Breaking Bread with the Sharing Economy


It was a pleasure for me to offer the leaders of the sharing economy a seat at the table. The guests, food, setting and conversation all made for a one-of-a-kind evening that I won't soon forget.

The plan to convene 10 guests with impressive pedigrees in the technology and collaborative-consumption sectors came together in a conversation I had with Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Chegg, several weeks before taping.

Chegg (named for the "chicken or egg" dilemma many Americans face when balancing the need for a college education with tuition expenses more fit for higher incomes) is an education platform that offers college textbooks for rent and homework help online. It reaches 30 percent of U.S. college students.

Dan is also the former chief operating officer at Yahoo and highly connected in Silicon Valley. He was instrumental in getting both this event and the conversation off the ground, persuading many busy founders of hot companies to actually take a night off to eat. It was no small accomplishment to get the young heads of Airbnb, Rent the Runway, Kitchit, Getaround and Uber to free their packed schedules on the same evening, as well as to invite brilliant veterans such as eBay CEO John Donahoe, Jeff Jordan of Andreessen Horowitz and Sherpa Foundry CEO Shervin Pishevar.

In Dan's words, the "Internet is changing, technology's changing, but what's really happening? There's a shift now to these new economy companies where entrepreneurs are creating businesses that not only employ the people that work for them but create opportunity for others."

As examples, he pointed out eBay, on which more than a million people make their living, and Uber's network of independent car drivers in major cities.

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In the case of Airbnb, homeowners make money on their excess capacity by renting out spare rooms or empty units to travelers. The apartment where we hosted this dinner is one of thousands in New York City listed on Airbnb. The owners regularly welcome guests from all over the world to their two-bedroom loft in the heart of SoHo. To host not just our party but the six members of our camera crew—and all the equipment—is a testament to their hospitality.

Aribnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky shared an interesting anecdote over dinner, recalling the year he spent essentially living within the site. He packed his bags, gave up his apartment, and couch-, apartment- and castle-surfed through some of the best listings this peer-to-peer marketplace has to offer. I got a version of that experience, seeing firsthand the best of the sharing economy.

The delicious four-course meal (from passed hors d'oeuvre to dessert doughnuts) was prepared by Dan Kluger, executive chef at ABC Kitchen, a Manhattan restaurant owned by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Dan works with start-up Kitchit to bring restaurant-quality meals to home kitchens. He and his staff cooked for us on a night off.

CEO Jennifer Hyman dazzled in a dress available on Rent the Runway, and many attendees said they had used Uber to easily book the rides that brought them directly to the party.

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Over a good meal and even better conversation, I learned that the entrepreneurs building a new economy "get the one luxury that's left in our life, which is time, back for a lot less money," as Rosensweig said. When it comes to the those who got a seat at the table, "these add jobs," he said. "They add opportunity. They bring more people to the party."

More people to the party, indeed.