“Look for a new feature called a” Pal”, that will allow members to exchange exclusive favors.”
Interview by Willi Paul.
Have you signed-up yet?
Amir’s Responses = (A)
Zeo’s Responses = (Z)
Zeo and Amir Same = (A+Z)
Tell us how favors translate into a vibrant online community?
(A) It does by bringing people together to help each other and give meaning to the global village. The favor can be as simple as a ride to the airport. Sometimes the simplest type of favors are the ones we need the most.
(Z) A favor exchange between two online users mandates either a virtual or a personal interaction on the finest human form, the act of giving. Favorpals goes even beyond that: by encouraging users to offer help one another in-exchange for others helping their community or charities. This guarantees that the strength of the exchanges reach beyond our users to their communities and local charities.
What online community models / resources are you using?
(A) We are looking at all models, we look at what works and make sense for Favorpals. There are certain parts of the model that have become a de facto standard. We have been looking how to use some of these communities as communication mechanism.
(Z) We are tapping into the social networking trend by allowing our users to share or tweet favors through their social networking sites. Users can also email favors to friends and can easily invite their friends to join the favorpals community. We also realize that some of our users might want to barter only with those whom they know and trust, thus, in our product roadmap, there will be a new feature of marking a user as a Pal, allowing members to exchange favor with his or her pals if they chose to.
How do you critique the look and feel of your site? What design upgrades are planned, if any?
(A) With help from our member emails, families and friends. Lots of research, and comparing what others do. We certainly have plans for series of upgrades. The navigation needs to become more streamlined, with new communication features.
(Z) We have been doing our own usability studies using a small selected group of users. We have also been receiving many suggestions from our members, of which we filter out, prioritize and schedule for modifications. We are currently in the process of revamping the look and feel of the site, along with adding new features to it.
What barter systems have you explored? What lessons did you glean from this journey?
(A) We spent lots of time, looking at all types of companies who provide a bartering service. We looked at point systems, point + items systems, and a classified version which is just a posting with nothing to offer in return, and various combinations of the above. We decided to pass on any kind of point/credit based system since we did not want to be a point/credit bank. Our philosophy from the start is to build a system that enables people to help one another. Now, if you have something to offer and do not wish to get anything in return, or do not need anything for now, then just offer it and chalk it up good Karma. That is also the reason we felt it would be great to invite members to help to charities.
(Z) I have explored community bartering systems such as Burning Man, recycle San Francisco, etc. We’ve also used sites that utilizes the point system, so a lot of learning was leveraged back into the favorpals philosophy. For example, because we thought the point system presented a monetary value in its own merit, we also did not want to community to act as a deposit bank, so we stayed away from it. Interacting with the off-line bartering communities such as Burning Man had helped us advocate the concept of a unit value.
Basically, for a successful exchange to take place, services or products have to be reduced to a Unit of Service or a single item. Then, all units are valued equally. In case of products, a unit is easily identified, but it becomes a bit more difficult to define with services. A unit of service is the least amount of work required to render service complete. For example, if you are mowing someone’s lawn, you have to mow the whole lawn not half of it, so as filling someone’s tooth. Now a single tooth filling has the same value as mowing the lawns, and so on. In this way users can easily evaluate their exchanges.
How do you monitor favors on the shady side of things? Craigslist is getting pounded by law enforcement for their “singles ads.”
(A + Z) We have been reading all favor exchanges posted, and have suspended the ones which were not meeting our guidelines. Our members have also been good in letting us know about inappropriate postings.
As we grow we will expand our monitoring mechanism will be more automated to ensure the integrity of the site.
When you write “Go ahead take part in this new world,” on your home page, what are you talking about?
(A) The world where you can get what you want without reaching for your wallet. There are certain skills you may need and can not afford. Favorpals wants to level the playing field, where your skills can be exchanged for otherwise unaffordable skills if money was used.
(Z) Favorpals success depends on the strength of its community. We like to invite people to join, post their favors, expose their excess of inventory and engage in favor exchanges with other members, only then the community can benefit.
Most of the favor / trades on the site are typical. See: https://www.favorpals.com/favorpals/jsp/basicInfo/ui/en_US/hints.jsp
What are some of the more bizarre listings?
(A) We had interesting requests such as Hay exchange, and mud exchange for massage. For me the more interesting part, which does not fall into bizarre, was the electrician who was willing to exchange his services for legal services, since his lawyer neighbor was suing him.
(Z) We’ve had a dominatrix offer a sado-maso session for house painting! We’ve had someone looking for bay mud in exchange of a message??!!! Hay in exchange of hours care. It’s the way we like it, exchanges from all walks of life.
How are you marketing the project?
(A + Z) Word of mouth, and speaking to bloggers who have picked up our story. We have been lucky to be featured by several TV stations and major morning shows.
Are you headed toward a rating scheme for favors?
(A) We are looking what is the best approach as far rating is considered. The rating system we have in mind may be a combination of several cases and not just the posting.
(Z) Not anything more than members rating their experience with other members in order for the community to weed-out those who might abuse it.
Who is you competition?
(A) There are several bartering sites, some are just a simple classified with tons of adds, and there are one or two with more sophistication. I see them all as a great opportunity for Favorpals. Usually when there is competition, it tells you there is something to the idea, and the question becomes who would be able to capture the market and provide the service people need.
(Z) We don’t have much of a competition at the moment, but whenever we get mentioned in the media, we’re usually compared to Craig’s list and U-Exchange. I do not believe either of them is an actual competition to the Favorpals model.
Are you getting funding? If so, who /where?
(A + Z) Yes we are: “Zeo and Amir funds.” We are currently self-funded.
“We see a Favorpals ‘swap’ as an especially meaningful event when the exchange crosses the divide between people from different walks of life, where both parties benefit equally regardless of class or status.” What are the barriers to favor trading that have come up so far?
(A) Well undoubtedly we would like to increase our membership understanding so that a unit of favor can be treated equally in value. Dental work for house cleaning. The whole idea is to bridge the income gap by making unaffordable services, affordable. We have seen movement in this field, and that is part of the delight of working on Favorpals.
(Z) Interesting you are asking that question, it is one that keeps me up at night. The idea of a non-monetary exchange is quite foreign to modern days. I think the biggest barrier is getting people who engage in a dialog over an exchange to free themselves from the monetary ties to their product or service. I’m not saying they should give away their services for no return, but they should try to stay away from the cultural hierarchy associated with their services. For example, if lawyers truly believe that an hour of their time is worth a lot more than an hour of a plumber, then they will have a very hard time using Favorpals.
Many are talking about a major collapse in the world economy and a catastrophic period of anger and hunger. Do you see this near-term scenario? In not, what is your perception of the next 2-5 years on the planet?
(A) Well, I would like to think more positive and hope that in the upcoming year the economy would start its slow rebound, as for the period of anger and hunger, this is not something new, not to be ignored but not new. Throughout every decade the world has faced these extreme challenges. My hope is that we have grown enough where we can start taking into consideration these events in our business decisions, where corporations can add people into their decision making. And I am not referring to only adding this human equation only in their marketing campaigns, but to put that where it really counts – bottom line. Make profit the secondary parameter. We all can hope, right?
As I said I would like to hope that we, human race, as short term residents of this planet have matured. I would like to be more hopeful and see that we would start taking the steps necessary to protect our planet.
(Z) I sure hope not, but I think the world is heading into a period of great uncertainties driven not only by the unneeded wars and the collapse of economy but also by the major climate changes. Catastrophic events may shake governments and cause instabilities in many vulnerable regions around the world. Unfortunately, I also think that people who will suffer the most are probably not the ones spending their time online right now. I do not believe that the greater good happens all at once, it is a building block of many small positive movements. So if all of us who are capable of a positive contribution began implementing progressive ideas today, I’m certain that when time comes, the world will have the infrastructure needed for the greater change.
Are you challenging Craigslist.org dominance in this arena in anyway? If so, how?
(A) I think it would be too arrogant for us to make any statement as such re: craigslist. For one they are an online classifieds with one way communications where there is no state is maintained, no user knows about the other and there is no sense of continuity. For what they do they are very successful.
Favorpals is about building trade relationship amongst its users where it provides a venue for people to come together and be able to get to know each other better, and negotiate with each other on terms of their trade.
(Z) I don’t think we are challenging Craig’s List bartering section, after all they offer a free service, so do we, if people use either site and benefit from it, I’ll be equally happy. Also, Craig’s List is a Classifies ad site, Favorpals is a Service Exchange, it enforces the give and take and cultivatates a barter dialog. So I think our approach is quite different.
“We see a Favorpals “swap” as an especially meaningful event when the exchange crosses the divide between people from different walks of life, where both parties benefit equally regardless of class or status.” Co-Founder Bios:
Amir Razmara has been engaged in the high tech industry for over 15 years, in engineering and engineering management roles. Throughout his career, Amir has been involved in various Internet start-ups, ranging from grid computing to ecommerce and, now, to social networking. Favorpals is his latest passion and newest social entrepreneurial venture. Amir currently lives in San Francisco with his family.
Zeo Solomon has been an active Silicon Valley technologist for more than 20 years, working with numerous start-ups. Zeo has also been involved in the entertainment and performing arts industry, producing and performing in indie films and stage productions. Zeo sees Favorpals as one answer to the difficult social and economic times that continue to beleaguer us. Zeo currently splits his time between San Francisco and New York City.