Every week, the Soukie Speaks’ Club Courage series celebrates a brave entrepreneur in the Arab startup ecosystem, by sharing their story and the impact that their startup is having on the community. This week we interviewed co-founders Erica Werneman & Yasmine Åkermark from the GoTibba app.
1) Tell us a little about yourself, your educational background and how you got into entrepreneurship.
Erica: I’m a qualified lawyer but I’ve always had an interest in startups and I’ve worked with several entrepreneurs in the past. As well as my legal background, I studied macroeconomics at University and a specialized in household debt and the effect it has on society. I got into entrepreneurship largely as a result of Tibba. Once Yasmine and I had the idea it seemed silly not do something about it so I’ve very much been learning along the way.
Yasmine: I too studied economics at University but I took a very different route after graduation. I’ve basically been working with startups ever since I graduated and I have two successful businesses behind me. Entrepreneurship has always come very natural to me and I much prefer working for myself rather than a traditional role. My last company was a vintage fashion brand and I was able to combine three stores in Central London with lots of international travel so that was pretty amazing. Once you get used to being in control of our own time and talent it is very hard to go back to a traditional job.
2) What is the GoTibba app and what can users expect from it?
Tibba App as a digital marketplace for people to meet and trade skills. We have everything from small businesses to freelancers and private individuals that have signed up to use the platform the skills on offer are very varied. In general, they tend to be from the creative and freelance industries but we also have quite a few businesses like small hotels and resorts, yoga studios, surfing schools etc that have signed up.
We believe people should be able to use their skills to get what they want. Rather than putting more expenses on your credit card think about how you can help others to get what you want. It’s a much more social way of transacting and it means that everyone has access to opportunities, regardless of the size of their wallet.
The name “Tibba” is actually a funny story. We came up with the concept of Tibba on a road trip to Oman and we thought we named it after the place we were in when we drew the first sketches of the app. As it turns out, we were wrong and the name of the place is actually Dibba, not Tibba. Still, the name stuck and we sort of like it!
3) Does GoTibba require users to pay a fee to use it? If so, how much and what will they be paying for?
The basic features are free you use as we want as many people as possible to start trading skills instead of bills. For businesses looking to use Tibba regularly and for extra features such as legal contracts, insurance, international searches etc there will be a subscription fee.
4) How will the GoTibba team structure the frequency and the kind of skills that are exchanged between users?
People can trade as much as they like. We keep track of the number of skills listed and we add new categories when there are sufficient number of relevant skills. We’re also adding a review feature so that people will be able to review the performance of the people they trade with. This will generate some social proof so that people can feel comfortable trading with people they don’t know. This will also give us a means of tracking the overall number of trades that occur on the platform.
5) How does the GoTibba team plan to deal with users who offer subpar services or refuse to offer a service to a fellow user that they agreed to offer?
At the initial stage we do not get involved in the agreement between two individuals. We would advise them to be cautious and use good judgment and not trade something big with someone they don’t know. During the next phase we’ll be adding things like insurance and legal contracts that will give more security to larger transactions.
That said, we’ve found that loads of people are prepared to trade some of their time for new skills and it is very much a community feel on the platform. Scammers are usually out for money and are not necessarily out to learn new skills.
6) The MENA region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, which puts a lot of stress on personal and family finances. Do you think that young people are willing or able to “trade skills, not bills?”
Trading skills offers an excellent opportunity for young people to get new experiences without having to pay for them. In many ways it can also offer them a chance to interact with businesses that could be interested in hiring them if they are impressed with the skills and services. The size of your wallet shouldn’t limit your opportunities when you have skills to trade.
7) How do you think GoTibba’s motto “trade skills, not bills” will impact the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Dubai in the future?
We hope that we’ll be able to set an example that will show others how they don’t have to rely just on cash to get things for their business or themselves. Trading skills is both a lot more capital efficient as well as being a much more social and interactive way of growing a startup. As a result, we hope we can help business to grow without the need for too much funding and we also hope that entrepreneurs will start to adopt the digital barter mindset in their everyday life.
8) One of the biggest problems facing young Arab jobseekers at the moment is the mismatch between their educational qualifications and labor market needs. Do you think that GoTibba can play a role in building human capital by expanding young Arab’s skillsets? If so how?
Yes, definitely. By trading skills, young jobseekers, not just in the Arab world but everywhere, will be able to get new cool experiences that can help them with their professional vocation. They will also be able to get new experiences without using their limited funds so it is a cheaper way of living without giving up on an exciting lifestyle. Fundamentally, Tibba is a platform for social exchanges as well as learning new skills. We have several successful professionals and entrepreneurs that are exchanging their industry knowledge and helping with mentoring in return for all sorts of skills like language training for their kids and learning new things like surfing.
9) What project(s) is GoTibba working on currently and how would you like to see the startup grow?
We are launching the app to a much wider market over the coming months so we are very focused on that. At the moment the app is only available in the UAE (since this is where our Beta testers have been located) but over the coming months we’ll be rolling it out to places like Bali, London and Stockholm. We plan to launch globally once we have enough people on the platform so we’ll soon be global!
10) How can people learn more about you and your project(s)?
Visit our website and check out the blog. We cover everything from the startup stories (everything from the first few steps to our successful Kickstarter campaign), we also cover various people that use Tibba and share their stories. In the future we’ll add more information on the whole fintech sector as we’re doing a lot of work in this space for our next phase when we will combine cash and barter in one payment solution.
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