Q&A with PodShare CEO Elvina Beck
Elvina Beck is the founder and CEO of PodShare, a network of communal living spaces with locations across Los Angeles and San Francisco. The company, founded in 2012, has grown to over 200 beds with plans to open two new locations in the coming year. We sat down with Beck to discuss how PodShare differs from hostels and what she sees as the benefits of access over ownership.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Omni: Why don't you like being called a hostel?
Elvina Beck: Definitely the word ‘hostel’ is nasty in America, we hate [that word]. We’re co-living. With a hostel, the big differentiating point is that they don’t allow you to stay more than three weeks and lots of the people at PodShare have been here a long time; one guy has been here for seven months. Many people use this as a home because it’s so unaffordable to get a place elsewhere, and also you have to deal with security deposits, proof of income, utility costs, all that.
O: PodShare is legally different from a hostel?
EB: Yes, we're zoned for a group housing type of use which is hard to get [approval for], and time consuming. Many people would rather just buy an apartment building and rent out rooms for 30 days and longer, or do a hostel.
But there's nothing else on the market like PodShare that can offer different rates for short and long-term stays. There are apartments and hostels or nothing. With PodShare, short term travelers who are on vacation and have money to spend basically subsidize long termers by paying a bit extra per night. If you pay by the night it's $50 but if you pay by the week it's $40, for example.
O: Do you worry about maintaining the quality and community feeling as you expand? It seems like if you don’t have enough people staying long-term it would start to feel like any generic hostel where people are just coming and going.
EB: We have a good mix, of the 220 beds in our network about 75 are taken by long-term guests, meaning 30 days or more. I think if we always have that mix it won't turn into that. We have people here who do invest in the community, get a job, things that are more long-term root setting versus travelers who just want to eat out every night and have fun.
Having both types of guests is great because long termers save money and always have a rotating set of roommates they can go out with, to go on adventures and make memories with. Hostels are only ever changing and with apartments you always have the same roommates. PodShare is something in between. But I definitely think having a 50/50 mix is the ideal.
O: Why did you start PodShare in the first place?
EB: We opened our first location in Hollywood and the whole concept was that I wanted to live there but couldn't afford it. I thought if I could just divvy up everything including utilities, body washes, things like housekeeping because that's what people fight about most. If I could just do that I could afford Hollywood. And then I thought I didn't want the same roommates because I just found that to be boring.
Also around the time we started in 2012 the digital nomad movement was coming along, with more people opting out of 9-to-5 jobs in favor of this remote thing.
The confluence of those is that I was really hoping to have a revolving door of places I could go. Once we had two spaces it became possible for people to rotate between locations, so if you're staying with us for 30 days or more you're allowed to move between locations as much as you want, no questions asked. Just take your stuff out of your bed and go. Maybe you're staying at our Westwood location and decide to go hang out in Venice for the weekend, you can do that. Long term guests can also pop into any of our locations during the day to charge their phone, take a shower, just get out of the heat, things like that. "Access anything" is sort of the mission.
O: Why might someone choose to stay at a PodShare? What do your guests look like?
EB: We're sort of like bridge housing — some people just don't know what they're doing. Maybe they're looking for a job, or a new apartment. They may be new to the city and they don’t know anybody. With us they can meet people, check out different areas of the city to find a neighborhood they like. We've had guests who became friends and moved into apartments together. Others have just given up on finding a new place and stay with us for a while. Another one of our guests is a digital nomad who went to Bali for a month and obviously didn't have to pay any rent while he was gone. If you have an apartment that makes it much harder to do things like travel and work remotely. You have to keep paying, or find a subletter.
As our network expands around the country to cities like Austin and Chicago you can imagine how that will unlock even more opportunities to travel through PodShare. But people stay with us for all kinds of reasons.
O: There have been a lot of headlines regarding how you're charging $1,000 per month for a bunk bed.
EB: A ton of them. And it's like, "no, we’re charging that rate for access to our network of beds, housekeeping services, the community of individuals, the free ramen." And all of this in some expensive cities, without any security deposits or background checks or anything like that. Our only requirement is that you're a good roommate. If you're in a bad situation you can come to us and you're good. There aren't other ways to get what we're offering, the convenience and quality, for that low of a price.
O: What are your plans for expansion?
EB: We've signed on another location in San Francisco and I'm pushing hard to make it happen in San Diego. Austin is another city where you can expect to see us soon. It's hard to provide exact timetables because we have to negotiate with each city and find landlords open to the concept.