May 26, 2011
Chuck Templeton believes that the greenest thing anyone can do is not buy something.
That's why Templeton, the founder of restaurant reservation website OpenTable.com, and business partner Arun Sivashankaran, 35, are launching OhSoWe.com, an online hub for neighbors willing to share their stuff with each other. Templeton says he has borrowed a cooler, camping stove and iron from his South Lakeview neighbors — and loaned out a wheelbarrow and tent — via the site.
"One of the things I realized is that the greenest I could be by myself isn't as green as I could be in a group," Templeton said. "The greenest shovel I could buy would be to not buy one and to borrow one from my neighbor. … We're going to need to adapt and be able to live more locally and depend on the people around us because there will be shocks to the system."
He knows he sounds a bit alarmist, but Templeton believes skyrocketing fuel and food prices are just the beginning.
Templeton grew up San Francisco's East Bay and says he has had a "green tint" all his life.
"We used to take our cold water when you start the shower and use that to dump in the toilet to flush the toilet, to try and save water," Templeton said of his college years at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. "That part of California had a lot of water challenges."
After graduation, he took a job at a California company that built machines used to manufacture semiconductors.
A visit from his Chicago-based in-laws sparked the idea for Templeton's first Internet startup, OpenTable. Founded in 1998, it is now a one-stop shop for restaurant reservations.
Templeton's father-in-law is Lettuce Entertain You founding partner Bob Wattel, and the dining selections for the Wattels' visit were so important that Templeton recalled his wife spending 3 1/2 hours trying to secure reservations.
Although OpenTable has now seated more than 200 million diners and counts 20,000 restaurants as customers, it barely survived the tech bubble.
In 2001, the board hired a new chief executive, who pared the company back to four markets. Templeton stepped aside and took over sales. That same year, Templeton's wife, Julie, expressed a desire to move back to Chicago to be closer to her family. Given Chicago was one of OpenTable's few remaining markets, Templeton agreed.
He said he left OpenTable in 2004. He went on to run Chicago-based technology companies SignMeUp.com and Acumence. He dabbled in residential real estate but said he discovered he wasn't "mean enough" to be a landlord.
Two events put Templeton on the path to OhSoWe. OpenTable's 2009 public offering made him wealthy enough to work full time for free on the startup, and the birth of his oldest daughter six years ago compelled the 43-year-old to begin thinking about the distant future.
First, he began listening to audio books about environmental and social issues while walking his dog every day. The books inspired him to begin hosting "social movie nights" at coffee shops for up to 50 guests and to change his lifestyle.
Last year, he and his wife pared down to one car and moved within 500 feet of their kids' school. They harvest water off their roof, compost their waste, raise chickens and vegetables in their backyard, and are installing a wind turbine and solar panels on their roof to get their house to zero-net energy use.
OhSoWe is the next phase in his evolution. But Templeton acknowledges the site is not going to catch fire immediately.
To really take advantage of all of the site's features, you have to register, confirm your address via mail or online, and then email an invitation to join the site to your neighbors, who must complete the same process. All of that, of course, requires participants to know their neighbors and their email addresses. (How many people can say that?)
Templeton said that of the more than 50 neighbors he invited to join, about 35 have done so.
And there's another hurdle.
"People aren't about sharing and borrowing right now," Templeton said. "That's where the business model comes in. … We're building for the longer term."
For instance, when gas is $10 a gallon.
Melissa Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-222-4582. Twitter @ChiConfidential.
Five books that Chuck Templeton says changed his life:
•"Eaarth" by Bill McKibben
•"Storms of My Grandchildren" by James Hansen
•"Simple Prosperity" by David Wann
•"The Ecology of Commerce" by Paul Hawken
•"The Limits to Growth" by The Club of Rome
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