Relationship Economy Expert: Sya Warfield September 15, 2015

Sya is a business woman. She’s a massage therapist. A teacher. And a relationship economy expert.

Perhaps Sya Warfield is ahead of her time. But what exactly is the relationship economy, anyway?

This is Sya’s story, as told by Chelsea Rustrum, co-author of It’s a Shareable Life:

Let’s start by stating that Sya has been living in the relationship economy for nearly a decade,

Years ago, Sya was approached by a couple in Boulder, Colorado to live in their guest house to fix up the place. After that first exchange, Sya lived this way with four similar house sitting, exchange-type living situations. Previously, she’d had a Volkswagen van, which she was living in, but it was stolen on her way to Boulder. Sya lived rent-free by taking care of other peoples homes in Boulder for an entire year!

Pet sitting Sya, doing a trade

Up next? San Diego! She really wanted to go to massage school. Instead of ponying up the exorbitant rate for the teachings, she wrote them asking if she could help with anything while studying massage. Lucky her – they needed a receptionist and she worked under a “work study” for nearly a year while getting her massage certification. After which point, Sya traded a place to live for massage for 6 months in San Diego. The arrangement? 3 massages a month.

The final stop up to this point in her journey? San Francisco, of course. In 2007, Sya started her own massage therapy business. With the help of an expert web and branding expert, Sya had a beautiful website and logo designed. Duh, she traded with massage! This enable Sya to start her business without any kind of loan.

During the year of 2012, Sya decided to take her relationship economy experiment to a whole new level by living cashless for a year! She even went to Burning Man, had a ticket, and a tent, ride, etc. She lived with my co-author, Gabriel Stempinski during this period, paying rent with massage. What else has Sya relied on the relationship economy for? She says, “Everything! Hair, a running car (2003 Ford Focus), photoshop lessons, tailored clothes, food, and vehicle repair – pretty much anything you can think of.”


Most recent trade? Massage for use of this guys motorcycle!

When pinned what exactly the relationship economy is, Sya responded, “It starts with a need an ends with an offering, which is similar to how we do transactions, but it happens through and because of the relationship. Often the need and the fulfillment of that need is the bridge to that relationship.”

Sya’s massage studio for couples classes


Using photography for trade

Today, Sya still does trades. And she has a new skill to trade with: photography! See her live, in action doing a shoot, which she used for a trade.

Tips for others interested in living more in the relationship economy:
– Be clear on what you need
– ASK: “A lot of what I received came through the willingness to ask. I was careful about who and how I asked, and approximately 80% of the time, I got a yes.”
– Have something translatable to trade
– Be credible and have referrals
– Develop a reputation online
– Be social and likable

Sya’s massage studio for couples classes

And finally… why this? When asked why she chose a life of trading verses transacting with money for so long, Sya beamed “I’m so invested. There is no difference between me and the transaction when I trade. There is something so gorgeous about the experience for me. It’s all about the relationship. I’m totally focused on the needs of the person and invested in the result. There is no transaction that hasn’t work – every promise has been fulfilled. I treat my non-paying clients the same as paying clients. This way of getting needs met is just as strong of a value as money.”

Need photography? Massage? Find @syawarfield and hear more of her incredible story.


Chelsea Rustrum

Chelsea is the co-author of "It's a Shareable Life," a practical guide to sharing and in tandem, founded the Sharers of San Francisco, a social and educational series exploring the limits of what sharing can do for business, culture, and lifestyle. As a long time internet entrepreneur, she operates several web properties in addition to acting as a marketing and strategy consultant for sharing economy marketplaces. She's working on how sharing can be built into business models and the built environment.


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