Second Life Founder Tries Bringing Aspects of the Virtual World to Real Life

Coffee & Power, which was started by the founder of Second Life, is launching an online marketplace that allows people to buy and sell small tasks with one another — or even to meet up in person at a company-owned cafe in San Francisco.

The site is a little like Craigslist, but focuses on giving people a venue to sell things such as tutoring lessons, software development services, commissioned art or something as random as Hula Hoop lessons.

The concept draws from the latest trend in making small amounts of money from things you may already possess, through a designated community.

Others examples include Airbnb, which assists with renting out a room in your house; RelayRides, which lets you make money by leasing your car; and Zaarly, another online marketplace for people to sell used items or hire someone for their skills.

Coffee & Power was started by Philip Rosedale, the founder and former CEO of Second Life, a virtual world that flourished into a small economy, where players buy and sell items made within the game.

Rosedale explained to me how Second Life overlaps with what he’s doing at Coffee & Power:

“Second Life became more inspiring for me than anything else — not because it was an unbelievable Lego set, but because of what people did economically with the Legos. People were able to use it to create new jobs and inspire themselves to do new things with their skills they weren’t doing previously.”

For instance, Rosedale said, a person might be a software engineer in real life, but on Second Life, they might design women’s shoes and make $2,000 a month selling them to other players.

“We saw that in Second Life, and if we are right about Coffee & Power, we can affect even more people,” he said.

The site first went live in April, but is relaunching today. In that time, Rosedale said that 2,000 people have used it, completing 700 so-called “missions” — which are transactions — for a total of $10,000. The average value has been $15.

Some of the missions include offering to shop at Trader Joe’s for $25, or asking if someone could turn a suit into a zombie costume. Rosedale’s son will bake you brownies or teach you card tricks.

With all of these sites, there’s potential for fraud or deceptive practices. Airbnb had the most public example, when an apartment was ransacked by a renter and the owner’s identity was stolen.

Coffee & Power is employing some of the usual tools to help verify a person’s identity, such as allowing users to link their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles. But the most original part of the company’s concept is funding a coffee shop in downtown San Francisco, where members can meet up to exchange items and drink coffee for free. The cafe at 1825 Market Street is the first site, and Coffee & Power plans to open up additional spaces in other locations as it expands.

Another twist is that Coffee & Power does not let people transact in U.S. dollars. As with Second Life, all missions are conducted in a virtual currency.

Coffee & Power will charge people 15 percent to cash out whatever they earn, which in turn will encourage people to keep the money on the network and spend it on other items in the community.

The company raised $1 million in funding early this year from angel investors, including LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who also invested in Second Life. It has three founders and one full-time employee, and has gotten most of the development work accomplished through hiring software developers online.

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald