Ever wonder how business was conducted before today’s currency?
Goods and services typically were paid for through an exchange of, well, goods and services provided by a neighboring business or individual. This, of course, is known as trade and barter, something BizX cofounder and CEO Bob Bagga understands better than most.
With offices in the U.S. and beyond, BizX boasts more than 6,700 participating businesses — like Habitat for Humanity, the Seattle Sounders FC, the San Francisco 49ers, the American Red Cross, iHeartRADIO, Holiday Inn Express, and more — within its trade and barter network.
“One-third of the world’s business is noncash,” Bagga said, explaining his Bellevue-based company is a platform that facilitates business owners’ ability to operate without cash.
This one-third of noncash business, however, is in a normal economy. Conditions in what Bagga called “the COVID economy” are different.
“In today’s economy, right now, the challenge we are running into is people don’t have cash and cash has dried up really quickly,” he said. “But they have a lot of stuff, a lot of capacity, so the idea is how do you turn what you have into what you need? That’s where our company can come in to help.”
Q: Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, what changes have you seen in regards to how businesses are using trade?
A: There are certain businesses that are shut down, they’re not operational and we might not be able to help them with anything right now. However, some of these businesses that are shut down, they are actually using BizX and trade to remodel their restaurant or get a paint job. … A lot of restaurants are doing delivery only, so they’re having to buy signs, and print, and update their website to get advertising out there. And then there’s just basic consumer things that people are needing to get done, anywhere from landscape projects to deep cleaning and detailing.
Q: How can businesses become involved in trade and barter?
A: I think it’s about identifying what you have to offer, where you have excess, but also identify what you need. It’s that simple. Everyone is cutting right now, so (maybe) you had to cut your advertising, but if you could do what you need to do without cash, you don’t have to make that cut. And reach out to the community around you and see how you can help each other.
Q: Speaking of the community, you and some local business leaders recently started a Facebook group for Seattle area businesses called Corona: Business Owners Fight Back. Tell us about that.
A: We exist to improve the businesses and lives of our members, that’s why we started BizX. We always thought that one plus one could equal 11; if you bring enough people together, they can help each other. So, two weeks ago in the middle of when all this first started, our phones were ringing off the hook. These businesses felt like they were diving off a cliff, it was like we just saw this tsunami coming at us … So I made a few calls and one of the guys I talked to was Aaron Blank — who I had gotten connected with a number of years ago and we’d stayed in touch — and he said, “Yeah this is a great idea.” Fifteen minutes later we had set up this Facebook group … then we started a podcast on the back of that (called Business Saving Business).
Q: What innovations are you seeing coming out of that group that are helping businesses to pivot, or connections that are helping leaders cope?
A: The cool thing we’re seeing as we’re talking to businesses now is just the level of innovation. I think there’s a sofa manufacturer that’s making masks. There’s one person who had a cooking class and they were kind of freaked out (at first but) they moved it to online. There was someone else that was working on virtual networking and helping people work from home.
We also held this virtual happy hour and it was really cool seeing the networking and authenticity. One of the gals owned a catering company and she came on and posted “I just laid off 45 people.” It was so hard, but you could see the empathy within the group. I think one of the biggest success stories is the ability to have a human connection in this time when we are so physically apart. People keep saying social distance, I think we need to come socially closer together but be physically distant.
Q: In what ways have you been innovating your business to help in the current economy?
A: We’re offering to our members a zero percent interest line of credit so that restaurants that need something today while they’re shut down, they can get that on BizX on trade and pay it back with tacos in three months. They can not only barter or trade, but they can get what they need now and pay it back later through barter.
Q: What advice do you have for business owners out there that are having a tough time right now?
A: Business will come back, it has always come back, but it’s going to take some time. This is a great opportunity to innovate, but there’s also a lot of fear right now. Take care of yourself as a business owner, give yourself that space to be able to go, innovate, and think— even if it’s 30 minutes or 15 minutes. It is super-important that if you have to lead your organization that you get in the right headspace … you’ll be surprised at what you can do.