By Kath Walters
When Sam Kurikawa finished a contract role last year, she was at a loose end. Trained as an English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) teacher, and with a wealth of travel and work experience behind her, Kurikawa wanted to use her eclectic work history to her advantage in her next venture.
“I had an idea to freelance as a freelancer’s freelancer. People are good at what they do, but they often don’t know how to run their business,” she says. “With my varied skills set, I could help them with that.”
Then she ran up against an obstacle. “I thought about different business models, and the limitation with that idea is that I am one person with limited skills and limited time.”
Kurikawa had run into the same problem her market faces.
Undefeated, Kurikawa did the mental leap that separates entrepreneurs from the rest of us: she pushed past this barrier to uncover a better idea. “How about I leverage other people’s skills to deliver a wide range of skills and services?” And, at a price point her market can afford: nothing.
Kurikawa’s new business – GiveGet – was born.
GiveGet is a website that allows cash-strapped solopreneurs and start-ups to get experts to help them run and build their business without paying cash for their services.
Instead, they pay with credits they earn from selling their own services to others.
The more they give, the more they can get.
In the process of working for each other, members build their experience, their brand and their reputation.
Lean start-up model
Kurikawa’s business is at the leading edge of the sharing economy model. And like most leaders of the companies of the future, she’s bootstrapping its growth based on the principles of The Lean Startup, by author Eric Ries.
“My first step was to tap into all the resources I could find and find out how to write a business plan, to market myself, to research my market, how to get going without much money and make sure I don’t go down a path that no one wants to follow.”
Kurikawa’s website is what is known as “minimum viable product” under the lean startup model. She has developed enough functions on her website to teach herself something about what it is she is building but is quick to for her to adapt and iterate.
“I didn’t want to build a website that costs tens of thousands of dollars before I understood how my customers use the website, how much they’re willing to pay for the service – currently, it’s $10 a month to join, with a one-off joining fee of $50 for which each member gets 50 GiveGet credits.
“My goal for this year is 1000 members, at $10 a month. That is enough for me to grow and invest back into platform,” Kurikawa says.
Time, value and money
Most solopreneurs are time-strapped as well as cash-strapped, so how does Kurikawa’s site address this problem? “They are time-strapped because they do stuff they are not skilled to do,” she says.
“By getting others to do that stuff more quickly and easily, they free time to do what they are good at, and can do quickly and easily.”
Many companies also have capacity, she says. “When I did the market survey, very few people said they didn’t have the time or capacity.”
Kurikawa insists that suppliers each offer two specific services for a set price to keep the value clear. “You give a dollar value for the service. If you are charging too much, people won’t buy it. If they are happy, you get your credits – GiveGet credits – to spend on what you want.”
It’s a mental leap to understand that non-cash transactions are not “free” – they are using another currency.
“Many small businesses feel they need to discount to be competitive,” Kurikawa says. “On GiveGet that is unnecessary. You actually charge what you’re worth! It’s just that you aren’t paid in cash. But you have an equal amount to spend on a service you need to buy.”
However, exchange is a currency the tax department recognises as income, and also as expenditure. GiveGet credits used on business-related expenses are tax-deductible and income is taxable.
The exchange economy is a global movement. Most exchanges tend to be small, local community exchanges that offer direct trading: you mow my lawn and I give you two dozen eggs). They are consumer to consumer, and restricted by geography. Listia or Mass Mosaic, based in America, are examples.
More direct competitors for GiveGet include Jim’s TradeNet (part of the Jim’s Group franchise) and Bartercard.
Kurikawa believes these services target a different market: larger, traditional businesses. For example, the Bartercard ‘starter’ package is for businesses with $100,000 turnover, and the cost starts at $99/month.
GiveGet targets a different market: early-stage businesses, service-based businesses, solopreneurs and freelancers.
Kurikawa plans to differentiate on its approach to events and community building.
“We plan to do this with offline events and meetups, both within the community run by experts, as well as by members wishing to help fellow GiveGetters and boost their own reputation and brand,” she says.
The site will also include a review and rating system to build trust within the community and a ‘Knowledge Bank’ where members add how-to content, online tutorials, and step-by-step guides etc. “It is more than a blog, and contribution is based on a reward system. If you are an active, giving member of the community you’ll ‘earn’ the right to contribute,” she says.
Entry into a directory of businesses is also earned via the rating and reviews of services. Member are also rewarded for referring others, and building the community.
The trick of the two-sided marketplace
Two sided-marketplaces are tricky. How can you build demand without supply, and supply without demand? It’s been the problem facing online procurement website since the early days of the web.
Kurikawa decided to build supply side first, and has invited some guest suppliers to list for free to get the ball rolling.
Kurikawa is marketing the service organically. She is a member of many meetup groups. She doesn’t actively market through them, but the word gets out.
Her vision is of a “strong community of people all connected through their need for something and willingness to help other people.” Nice vision.