been lonely in it. I’d been isolated to an extent, and kind of ostracised.

How so?

I grew up in a small town and I was the weird kid who built websites and made money on the internet.

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy area. Definitely not an area where you boast. I felt like there weren’t other people like me. That made me want to do it less. Be less outward about it.

So I came back from travelling and joined this co-working space. Then I went off and travelled again and I used Couchsurfing. That was the glue. It was being all over the world and staying with people based on generosity.

What is value? Is it money? Is value people smiling? Is it people living longer?

What do you think is the best example of the sharing economy so far?

I think cooperatives are a good model for that. There’s also co-working, and crowd funding. These are structures that keep the value where the value is created.

And then there’s the question of what is value? Is it money? Is value people smiling? Is it people living longer?

What is it for you?

It’s the wellness of our overall society. There are a lot of things. How much time can people spend working? How much money do they have left over? You can have a ton of money and no time. It has to be a number around wellness.

How do you go about getting people to believe in something they might not have experienced yet?

I try to relate it to an experience they already had. Or talk about things that are so outlandish to them that they think, People actually do that? And then I give some numbers behind it.

So for example, Couchsurfing has 11 million people around the world. 2 or 3 million are hosts that host for free.

Chelsea giving a TedX talk

What stops people from getting into it?

Scared. Like most things.

Scared of what?

Scared of strangers, fear of being hurt. For some people it’s just: Why would I share my stuff?

We’ve just been under a spell; that somehow it’s just better to take care of yourself and screw everyone else.

We’re missing a sense of belonging and connection. And a sense of safety.

So it’s about building trust?

Yeah. It’s building trust that we’re better together.

What do we commonly all need in our lives? What are we searching for?

We’re missing a sense of belonging and connection. And a sense of safety. There’s the sense of am I safe? What happens if I get sick?

A lot of that fear of not being safe is what drives people to want to make money. If I have money and I’m not safe, I can take care of it. You know?

What makes you feel safe?

Like a lot of people, I’m on the path of discovery of what that is. Feeling connected, that brings a great sense of safety.

Meditation is another thing that helps me come back to that. Also friendship, family and working towards this.

On the road with fellow entrepreneurs

On the road with fellow entrepreneurs

What did you take away from your upbringing that you use now?

I definitely had a very entrepreneurial mother. My brother and I were selling baseball cards and blackberries (that you can eat) at the top of our driveway. We had dinner and lunch wagons for businesses when we were in our early teens.

And then, of course, I started a website when I was 14. There was a heavy amount of encouragement to do whatever you want and try stuff.

I told myself this is going to suck for a while. But on the other side of this sucking is something different for me.

Was there ever a time where you felt like you can’t do whatever you set your mind to?

Oh yeah! About 5 years ago I had a dark night of the soul. I felt I needed to change everything.

Later I had some stuff that I hadn’t sorted out and I got really angry and sad. I went through a year of depression and I didn’t know how to handle it. I was in a relationship at the time and I ran out of money because I couldn’t work.

I thought, This sucks. I feel powerless. I told myself this is going to suck for a while. But I know that on the other side of this sucking is something different for me.

Where did that certainty come from?

I think I’ve done it enough times! I’ve hit that bottom in different ways. It’s a feeling. I don’t know where it comes from but it’s a good question.

Girl holding book

Chelsea on the road with her book, It’s a Sharable Life

What are you most proud of now?

That’s something I have a hard time with. I just try to keep going.

I’m definitely really proud of the book and everything that’s come along with that. I feel proud to be standing in a space where my inner voice and my outer voice are reflected.

And to be able to make money doing it. I’m proud of that! There were many years that I didn’t make money.

It’s one of those things that not many people talk about, right?

Right. There is a lot that can look good from the outside that might not be as good overall.

Listen to that late night voice that says, ‘What if?’

In the years after I went broke, I thought, I’m going to put focus energy and intention on making money and being paid at the value I think I’m providing. Whenever I do that I make money!

If you think you deserve to have money, you’ll have it.

If you could give your younger self advice, what would you say?

Follow your heart! The best thing you can do in life is listen to the whispers. Listen to that late night voice that says, ‘What if?’

Whatever it is go do that. Find a way. There is a way.


Find out more about Chelsea right here.

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