Wed · Aug 17

Simbi Lets You Trade Your Skills for the Things You Want

Simbi is a platform for artisans and freelancers to exchange services. With Simbi, you can trade any of your skills, like photography, for credits that you can spend in the Simbi network. You can redeem your credits for things like salsa lessons, photo retouching, or thousands of other services offered by the community. We sat down with founder KJ Erickson to hear about how Simbi was started.

What YC Likes About Simbi:

"Simbi has the potential to be huge. Millions of people have useful skills others can benefit from but exchanging them with other almost always happens on an informal, small-scale basis. Simbi can be the key that unlocks all of that human potential."
-Dalton Caldwell, Partner at Y Combinator

How’d you come up with idea for Simbi?

After working on my first venture, FORGE, throughout my 20s, I had a sort of interlude. I opened a yoga studio in Petaluma. I didn’t make a ton of money, but I had enough for rent and groceries. I found myself in the position of many Americans - struggling to pay bills, unable to save, and certainly without the means to afford many experiences and services that can make life easier and more fun.

Then, I started trading yoga lessons for things like massages, manicures, and even home renovations. I was making the equivalent of a six-figure salary just from trading my services.

I realized that barter was this huge, underserved shadow economy that is mostly hidden from the internet entrepreneurs of the world. No one had ever built a marketplace to make the barter economy efficient. Simbi is just that -- we are taking a perennial behavior and applying to it the internet’s incredible power of information efficiency, reputation management, and network effects.

How were people doing these exchanges before?

Offline service exchanging is completely dependent on who you know. When I was trading yoga lessons, I encountered a lot of coordination and accountability problems inherent in two-sided trades. But despite its inefficiencies, billions of dollars of value are traded each year in the US alone.

What are some of these problems?

Often, you run into the trouble of people wanting your service but you didn’t need theirs. Or vice versa. There was this weird mismatch of services and no efficient way to trade. So when I built Simbi I wanted people to still still be able to carry out that transaction, but instead of getting their service, you can get credits which you can then use on something you do want.

Ok so walk me through this. I’m a photographer and I want to get a new logo for my business. How would the process work?

When you join Simbi, you’re asked to offer your services to the network. You start off with an initial allotment of credits like in a social game. You can use those credits to “pay” a graphic designer, or you could offer to directly trade your photography for their graphic design.

How have people responded to this platform? Do they like it or is it weird?

The one thing we hear most often from users is that they’ve been talking about this idea for ages and someone finally built it! The most surprising thing to me is how much it’s become a social network as much as anything else. It’s launching friendships in new cities -- people are building these Simbi communities around themselves. Once they’ve received a great service, Simbi becomes this internal reference engine for them to tell all their friends. I think it’s fascinating to see communities being built from scratch.

The numbers are pretty crazy. We launched the beta in January and we’ve seen more than 10,000 services offered across 100 different categories.

What’s the biggest challenge with building Simbi?

For us, the challenge is getting people to do their first deal. It’s a new behavior -- it requires reaching out and trying something different, oftentimes by meeting strangers offline. Luckily the many startups that have come before us -- Airbnb, Tinder, even Taskrabbit -- have laid the groundwork for facilitating trust in strangers. . We require that new users sign up with a Facebook or LinkedIn account, and we have reviews and recommendations for accountability and transparency.

What’s the coolest service you’ve seen on Simbi so far?

There are a ton of interesting ones. I saw one recently that was called Make a Trailer of You. Basically this guy will come to your house with his video equipment and ask you questions about your values. And through that, he’ll make a movie trailer about your life.

Where do you ultimately see Simbi going long term?

I want to enable people to do what they love and get what they need without being restricted by costs. The millennial generation is reconceiving work. They want to do things that are both flexible and fulfilling. It’s not just about freelancing, it’s freelancing with a purpose. I want Simbi to be the platform that will allow people to offer their skills while turning to their community to get the things they need.

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