The Report

New kind of currency mixes bartering with electronic payments

New kind of currency mixes bartering with electronic payments

Posting in Finance | From issue 05 December 16 & 23, 2014

Forget working for the man. Coint wants to set new standards for what your talents are worth, using the concept of 'reputational currency.'

Despite the current buzz around the sharing economy, most deals are still based on a bedrock of cash. Even peer-to-peer models like car-sharing and rental platforms RelayRides or Getaround are payment-based. But a group of entrepreneurs in London is planning to launch a platform early next year that could further disrupt the currency paradigm by allowing individuals to trade each other's services or by enabling them to provide services in exchange for points they accumulate.

Just don't call it bartering, say Kemal Kamiloglu and Frederick Maan, two of the five minds behind Coint, which is an amalgam of the words "coin" and "point." 

Why? It's too limiting, Maan says. The concept of bartering does not account for the platform's point system. When an individual joins Coint, she or he will receive a set number of these points, called "coints." Members of the network will have the option to provide a service to another member in exchange for an agreed-upon number of coints or as a straight barter. Accumulating coints for specific tasks will allow that individual to build up a type of reputational currency, which he or she can use to represent demand for his or her skills. 

"We're not the ones who will decide how much a coint is worth. If people make more coints than they can use, they'll sell them. So what they sell them for is what will determine what a coint is worth," Kamiloglu explains.

Once members establish a strong reputation based on the work they've done in barters or in exchange for coints, Coint's founders say they will be able to request payment for services in bank-issued currency, or even in BitCoin, a software-based currency Coint plans to accept as one form of payment.

Coint members will have their coint totals displayed on a leaderboard on the site, which will create a means for those with many coints to stand out. The leaderboards will be public, so even people outside the Coint community will be able to find members and solicit their services for cash (or BitCoin).

I asked Kamiloglu and Maan why professionals in a given trade would join Coint if it means they might compete against new entrants in their field who would conceivably offer similar services for free. "Coint members will be able to post portfolios that show their work," Maan says. In other words, customers will be able to see the difference in experience and skill between veterans and novices, and can choose to hire (or barter with) whomever they think is best for the desired job.

As for how the founders plan to make Coint financially sustainable and whether they are building the network as a profit-seeking venture, Maan and Kamiloglu say it's too early to share specifics about the business model, only saying "We don’t think we're going to be monetizing it right away."

Kamiloglu, a product designer who studied at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and Maan, who studied law at London's University of Westminster, are joined by three other co-founders with varied backgrounds in finance and computing. They have been developing the platform at night and on weekends, and are recruiting a couple thousand initial Coint members for a soft launch in spring 2014.

"We need [many initial users] so we can get a good variety across the categories," Maan says. While the initial list of categories has been not set, they will mostly be in the design and arts realm. Possibilities include fashion, acting, marketing, journalism, engineering, consulting and DIY/crafts. "This would be a good place for creative people, but we want to grow it into all kinds of work."

The Coint vision is to create a clearinghouse for people to pursue work outside their day jobs or cultivate new skills. But for some users, Coint might just be a place for equitable exchange, based on the users' terms. "We want to give people a platform where they can work on what they really want to work on," Maan says.

(Image credit: Tax Credits, courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons)

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure