Getting a meal with a host at the moment is free. We are currently building out a payments platform to allow hosts to charge per person. This will help offset the cost of ingredients and time. We also have an events platform in beta that allows hosts to put on large group meals—Italian food night or Game Night, for example—usually with more than six people. There is a price per head for these type of events.
How did you get interested in this topic?
My passion in this space started with Airbnb a few years ago. I started renting my home out on the site, hosting travelers from all around the world. This was my first true integration into the sharing economy. I had intermittently used Craigslist and Ebay—the pioneers of the sharing economy—throughout the years, but Airbnb really turned sharing into an experience. Their ability to seamlessly craft a web application that lives online, but whose sole purpose was to facilitate meaningful offline connections, was deeply inspiring.
What evidence do you have to support your idea?
At this point, there are Meal Sharers in more than 375 cities worldwide after a pretty short history; we’ve only been in business about 10 months. There are about 1,000 hosts around the world.
We learned early on that authentic travel experiences are becoming increasingly important to people. Time and time again people are asking, "Where do the locals eat?" and "What are the non-touristy things to do?" It became clear that Meal Sharing addresses both of these issues within a trusted network. There is nothing more authentic then eating a meal in someone's home.
We did a lot of experiments in the early days of Meal Sharing. We used to post on Craigslist here in Chicago offering meals to people in the community. In an ecosystem that doesn't have a lot of trust and safety features built in, we still had an overwhelmingly great response.
Every big thinker has predecessors whose work was crucial to his discovery. Who gave you the foundation to build your idea? Who is your hero?
Rachel Botsman has been monumentally inspirational to me. She is a social innovator that has championed the growth of collaborative consumption. I read her book, What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, a few years ago and it laid the framework for how thriving sharing websites function and how important this movement is to a sustainable economy. I think the biggest take-away from her book is that the sharing economy is re-shaping how we view ownership. An economy that is built on ownership is now moving towards an economy built on access. These technology platforms give people the ability to access goods or services when they need them, instead of ownership [Think: car sharing services like ZipCar]. Long term, this allows for the ability to reduce waste, build stronger communities and help micro-entrepreneurs thrive. I modeled Meal Sharing on a lot of her principles.
In researching and developing your idea, what has been the high point? And the low point?