Bunz Inc., the popular, millennial-focused online marketplace that has built a cult-like following on its mantra to not use any form of money in the exchange of goods, is in fact launching its own cryptocurrency, BTZ — short for Bunz Trading Zone and pronounced “bits”.
Each Bunz member — and there are more than 200,000 right now — will automatically receive 1000 BTZ, worth roughly $10, that they will be able to use on Bunz itself and in 25 other Toronto-based stores like the Drake General Store, The Fifth PubHouse and Cry Wolf Clothing, in exchange for goods or services.
“The beautiful part about BTZ is you’re not buying this currency like a typical currency, where you have to put money in to get value. We are giving the currency to you for contributing to the network,” Bunz's CEO Sascha Mojtahedi told VICE Money.
BTZ, which became available to users Monday, is a cryptocurrency token, meaning that it is a derivative of a larger cryptocurrency like Ethereum that can be used for specific functions in specific systems — in this case, only on Bunz.
“So let’s say I want to buy this thing from you, and I don’t have the right good in exchange for it. You can send me BTZ in our chat platform instead, or meet up with me and use the your Bunz wallet to pay for the item in BTZ,” explained Mojtahedi. Besides the initial 1000 BTZ that Bunz users will automatically receive from being members, BTZ can be earned creating posts, sharing other people’s posts, and even commenting on another member’s post.
“Essentially, the more you contribute to the platform, the more you earn. BTZ is also earned by how great your items are and the quality of your items — all without exposing people to actually buying cryptocurrency” said Mojtahedi.
Bunz, which was founded in 2013 as a Facebook group by Toronto fashion design graduate Emily Bitze started out as a simple marketplace to swap stuff, one that excluded the use of money. An old but usable bicycle, for instance, could be exchanged for a dining table of roughly the same value — a value that was in fact determined purely between the buyer and seller. Barter trade, but online.
Later, as interest in item swaps gained traction, Bunz caught the eye of venture capitalists, launched an app, and started seeking funding rounds from wealthy investors. Most recently received a Series A funding round from Fidelity Investments and an unknown angel investor.
It’s unclear, however, at this stage, as to why a company like Bunz would want to get into the cryptocurrency space, besides the obvious publicity that comes with any association with cryptocurrency. For his part, Mojtahedi claims that the initiative is not driven by money, and is merely a vehicle to “contribute back to the community in a meaningful way.”
But the company is tight-lipped on exactly how BTZ derives its value, and what the long-term goal of the cryptocurrency is.
“You can’t yet buy BTZ. There will likely be a day where you can import other cryptocurrencies but I think in the shorter term we wanted to kind of start with the basics and create a usable cryptocurrency,” Mojtahedi told VICE Money.
“I went into a coffee shop today and bought a cup of coffee for 300 BTZ. So if you want to work backwards and the average cup of coffee is three bucks, I guess yes, you could say 1000 BTZ is approximately 10 bucks.”
Mojtahedi also dismissed speculation that the company intends to launch an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for BTZ — a fundraising mechanism in which crypto tokens are sold in exchange for actual cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether. One possibility, in light of this fact, is that Bunz is essentially issuing 95 percent of its BTZ, and keeping the remaining five percent, as it waits for the value of the currency to go up, a method more commonly known as “airdrops”.
For now however, the company insists BTZ is a holistic venture of sorts, one that Mojtahedi says centres upon “creating localized value.”
“We’re not actually making money at the moment. We are focused on building an amazing product that benefits people rather than benefiting the minority who created it.”
With files from Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson