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Start Your Business Success Stories

Extra Stuff? Donate It for Virtual Currency with Igobono

Extra Stuff? Donate It for Virtual Currency with Igobono
Igobono is a social marketplace that allows people to buy, sell and donate goods for virtual currency. / Credit: igobono.com

Entrepreneurs: Max Volsky and Mike Dolan
Business name: igobono
Years in business: 3
Website address: www.igobono.com

The "sharing economy" seems to be everywhere nowadays. Thanks to third-party marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist and TaskRabbit, people can earn extra cash by selling their unwanted items or offering their time to perform tasks, and buyers can purchase these goods and services at a discounted rate.

But what about individuals on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder? Even at lower-than-retail prices, the fact remains that some Americans are unable to afford basic household items and services. Childhood friends Max Volsky and Mike Dolan recognized this problem and created a way to bring people into the sharing economy while empowering those who lack financial resources.

Their social marketplace, Igobono, allows members to buy, sell and donate goods and services using a virtual currency called "bonos" instead of money. This platform provides instant spending power by enabling members to begin trading immediately upon sign-up, and rewards them for good deeds such as donating items or volunteering their time.

CEO Volsky and CTO Dolan shared their inspiration for building the Igobono community, and how technology has helped them help others in need. ['Benefit Corp' Status Incorporates Doing Good into Business Basics]

Igobono co-founders Mike Dolan and Max Volsky Credit: igobono.com

Business News Daily: What problem were you hoping to solve when you started your business?

Max Volsky: Igobono helps people obtain the things they need without money, giving them instant spending power, enabling them to monetize their idle assets and skills. Nearly half of all Americans are only a paycheck away from poverty, and many families simply lack money to get the basic necessities of life. Igobono provides immediate spending power and a diverse marketplace in which to get vital products and services. During our research, we learned that the average U.S. household has more than $7,000 worth of unused stuff lying around. The Igobono marketplace makes it easy to generate real value for those things, while helping people at the same time.

BND: Could your business have existed 20 years ago?

Mike Dolan: No, simply because the technology used on our platform was unavailable then. Today, we leverage many different technologies in order to provide our users the most robust and safe marketplace in which they can trade.

BND: What technologies have been the greatest help to your business?

M.D.: There have been several technologies that are instrumental to our business. Frameworks such as RoR (Ruby on Rails), HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, and APIs have enabled us to develop an extremely robust and versatile product. We leverage many cloud-based technologies to help handle the workload, which include our hosting platform, code-development repository, project management, CDN (content delivery network), DevOps management, email delivery system, notification system, collaboration and communication systems, and image and video content system.

BND: What technology can't you live without?

M.D.: Communication and collaboration tools are critical to our ability to manage and develop a business that connects people in remote locations. Without these cloud-based technologies, the ability for us to deliver this platform to our users would be exponentially harder to execute. We would have had to hire additional resources, including coders, to develop all these platforms, which would be an unmanageable amount of cost and time. Finding a solution that is cloud-based is the most time- and cost-effective way we can manage a complex product.

BND: If you could hire one extra employee right now, what would you have that person do?

M.V.: If I could hire one extra employee right now, I would love to expand our customer experience team. As a trading site, we must offer the most rewarding trading experience, which requires that we address our members' questions as quickly as possible.

BND: What technology do you wish existed that doesn't?

M.D.: At the top of my wish list would be true voice interaction with computers and devices. Originally, it was Apple's Siri, then Google Now, then Microsoft Cortana — an iterative improvement, but there is still more work to be done. To take full advantage of a system, you are tied to using their platform. Open source needs to advance with voice in a similar fashion as it did for data and coding, and allow laymen to build their own set of voice tools to help optimize the user experience.  

BND:  Where do you see technology in your industry going over the next 3 to 5 years?

M.D.: In the next several years, I see the convergence of traditional web- and device-enabled platforms such as iPhones and iPads merging, but not until we have cracked true voice interaction. For example, it is much more difficult to buy a product on your new watch versus sitting at a computer with a giant screen. The only way this convergence will really take off is when we reach the point where we can speak aloud, and a computer or device will understand normal human language and respond accordingly.

BND: What are the most valuable non-tech skills an entrepreneur needs?

M.V.: Successful entrepreneurs require three valuable soft skills: focus, tenacity and talent. When working at a startup, there are so many things that need to get done that it is natural to lose track and feel overwhelmed. Too many budding innovators think they can become the next Zuckerberg overnight, but the level of commitment to achieve that result is so extreme, that most rational people logically choose an easier, more direct path. At a startup, unparalleled focus and tenacity is at the core of everything. If you are focused, tenacity will guide the way. Do not take "no" for an answer. Believe that something can be done that has never been done before. Also, when working so intensely and for so long on a vision to become a reality, one may lose perspective of time and external commitments. Although working in the weeds is essential to accomplish the task at hand, it's also critical to be able to bounce ideas off of trusted advisers, especially as a reminder to always keep the customer experience top-of-mind.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.