#Asia Once a Facebook group, a bartering startup rises in cashless India

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Let’s Barter India’s team. Co-founders Pooja Bhayana and Sahil Dhingra are on the left and in the center, respectively. Photo credit: Let’s Barter India.

“Sahil [Dhingra], my co-founder, was closing his business. For really low prices, he wanted to give tablets away. I said: Exchange with one of your friends,” Pooja Bhayana recalls.

That was October last year. At the time, she didn’t know that those would be the words to launch a startup, thousands of barter exchanges on Facebook, and two apps. At the time, it just seemed like a good idea. Five hours into creating a bartering Facebook group, the two had leveraged their networks enough to get it 5,000 members. By December, that number had grown tenfold. Eventually, the group turned into a startup, and Delhi-based Let’s Barter India was born.

She didn’t know that those would be the words to launch a startup.

The business launched apps for Android and iOS in September this year. Its users are concentrated in Delhi but span pan-India.

Through Let’s Barter’s Facebook page and app, customers can offer to trade items like electronics, gaming products, and books, as well as services like accounting, bookkeeping, and cooking.

Other bartering sites include Gurgaon-based BarterDaddy and Jaipur-based Faida. Online flea market Yappily has a similar commerce-between-customers model, bringing more socialization into ecommerce. Customers still exchange money, however.

See: Not your run-of-the mill ecommerce app: meet India’s first online flea market

From hobby to startup

Let’s Barter’s Facebook group – now at over 185,000 members – operates simply: people post things that they’re willing to exchange and work out what they’re willing to take for them in the comments. Pooja and Sahil, former high school classmates, were perfectly happy running a successful Facebook group. Pooja had quit her job in public relations to search for happiness, and Sahil had worked around business administration and run a failed venture of his own.

It wasn’t until they spoke to their mentor, one of their school seniors, when they realized that the permanent gig they’d been searching for could be right in front of them. “He [our mentor] was totally in love with the idea,” Pooja tells Tech in Asia. “He said: give me one reason why you’re not pursuing it as a business.”

The only thing left to do was commit completely and “take the plunge.” “Our mentor is the reason why we completely gave ourselves to this concept,” Pooja says.

That’s one place where India’s demonetization might lend a hand.

That came with some trial and error. Before Let’s Barter decided to develop an app, it launched a website. “That was a major failure on our part because it didn’t work,” Pooja admits.

Let’s Barter’s five-member team, including app designer and CTO Abhishek Biswal, works out of an Innov8 coworking space. The startup secured funding this September, and the company has yet to make revenue.

That’s where the new apps come in. Big bartering fans will be able to access services like delivery to different cities and verification of sellers through a premium model. The company also wants to introduce an in-app currency to app bartering, as well as organized user reviews. The Let’s Barter app currently has around 5,000 users, half of whom put up items to barter (as opposed to just browsing).

“[Bartering is not about what is the value of the product but what is the perceived value of the product,” says Pooja. The app allows for price and value brackets in a way that the Facebook group doesn’t. It also has an in-app chat interface.

Still, Pooja says the Facebook group is “something we’ll never run away from” – it will keep running even as the company tries to get more users for its app.

See: Remember Housing? It’s back to renting houses again

Making noise

Let’s Barter’s biggest challenge remains convincing potential customers that bartering is an effective option with technology, but that’s one place where India’s demonetization might lend a hand.

In response to demonetization – a government push to go cashless and clear out black money – people in rural cities unable to quickly get new cash turned to bartering in a pinch to meet their needs. Though many in India’s cities were able to pay for the majority of goods and services through cashless means, bartering emerged as a viable method as well in India’s capital.

“Demonetization brought a 150 percent hike in app downloads,” says Pooja. The company also saw a shift from want-based bartering to need-based bartering. Whereas people were trading for discretionary items before demonetization, barter requests involving bill-paying (which sometimes has to be done in cash in India) emerged.

However, a good amount of the startup’s target audience still sees bartering as an ancient concept. The company has taken to the road to help, holding live bartering events in cities so people can see how it works today.

See: Airtel Bank opens its doors as India grapples with demonetization crisis

This post Once a Facebook group, a bartering startup rises in cashless India appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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