“I’m giving away a guide to Berlin.” “I need a bike for a weekend.” “Can someone pick up my child after school?” Messages like these can all be found on Bloomfits, a smartphone application where goods, talents and services are shared out just for the heck of it.
At a time when recycling, second-hand goods, bartering and micro-loans are all the rage, Bloomfits is taking these altruistic concepts further into the field of the selfless gift.
“I have something and I don’t need it, because I don’t use it, so I make it available to my circle of friends,” says Pep Sánchez, who is such a fan of this app that he has invested money in its business model — which is, after all, based on not doing any business. “The difference with other services is that nothing is expected in return. That’s the secret,” explains Pep, who has so far offered dozens of objects including his little girl’s baby-bottle heater and baby chairs, which he will never use again. “I was going on vacation to Iceland and I didn’t feel like spending a fortune on warm clothing for just a few days. I posted a message on Bloomfits and a good friend of mine lent me the clothes.”
This reckless idea, which is available in Spanish and English, is the brainchild of the Catalan entrepreneur Santi Costa, who spent 10 years in Silicon Valley and returned to his native Girona to create a company that chiefly seeks human benefit. “We are working with our brains and our hearts; I seek the satisfaction of the soul,” says Costa. “The system has inoculated us with the need to buy and buy. On weekends we go to shopping malls to consume some more because our bodies need it in order to feel good. It’s like injecting yourself with a shot of consumerism, and having withdrawal symptoms if you don’t. But we abuse it, and just like antibiotics, in the end it has no effect. We live from the outside in, and with this application I want to foment inner life in order to achieve external satisfaction.”
You have learned the lessons of Silicon Valley and you know how to make more, but money isn’t everything”
“Giving away an object or a service is really just the first step,” he continues. “It’s about people achieving personal satisfaction, about people being in touch with each other. What matters is the human touch, the experience of doing someone a favor that costs you nothing. Giving away the Berlin guide opens the door to talking about the trip and getting interesting advice from a friend.”
The entire Bloomfits team works out of Costa’s apartment. Albert Martín (who has worked on online finances tool Moneytrackin’), Jordi Manté (from online gourmet club Seleqto) and Pep Sánchez (founder of online gaming website Meristation) are his three partners in this challenge to the established economic order. The design is by María Roade.
Bloomfits is currently accessible through invitation only. But once on the site, people can bring as many friends and relatives as they want into their circle. “And they can invite more people, but you always hold the key to which objects or services you are offering, and you also choose the recipient,” explains Martín, the developer.
Users photograph the object to be loaned or given away — a dress for a wedding, a recently read book — then give it a name and decide which circle of users will have access to it: family, friends, work or all at once.
“It’s like an enormous virtual warehouse of valuable goods, since these are things you would not give to just anyone,” explains a team member. “In exchange for offering a few things, you get access to hundreds of objects that you will never need to buy.” Some people prefer to lend intangible assets: “English conversations offered,” or “I can help you with the parquet floor.”
For now, Costa is financing his idea through his savings from his jobs at now-defunct social-networking site Slide and search giant Google. “There comes a time when you really reconsider the money issue. You have learned the lessons of Silicon Valley and you know how to make more, but money isn’t everything,” he explains. That is when Costa decided to return to Girona with his American wife Christy and their daughter Mia.
Costa, a mechanic by trade who emigrated to California in search of a job, is coming home to try to find something that had eluded him. “Maybe social relations, conversations about something other than money… I don’t know, but suddenly all that — the sun, the good life, the nice house, the cushy job — no longer satisfies you.”
Costa was an executive at Slide, a startup created by Max Levchin, founder of Paypal. Slide was a tool that embedded internet users’ photographs on sites such as MySpace and Facebook. “In 2008 more than 155 million users a month were spending hundreds of hours on our apps,” he notes. The success finally caught Google’s attention; the search engine bought the company for $182 million dollars and most of its employees got shares worth another 46 million. After a year-and-a-half at Google and video-sharing site YouTube, Costa decided that enough was enough.
If Richard Gere has the Dalai Lama, Costa turns for inspiration to Dee Hock, the creator of Visa. “He managed to get all the banks to agree with each other, then disappeared.” At age 54, Dee Hock retired and spent the next decade cultivating a patch of land on the Pacific coast. When he was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame in 1991, Hock had this to say in his acceptance speech: “Through the years, I have greatly feared and sought to keep at bay the four beasts that inevitably devour their keeper — Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition. In 1984, I severed all connections with business for a life of isolation and anonymity, convinced I was making a great bargain by trading money for time, position for liberty, and ego for contentment — that the beasts were securely caged.”
Santi Costa, meanwhile, has created the anti-system: Bloomfits, the site for spiritual benefit.