Startup Stories: Mobile Barter Platform Swaps Things You Don’t Need for Things You Don’t Have
Around 7000 years ago money was invented; some would say that was about the time our problems began.
The global economy now relies on various currencies to represent the value of goods and services. But in some situations, like emerging economies or within smaller communities, money is in short supply and those goods and services themselves can function as currency. Barter systems provide a more direct route for people to get what they need in exchange for something they have in excess or a skill they can provide.
Josh Kline recognized both the continued need for bartering systems and the opportunity to use technology to bring them into the twenty-first century. He created have|need, a service operating on a global scale that overlays broad present-day availability of mobile communications and services onto fundamental principles of a barter economy, enabling need to meet availability efficiently and effectively without money getting in the way.
And technology brings advantages and opportunities that make the have|need platform very much more powerful than a simple upgrade to peer-to-peer bartering. Let’s say I have a lemon, and I need an apple. You have an apple, but you need an orange.
But the have|need service can act as a facilitator, overcoming roadblocks and making more complex interdependent transactions work with the application of a little intelligent, crowd-sourced sophistication. In this case, it might bring us together with someone who can swap my lemon for an orange—enabling us to complete our exchange, while providing her with the lemon she needs to complete her cocktail. You might say it’s a win-win-win.
You might also say cocktails sound a little out of place at this point; after all, we were talking about developing economies concerned with essential needs and surpluses. But Josh points out that his system can operate in a variety of environments where exchange is more efficient than purchase: “We provide value from the individual in a developing economy all the way to the global enterprise wanting to provide more impactful services to its employees and partners.” This commercial potential brings benefits to everyone, helping underpin the service and extend its reach to a broader, more diverse global community of users. While fighting poverty and improving lives in developing economies motivated its inception and fuels its development, have|need sees a self-sustaining, highly profitable future.
The company credits its success in part to strategic partnerships that help make the most of limited resources, like those with Oxfam and the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education that extend its reach. Kline notes the importance of efficiency and effectiveness in selecting the right services, and the right partnerships, to bring those services to the right places. He adds the support he gets from Microsoft has played a key role in the company’s growth. “The relationship with Microsoft and the financial and technical support of the Azure team has been of immense help to us—both for our current phase, and with an eye on the possibility of massive and rapid growth.”
It’s coming together, and Kline expects have|need will be the first breakout success in the barter space. Any advice for startups just setting out? He and his small team have already had time to build up considerable experience, so he has plenty to offer. In sum, passion for your work will sustain you, because it’s going to be hard. Assemble an equally committed team, and “remember why you started your startup in the first place; it will get you through the myriad challenges you will face on the path to success.”