If you had a guitar that you didn’t need anymore but you were in the market for a snowboard, the easiest and most frictionless exchange would be with someone who has a snowboard they want to offload and is interested in acquiring a guitar. But finding that person with exactly that need at the right time in the right place is a near Herculean task.
What people want and need — and what they have to offer in return — are as varied and diverse as people themselves. Connecting people across this complicated web of needs and desires is exactly the challenge have|need, a new bartering app is attempting to address — a task other bartering companies and sales platforms like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Nextdoor, and Craigslist have failed in the past.
“The answer to what I saw as the problems of not having a successful bartering company to date were that none of them had implemented a multi-party barter architecture. This addresses the core friction point of barter, which economists refer to as the mutual coincidence of wants,” said Josh Kline, founder, and CEO of have|need. In other words, if you and your neighbor don’t want what the other person has, no barter will take place. But the more people involved in the bartering process, the more likely you are to find someone to give your item to while receiving something in return from someone else.
Here’s how it works: Say you have a guitar you don’t need anymore, but you want a snowboard. You post what you have (the guitar) and what you need (a snowboard) on the app. As a multi-party barter platform, have|need surfaces the following information:
- Person A wants to get rid of a snowboard but is looking for someone to teach her Spanish lessons.
- Person B can teach Spanish lessons and is looking for someone to design his website.
- Person C designs websites and is in the market to buy a guitar.
Through have|need, this four-person web of people can easily find and exchange products and services with each other. This trust-based bartering system is a win-win-win process: Each person saves time trying to find buyers for the items they want to sell. They save money because they don’t have to buy new items to fulfill what they want. And they minimize the environmental impact brought on by the cycle of overconsumption and waste creation.
Most people don’t need to look beyond their own communities to see the value in such a platform. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, 63% of Americans didn’t have $500 to cover an emergency. Since early 2020, people around the world — from Jerusalem to Kent — have been bartering to get by.
The model is also good for the environment: Only 1% of goods purchased are still in use after six months. The clutter crisis is particularly pervasive in the United States, where 20% of the population pays for self-storage units. “The old phrase is ‘one person’s trash is another’s person’s treasure,’” Kline said. “Something may have no value to me, but it’s very valuable to somebody else. Let’s push that item back into the community and get it to someone who needs it as opposed to throwing it away.”
Coming out of the Silicon Valley startup scene and eager to develop a globally focused, impact-based company, Kline has been building have|need full time since 2017. It is on this global scale that Kline saw enormous potential when designing have|need’s bartering model: “We’ve got a couple of billion new users coming online who have smartphones and internet connections but little or no money,” he said. “What kind of services can you provide to users in developing economies around the world or immigrant populations in developed economies that will increase the quality of their lives?”
But the platform was also born out of a personal need: As a father, Kline struggles keep his growing teenage son affordably outfitted with equipment for sports and hobbies, something other parents understand as well: “We have three children and they are constantly growing and they are trying new activities such as skateboarding, surfing, horse riding, and keyboard lessons,” said Natalie Stafford-Smith. “It would be great to be able to trade school, sports, and music equipment, to mention a few, with other families within the local community. This is something I already do with a small group of mums within my circle of friends, but it would be so helpful to have a wider reach.”
Stafford-Smith, a resident of Laurel Canyon, California, will be part of have|need’s beta test group, which will launch by mid-February of this year. During this trial period, users will download an iOS app, use a Facebook login for personal identification verification, and be placed in private groups to trade with each other. The full launch, expected to take place this summer, will include an app-specific digital login separate from Facebook and be available for Android users as well.
In addition to individual use, Kline sees opportunities for charities and organizations to connect with potential donors for non-monetary donations of goods and services. For example, schools facing severe budget cuts to charities feeling the COVID-19 squeeze can take advantage of the flexibility built into this exchange of products and services that isn’t restricted the way periodic donor-specific communications are. Because users can list wants and needs, only wants, only needs, or simply browse the platform, they can respond at any time to help organizations or individuals with specific needs.
“I often wonder if the items I donate, often beloved pieces of clothing my children have grown out of, actually reach a person who needs them,” Stafford-Smith said. “As we hear of stories that donation centers get overwhelmed, have|need would certainly give me the peace of mind that my item is making it directly into someone’s hands.”