Get Inspired – Interview: Robin Chase

Together with my colleague Ramon Vullings, I had the chance to interview some great speakers at the Creativity World Forum (thanks Flanders DC to make this possible). We will give you the full interview that we did with Guy Kawasaki, Tom Kelley, Frans Johansson, Robin Chase and Marco Tempest. And of course we did something special. Instead of asking the ‘regular’ questions to give a summary of their talk or share some things about their latest book, we prepared 21 beercoasters with a question. The speaker could pick a number and decide which question (s)he got.

cover book peers incAnd some updated information – Robin Chase just published a book ‘Peers Inc’. Check it out via this link or click on the book.

CWF Robin Chase and Cyriel KortlevenThis is the interview with Robin Chase. You can find his bio at the bottom of the page. And we have asked Robin to write down his mantra. You find the picture of his mantra at the end of the interview.

Cyriel: Hi Robin, What’s your best tip to stimulate creativity?

ROBIN: Reading books that are not in my area of expertise or that I would normally choose. I just read – I didn’t just read, but two that I got suggested that I love, one was called The Diamond Age, and it’s a science fiction, futuristic book, and at the same time another one called Daemon.

What was hilarious, they were recommended to me by two different – I want to say white engineers in their 40s. Because I said, “I’m wanting to read some fiction. What do you recommend?” And they recommended these books, and I have thought about them and thought about them in my work. So anyway, read something that is not on your list.

Cyriel: Yeah, very nice. Another number.

ROBIN: Go for #17.

Cyriel: What’s your personal approach to come up with new ideas?

ROBIN: For me personally, what helps me with ideas is when I have to give a talk that is really important to an audience I really care about or is an important talk. I’ve found that when I have to come up with a new talk and I have this deadline with this audience, I actually have often stretched my thinking another stage, another stage, another stage for each one of those.

I would say for this book right now, when I was coming to the end of the book, I was again having to go further than I had actually thought through. So it was all these new – I thought, “Whoa, that’s so totally not…” And today I closed with these four things that came – 3 weeks ago, as I concluded my book, I thought, “Wow, it all boils down to these things.”

Cyriel: That was very nice. I really liked that.

ROBIN: Yeah, so that was hot off the press, like literally 3 weeks ago.

Cyriel: Perfect. And now #4. Which movie have you watched more than five times?

ROBIN: None.

Cyriel: None?

ROBIN: Oh, maybe The Wizard of Oz.

Cyriel: Okay. The Wizard of Oz, nice. That was a good one.

ROBIN: If I think about that, days of watching movies multiple times are restricted to childhood. I definitely am not doing that now.

Cyriel: And reading the same book, you don’t do that?

ROBIN: I don’t.

Cyriel: Okay, that could be.

ROBIN: Yeah, I don’t. I don’t read things multiple times. I’m really good at retaining ideas and terrible at retaining people’s names. I’ll meet people, and then I’ll meet them again a year later, and they’re very disappointed that I don’t remember them. But then, when they tell me the idea of what they said, I definitely remember the ideas.

Cyriel: I totally relate to you.

ROBIN: Humans… It’s terrible, isn’t it? It happened to me recently in a very embarrassing way. The guy who wrote about Google, like In the Googleplex or something – anyway, he wrote a recent book about Google, and I had been with him just after he had published it. No, about Facebook. He wrote the book on Facebook. So he was telling me and we had a long conversation; we shared a lot of information. Then maybe 9 months later, I was in a very small circle of people with him, and then I reintroduced myself to him. He said, “You don’t remember? We spent like an hour and a half together.” I was like, “Oh!” Let’s go for #7.

Cyriel: #7. Do you believe in luck?

ROBIN: Yes. And I have a really great line – I talk about luck in talks, and this woman CEO came up to me and she said, “Robin, I hate it when you attribute things to luck.” And you’re supposed to say, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” That’s good luck. Good luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and bad luck exists, and when that bad thing happens, you have to say that it had nothing to do with you, and that’s just what happened. There’s bad luck.

So on 9/11 in the U.S., a couple friends of mine’s companies were going to be financed on that day from people in that building, and of course it didn’t happen, and then those companies went under. It was just luck. I’ve had good luck, where I was prepared and I seized the opportunity. It’s the thing.Robin Chase_CWF

I can tell you a story of where preparation met opportunity. When I was doing Zipcar – this was in 2000 – I had decided I was going to put the logo and the word “Zipcar” on the passenger side door and “Wheels when you want them” on the rear bumper. I put it on the passenger side door because I’d had a car with my husband where the passenger side window didn’t roll down, and every time we got in the car – it was his car; he drove it – and he never repaired my side because he never felt the pain except when I was in the car, because he was the driver. So I realized, passenger side, they never pay attention.

But when I did it in 2000, cars did not have any stickers on them, ever, anyplace. And people said to me, “You can’t do that!” The marketer said to me, “You can’t do that because people feel like they’re in a pizza delivery truck. It’s going to be really embarrassing. no car rental company has their name on the car.” I said, “No, no, you’ll be a smart, cool, urban person. You’re going to like this. And this is cool.”

So because I did that, our very first car – it was the beta car, one car driving around the city – I got a phone call from the Associate Press and she said, “Hi, I’m a reporter from the Associate Press. I saw one of your cars driving around. We’d like to do a story on it. Which one – what car was it?” So that story came out literally right when we launched, and it was a shot heard around the world, and it was just like this incredible thing.

I also had chosen a lime green Volkswagen Beetle, and I chose the Beetle because in 2000, it was the new reintroduction of the Beetle. So there were none the streets. It was this beautiful little car that no one saw with the logo on it. I used to say, “And by luck, the Associated Press guy called me up.” I should’ve said, “What are you talking about? That was the plan. We chose a beautiful new car with the logo for this purpose.” And give me now question #12.

Cyriel: #12. If your best friend wrote a book about you, what would the title be? That’s a hard one. Or what would be words that would be in the title?

ROBIN: I’ll tell you the words. I was telling someone right now that when I give talks – you’ll have to tell me if you think this is true – what’s shocking to me is three words consistently used: passionate, honest, and inspiring. Then I tell my husband what really bothers me about those words – the inspiring is great, but the fact that the idea of honesty or passion around your work is a novelty is really disappointing to me.

Cyriel: It’s a very nice motivation.

ROBIN: It’s kind of disgusting, like how is that a thing? But it’s a very, very consistent – very consistent, those three words. So anyway.

Cyriel: Perfect. For the last question. Can you share a nearling?

ROBIN: Share a what?

Cyriel: A nearling. Any idea what it might be?

ROBIN: Something that almost happened?

Cyriel: Yeah, close. A nearling is something you did the first time or with the right intentions, which has not or not yet led to success, to the right result.

ROBIN: Oh, many. Many, many, many.

Cyriel: A nearling is between 0 and 1. Normally we say 0 is a failure, mistake, and 1 is success, and actually there is no good word except for an attempt, maybe, in between.

ROBIN: Okay, I’ll tell you one that now I can speak about because it happened a long time ago and it’s not such a problem. I launched in 2007 a company called GoLoco. GoLoco was a ridesharing company in the U.S., and I raised money from angel investors on it. I told them, “This is going to happen now, because now we have technology where I can do spectacular mapping, I can do email alerts, we have social networks, we’d have ratings and commentaries, we can build communities, and this idea of ridesharing from one city to the other – and the price of fuel is high – this can happen.”

I believed it, of course, wholeheartedly. I went and did it, and I raised money, and I branded. We tried everything we could, and after about a year and three-quarters, I gave half my money back to my investors, and I said, “This is not going to work in the U.S. at this time. It’s something that one day, I believe will absolutely happen. But right now, I cannot – even in the best circumstances, when all the pieces of this puzzle are aligned, people in the U.S. don’t want to share a car. So it’s not going to happen.”

Meantime, my person who became my friend, Fred Mazzella in Paris, launched at the same time, and BlaBlaCar, as you saw, now has 12 million users this year in transports. Two million people a month. So it was the wrong place at the wrong time, and I did not

[inaudible 00:11:51].

But when we think about learning, I feel very good about the fact that – and in the U.S. since then, there have been dozens of ridesharing companies that have launched. Dozens and dozens and dozens, and none of them have succeeded. One of them – and I just got, just last week, I got another one on my desk, and I said, “You know what? Here’s the email I sent to the previous four guys. It’s not happening.” One person wrote me back after a year and a half and said, “Robin, I want to tell you we’re shutting down, and I want to thank you because your advice was correct.”

But Uber – no, no, Lyft – Lyft, the nicer one – is a pivot off of Zimride, which was my competitor when I did GoLoco. Zimride was my arch competitor; I closed after one and three-quarters years because I said “There’s no way in hell that this is going to happen.” He went on to raise another $6 million, lost the $6 million, and he had been all the way through that and could not make it work. And then, at the very end, he said, “Huh, let me try this new idea of people driving their own taxis, their own cars.” So Lyft is a pivot from Zimride right at the very end.

But I will say, he studied out another 6 years and raised another $6 million that he lost. So for me, I feel fine that it was definitely not to be. I still spent a year and three-quarters at it, but I said “That’s done.”

Cyriel: And you learned a lot things.

ROBIN: I did, I learned a lot. Around platform building, when I launched GoLoco, I thought – and this is exactly what we all say not to do, is I thought “Oh, I know all about transportation now, I really understand this market, I’m really good with technology.” I spent a significant amount of money building a spectacular platform with you could make groups, you could put in these robust profiles, I could see where my friends were riding, I could put in when you’re leaving – all these nice things. You could put alerts on trips.

And what did we find out when we launched? People who are doing it, who are looking for a ride or going to post a ride, you can just barely get them to say the destination and the date, let alone say “My car has four seats,” “I want to leave at 3:30,” “I want to leave from this intersection.” If you can get from them the date and the destination city, that’s doing well.

So all the rest was like pft. “I don’t want to tell you what my Facebook/LinkedIn/blog is. I don’t want to think about who my friends might want to go rock climbing with. I don’t…” So then I was undoing, undoing, undoing, undoing, undoing, getting it down to this – it was fascinating. What we know is you have to start with the minimum viable product and you grow from that, instead of saying “I know what I’m doing now.”

Cyriel: Thanks Robin for the interview.

Mantra Robin Chase

Robin Chase is a transportation entrepreneur. She is founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the largest carsharing company in the world; Buzzcar, a service that brings together car owners and drivers in a carsharing marketplace in France; and GoLoco, an online ridesharing community. She is also executive chairman of Veniam Works, a vehicle mesh communications company based in Portugal.

She is on the Board of the World Resources Institute. She also served on the National Advisory Council for Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the US Department of Commerce as well as several advisory boards on transportation.

Chase has received many awards in the areas of innovation, design and environment, including TIME 100 Most Influential People, Fast Company Fast 50 Innovators and BusinessWeek Top 10 Designers.

Interested in more inspiration. Check out the following interviews:

Interview Guy Kawasaki
Interview Tom Kelley
Interview Frans Johansson
Interview Robin Chase
Interview Marco Tempest
Interview Fredrik Härén