Get to know a Toronto startup: Uniiverse

While a lot of web platforms aim to make our online lives more exciting, Toronto startup Uniiverse set out to do the exact opposite.

Launched in February, the goal of this "platform for collaborative living" is to nurture the kind of trading, borrowing, bartering and learning that is quite sustainable, often free and very plentiful if we look hard enough - what Uniiverse dubs "the sharing economy."

By allowing users to post activities and services, this web platform facilitates local micro-entrepreneurship and freelancing, freecycling and re-selling, gathering like-minded people or giving neophytes a way to reach out and experience something different.

One aspect of the site that really stands out is its emphasis on trust-building. By giving users a Trust Score and allowing for public Reviews of listings, Uniiverse has created a transparent, community-backed reputation system different than many other popular listings sites.

The site already has over 2,000 users in Toronto and 8,000 globally, and had 50,000 page views in April. I checked in with Uniiverse founders Ben Raffi, Craig Follett and Adam Meghji to see how the Toronto startup world has been treating them so far.

Uniiverse calls itself a "platform for collaborative living." Why did you choose this approach?

Uniiverse is not a traditional online marketplace, and not a social network; it's much more than that, which is why we have created the term "collaborative living," as it much better defines what Uniiverse aims to achieve. We're an online platform, but also a bridge to offline (real-life) interaction. Lifetimes are made up of seconds. People are starting to recognize this, and are valuing experiences and time more than material goods.

Uniiverse puts a big emphasis on trust building. How is this working so far?

People start by testing the waters, and then jump right in. They are establishing trust in activities where it's easier, and then branching out. It's easier to build-up reviews for a yoga class in the park, for instance, and then offer a babysitting service. Other users have booked listings based on the fact that they could see they had mutual social connections with the host. Uniiverse builds on top of other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, so you don't have to start from scratch.

What have been the biggest challenges in getting the site off the ground?

Since the idea of the sharing economy is still so new, our biggest challenge is to raise awareness of Uniiverse and help people understand the importance of this concept and how it's different from traditional classified sites.

What about finding investors?

We are grateful to have raised $750,000 in seed funding back in the fall of 2011. Moving forward, we will be looking to raise a series A round of funding from venture capitalists. Gaining traction in other key cities is going to be key as we enter this new phase.

Where do you envision your business one year from now?

We amassed our first 1,000 listings in 2 months, and our next 1,000 listings took only 1 month. This growth rate is promising and we expect the site to be flourishing a year from now.

Anna Starasts is a writer, startup geek and Community Manager for gdR, a tech, digital media and mobile recruiting firm. She also broadcasts her musings about Toronto on Twitter @monsavoirfaire

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