The Brazil Start-Up Interview: Bondsy

The "eBay for the Instagram era" is led by a NYC-based Brazilian and is looking to reach a global audience

"I came to realize that the worst thing that could happen to me would be to carry on doing what I was doing."

The above conclusion prompted the foundation of what is currently one of the hottest mobile start-ups around. Bondsy, a social network for friendly transactions, was created by Brazilian advertising veteran Diego Zambrano as he moved from Rio de Janeiro to work in New York in 2007.

The short story is that since Zambrano started Bondsy in 2011, he has managed to raise $750,000 in funding for his "social network for things" and amassed a legion of followers who are keen on the online bartering concept. 

Bondsy connects friends and friends of friends, who can use the platform to sell or trade their unwanted items or receive payments "in kind" for them: an example could be swapping an old bike for dancing lessons or home-cooked chilli. The USA and Brazil are the largest markets for Bondsy at present, but the company's main focus is to grow its user base globally.

Starting is the biggest challenge

Bondsy started out of an actual necessity. Prior to his move to the US, Zambrano decided to donate or sell all of his belongings to friends, but could not find any tool that was designed for the purpose.

The entrepreneur ended up using Flickr to get rid of his possessions, but it was clear that there was a gap in the market as two trends could be observed.

"My friends shared that page [with the items for donation/sale] with their friends, who then felt comfortable enough to get in touch with me. And other friends also offered to pay in kind - with dinners, beers and so on. I even swapped a camera for a dinner that was more expensive than the camera itself," he says.

"While this improvisation [with Flickr] worked well, it was far from being a perfect solution. I ended up fascinated about that problem and have studied it for years; then I decided to create a platform to cater for that sort of behaviour."

Zambrano's pitch to his backers was his personal story and his vision of how to address the market gap he identified.

"I was lucky enough to find investors who shared and believed in my vision," he points out.

In pratical terms, however, Bondsy's creator faced all manner of initial difficulties - including lack of fluency in English, not having the right contacts, or a Green Card to start a company.

"As an entrepreneur, you need to be very passionate about a problem and be obstinate, because there will be plenty of obstacles along the way," says Zambrano.

"When I gave up on my career in advertising, I had no idea of how I was going to put Bondsy together; I simply jumped in. In many moments, you just have to trust that everything will be OK," he adds.

"The biggest challenge is starting. There is a general belief that if you take risks and it doesn't work out, the worst possible scenario is that you will become homeless - in reality, the worst case scenario is not as bad and if you can face it, you are free to try whatever you want."


Bondsy's creator Diego Zambrano, sporting his long hair and beard, uncut since 2009 (Credit: Diego Zambrano)


The future

Zambrano wants Bondsy to stay true to its original motto, "no strangers." This means that items are relevant to users because they have been posted by friends or their network.

"We are also working on some new features that will improve that experience even more," the company's founder says.

As the app becomes more popular in the US and Brazil, Zambrano points out that different ways in which users in the two countries can be observed.

"Brazil is an extremely criative and diverse country and that is reflected on the way in which Brazilians use the platform: people are using it to swap handwritten letters, old objects, home-cooked food, concert tickets, but also to sell items such as clothes, films, electronics and so on," he says.

"In the US, the main behavior pattern is to give things for free or in return for experiences, while people in Brazil are more focused on actually selling things. Increasingly, I see Brazilians opening up for different types of transactions."

Similarly to what has happened on Pinterest, Brazilian companies are also flocking to Bondsy to sell their items - for money, of course. Despite the fact that the platform was not designed for that purpose, Zambrano is not averse to the idea and says that his company is learning from new trends developing within the user base.

As a response to its popularity in Brazil, Bondsy will launch a version of its mobile app in Portuguese soon. The start-up is based in Brooklyn, New York, and employs fours staff, but if a Brazil base is needed in order to improve the local user experience, the possibility will be considered.

Judging by how long it took for Zambrano to mature his idea - and how long it has taken to grow his striking long hair and beard, untouched since 2009 - figuring out the right way to make money is a process to which the entrepreneur is devoting a lot of time and effort.

"Monetization will come at the right time. Right now, we are 100 percent focused on creating the best possible product and in growing our community in Brazil and the world," he says.