In the sharing economy, it seems everything and every space can be monetized. Homeowners can turn an empty room into profitable storage space (Neighbor) and even sell their unused driveway to someone looking for a parking space (Pavemint). Even commercial real estate is finding its own side hustle, as some bars and restaurants have discovered ways to make money moonlighting as daytime coworking hubs.
Quilt may seem like the next step in monetizing where you live. Its premise—an online community where women who are approved hosts throw events, or ‘Get to-Gathers,’ for other members in their homes or apartments—may sound like the latest startup spin on community, especially in the wake of the expanding number of social clubs and high-minded coworking companies such as The Wing.
But founders Ashley Sumner and Gianna Wurzl say Quilt, which has raised $3.8 million and currently operates in Los Angeles and New York, isn’t a marketplace trying to monetize space. The recent July 10 launch of a Quilt app only reinforces the company’s mission of building technology to allow women to open their homes for intimate, offline gatherings, whether it’s co-working, conversation, or learning.
“In this gig economy and sharing economy, underutilized assets are seen as things to make money with, but is that the direction we should take the world?” says Sumner. “For us, it comes down to having an energetic exchange. It’s never been about milking thousands of dollars out of the community or experience. Conversation comes first. The home is a container. “
The basic pitch—”a platform for other women to open up their homes and offer their own community experiences”—isn’t surprising, considering founders Sumner and Wurzl both came from stints at coworking companies (Neuehouse and One Roof, specifically). They became frustrated by the inability of these spaces and corresponding technology to support connection and community beyond transactional exchanges.
Sumner and Wurzl, who both had backgrounds in technology and advertising, met in Los Angeles in 2016. They realized they shared similar ideas around building communities and utilizing homes and alternative venues, as well as figuring out the right economic model to combine events and unorthodox spaces. They wondered if technology could facilitate intimacy and connection without requiring a huge investment in real estate.
The first iteration of Quilt, which launched as a website in 2017 and was featured in the New York Times, was focused more on turning homes into coworking spaces, with the roughly 1,000 members paying $20 for four-hour work sessions (“we were Airbnb meets WeWork for female entrepreneurs”).
But they soon realized that the women who wanted to be involved were not just entrepreneurs but freelancers, corporate professionals, and new mothers, and were eager for conversation and networking, not just a place to work. Smaller groups of women coming together for impromptu discussions, or what they call chats in the app, quickly became the most popular gathering type, and the platform evolved to reflect that preference.
The word “community” is overused in the startup world, but Sumner and Wurzl—who see everything from neighborhood based social network Nextdoor to WeWork-owned Meetup to the Girlboss digital community as competition—believe they can create a new kind of third place. Anybody’s home or apartment can play host to an event, breaking down barriers to entry and allowing the company to scale without having to purchase more real estate. Upcoming events in Los Angeles, for example, include “Sexuality Chat + Mimosas on the Rooftop,” “SoCal Women’s Circle,” and “The Gift of Procrastination.” Popular topics include creativity, leadership, and money and personal finances.
“I think the places that we gather in matter,” says Sumner. “For women in the ‘50s, the home was a place you were bound to, where you couldn’t necessarily create from, unless you had the excuse of something like a Tupperware party. Today, a home represents safety, intimacy, and connection. It’s also welcoming instantaneously. So many people are more introverted than we think, so it’s so much easier to walk in somebody’s door and meet five women instead of attending a networking event with 100 people.”
When a user opens the app, they can quickly access a map and calendar to find out what Quilt events are taking place near them. Users book and pay for events, and over time, the app allows them to track the people they’ve met at different events, and use in-app messaging to stay in touch. Currently, it’s $15 and up per event, which usually include around a dozen members, and $39 for a monthly membership, and hosts gets paid on a sliding scale based on the size and volume of their events, taking home roughly 80 percent of ticket sales. Quilt also throws “ask-and-tell” events featuring speakers or influencers, such as Ella Huerta, CEO of the self-care app Mend. As the technology grows, Sumner says, they’ll get a better sense of how different events connect women.
Quilt says their existing host verification system—applicants require a referral from members, share photos and identify who they know in the community, and have a phone interview with Quilt staff—works. They don’t run background checks, but after 2,000-plus events, they haven’t had a complaint or security incident yet. Hosts are free to check into the people applying to come to their events, but according to Quilt data, most confirm all who apply.
“We don’t want to just immediately have 10,000 people in other people’s homes, without establishing the guardrails,” says Sumner. “It’s important to be part of a community and understand what that means.”
Since chats have become the focus of the platform, they’ve had about 2,000 gatherings in the last year, mostly in Los Angeles, though the app also has a small presence in San Francisco and New York. Sumner and Wurzl want to keep growth slow and steady, driven primarily by word-of-mouth referrals, though they do plan to launch in five more cities later this year.
“We want to lead the charge to create high-quality connections,” Sumner says.