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Future of Bunz uncertain in Toronto after scaling back digital currency and slashing staff

The startup behind Toronto's most-successful digital bartering network, Bunz, is taking a few steps back, it seems, after a period of explosive growth and expansion.

Bunz, which started out in 2013 as a private Facebook group called 'Bunz Trading Zone,' has long operated on the principle of trading goods without the involvement of cash.

Members of the Facebook group (and eventually the Bunz app) could trade almost anything and everything among each other, as long as both buyer and seller agreed that their items were of equal value. A bottle of wine, for instance, might go for a plant, while a MacBook charger could be exchanged for an old vacuum cleaner.

Perhaps noticing the rampant use of cash-like items within the trading network — gift cards, TTC tokens, store credit and the like — Bunz announced last spring that it would be launching its own digital currency, called BTZ.

By the September of 2018, more than 130 million BTZ were said to be in circulation.

Dozens of retailers in Toronto and beyond were accepting the currency in exchange for clothes, food, booze and services — places like The Drake General Store, Bar Neon, Crywolf and The Fifth Pubhouse.

Over 200 businesses in Toronto alone ended up jumping on the BTZ bandwagon and, up until this week, Bunz users were happily exchanging their old stuff for credits to buy things they actually wanted from local stores.

Users are no longer happy upon learning that Bunz has dramatically scaled back its BTZ program, leaving only food and coffee shops in the mix — a move that came abruptly, without any type of warning, not even to merchants.

The company also announced on Wednesday that it was laying off 15 staff members.

"We are sorry for any inconvenience and disappointment this may have caused and want to keep you informed as to why we had to make this decision," reads a Medium post written by Bunz CEO Sascha Mojtahedi.

"The reality we face is that it's expensive to build and maintain a platform that hundreds of thousands of people use every day," he continued. "Reducing the merchant list was necessary to continue Bunz and BTZ for the community."

Mojtahedi says that both the layoffs and reduction of retail partners will allow his company "to continue to make Bunz and BTZ a community-focused platform in a more sustainable way."

But what about all of the use who've been stockpiling their BTZ for a big purchase from one of the company's non-food partner stores?

"Enacting this change with no warning to the community feels like a betrayal," commented one user on the Medium post. "When I learned that I could use btz at local retails like Brockton Cyclery and Ride Away Bikes I was thrilled and since December I have been saving up btz with a goal of getting myself a new bike."

"I have traded items, services and my time, I have cancelled or rescheduled plans with friends to facilitate trades and I have spent well over 100 hundred hours fixing bikes (a service that I offer on Bunz) and trading items all to get closer to my goal," continues the user.

"I am beyond frustrated at this sudden change in terms, meaning that all my work and patience has now been for nothing."

"You now have a devalued currency and lost trust from all users," wrote another.

"Your decision may have been difficult, however your lack of transparency speaks volumes about how little you value the commitment to your own ideals."

Lead photo by

Bunz


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