Yariv(Ajar) Gilad is the founder and CEO of CasaVersa – a home exchange platform based in Tel-Aviv Israel. Our curator Dan Benjamin sat down with him for an interview about his journey.
Can you tell us how it all began?
CasaVersa is a home exchange platform. The concept is very simple – you stay in my place while I stay in yours. It is a platform that acts like a community service, saving our community a great deal of money by introducing individuals and families to host and be hosted elsewhere.
The actual experience of an exchange, where you are invited into the home of another person, though temporarily, allows people to live like someone else for a while and come into contact with locals in other countries as an ambassador of trust. For me,this is promoting the sort of culture I would like to be a part of.
What made you interested in collaborative consumption?
Culturally wise, I can tell you that my personal journey into collaborative consumption was a very natural one. Growing up in Israel, I was exposed during my national service years to the “Kibbutz” culture, which is essentially a community of people sharing their wealth and resources in various ways.
One particular community that inspired me is called “Ne’ot Smadar”, located in the Israeli desert. The people there were known for some radical acts in their endeavour to shape their lives and community. One of those occurred every year, when the members of the Ne’ot Smadar swapped houses with each other until the following year, when they would swap and move again to a different house.
The community members even took swapping much further: they removed all of their belongings from their homes and put them in a central location. In doing this, they re-distributed their material goods and beautifully coordinated with each other as to what was needed or wanted by their fellow peers. I do not know whether they still swap today, but it left a strong impression on me at the time.
How have consumers responded to your business?
Like many other startups, we are facing the challenge of building a community. There are always hesitations when considering a new alternative, and luckily we see a significant trending growth in the number of people that exchange homes worldwide in the last few years. Lloyds TSB insurance claims 1.6 million people were estimated to have swapped homes for vacation at 2011, twice the number than in 2010, while OnePoll estimates that 3.2 million people did a home exchange in 2012. Both of these examples are referring to the UK alone, and sources indicate the UK is 9% of home exchangers volume world-wide. Even if the margin of error on these polls is high, we’re still talking about 10-30 million people exchanging homes every year worldwide.
I believe home exchange has a lot of room to grow, and we are here to facilitate this trend and make travel much more accessible and attractive to a growing audience.
How do you compete with other companies in the same category?
Generally speaking all that has to do with peer-to-peer networks, transforming a hierarchical tree-like formation to a rhizomatic many-to-many network appeals to me on many levels. When you apply technology to this sort of social change on a structural level, you have an opportunity to create a new alternative, facilitating a transformation in an existing market, which is always very exciting.
In this sense, I find ethereum.org to be a very promising platform to create new sorts of transactions between individuals and collectives. I also find the reputation economy to be a critical component in this changing landscape and am very impressed by eRated’s implementation as an innovator in this playground.
What are the challenges your business has faced?
Personally, I always like the thought our success is tightly coupled with facilitating more trust between more people. Trust is our overall challenge in everything we create in CasaVersa. We’re a small independent team working in a Tel Aviv rooftop working space. With great passion and creative ideas, we have many challenges to address and riddles to solve, some technological and others strategic, though I believe we are well on our way handle those nicely in the near future.
What’s the most bizarre or amazing accommodation listed within your platform?
Though we’re in the very beginning with an initial growing user-base, homes on CasaVersa include a farm in mid-western US, resort-style apartments with pools, central city apartments across Europe and the US, and a gorgeous yacht moored in an Italian harbor.
Who do you most admire in collaborative consumption and why?
Rachel Botsman obviously for creating collaborativeconsumption.com, which makes a huge difference, nourishes awareness and a live debate! Michel Bauwens for an insightful critical thinking clarifying the possible roadmaps the different collaborative platforms may take. The talk he gave at Ouishare-Fest last year is highly recommended. Imran Azam for his relentless advocacy on Sharing Economy TV, constantly creating good debates and interviews, introducing and challenging more figures within this growing arena. Lastly, I’d like to mention a personal hero of mine which is Tim O’Rielly, who although not directly related to sharing economy, has provided the underlying spirit that drives motivation and interest in some intelligent and fertile directions, out of which the sharing economy is an excellent example.