Albert Einstein once said, “If I had my life to live over again, I would elect to be a trader of goods rather than a student of science. I think barter is a noble thing!” and this is exactly what Layla Tabatabaie of BarterSugar tapped into.
Layla is a woman of many talents with an urge to constantly be creating, whether it is writing poetry or recording podcasts. Hailing from Pennsylvania where she attended high school, Layla was heavily involved in sports including tennis and track and field. This she remembers as “quite amazing because it created a sort of community and it was the first team building activity that I was part of as an adolescent.”
Always full of confidence, she thought she knew exactly who she would become—an attorney or a filmmaker (her amateur days would be asking her high school comrades to act so she could film them). To attain either one of these #careergoals, she studied Philosophy and Communication and minored in Political Science at University of Scranton. Right after, she went to law school in NYC (clearly, she is a go-getter). During this time, Layla interned at real estate firms where she dealt with millions of dollars worth of contracts. We know, you’re all wondering how did she go from wanting to become a filmmaker to studying law to being an entrepreneur…don’t rush! After all, what’s life without a little suspense?
“Career wise, moving to New York City was the best decision ever.”
Indeed, it was in NYC where she started and achieved her dream. Since the beginning, Layla liked the idea of trading and her trading days began in college where she tutored a student in exchange for coffee. Once she grew older and moved to the city, she did some research and discovered that “65% of Fortune 500 companies barter and in the U.S. alone, there is one billion dollars’ worth of goods and services that are traded; worldwide that number goes up to about 12 billion dollars’ worth of goods and services” and that figure is probably higher today.
How It All Started
Layla had her aha-moment in 2011 when she saw her friends bartering and realized that she wasn’t the only one loving this idea. Fast forward to the end of 2011, Layla picked the name BarterSugar and started recruiting a team. She was still practicing law full time. In 2012, they designed the first version, which never launched. Learning from her mistakes, Layla created beta 2.0 and was able to engage a group of computer engineers in Boston that she found randomly to become her co-founders. Talk about luck!
The team worked together for over a year before they were able to raise funds from investors. This is when Layla decided to go full throttle with BarterSugar. She adds that “in the beginning, we didn’t have a designer and a UX/UI consultant, which now I find very important.” In fact, she advises people not to write a single line of code until they have it checked by a specialist.
How It Works
So how does one go about bartering? You go to the website and sign up. Once you’re signed up, you can post what you’re offering and what you’re seeking. You can search whatever you like using the bar filters to find it. After which, you can either message the responsible person or barter with them. It’s as simple as that!
Cash is never exchanged between the two parties bartering on the website. So how does it bring in the dough? Once you’ve posted what you want to offer on BarterSugar, you place an evaluation (aka negotiation) saying how much your service is worth. But it is just a virtual number that helps describe the significance of whatever you’re giving. For BarterSugar, it is based on the value that the customer initially wrote down. The company then takes 7.5% commission of that value.
“In the beginning I thought things had to happen quickly, but then I realized that’s not the reality.”
Early on, Layla had to do a lot to get BarterSugar running! One of her biggest challenges was to learn how to read code, it was as if she was back to school learning a new language. In addition, she had to get users onto the platform, and for that Layla used a lot of social media (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). It’s with time that Layla started making money out of BarterSugar (patience is a virtue, folks!).
Layla’s number one advice is to create a customer discovery; prepare something that’s similar to a survey and send it out asking consumers about their preferences on whatever you are working on. It should be around 15 open ended questions, so that you could have an idea on how to create something that’s in favor of your customers.
Finally, Layla gets most excited about trades that take place outside the borders or activities that are happening from companies, especially those from pockets of America that don’t get a lot of attention.
Photo courtesy of BarterSugar.