Getting Rid of Used Items in the Arab World? Swaphood Makes It Fun

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When Zaid Jawad built Swaphood in Dubai last October, he had been looking for a site where he could post items to sell or trade, where they wouldn't get buried among a barrage of other classified ads.

"When it comes to good used items that we don't use anymore, we all feel guilty about throwing them away," says Jawad. But the available solutions are few. "You could always list on regional classified sites. But the problem with these sites is that they include so many other classifieds, for cars, properties, and even jobs. Your items have a shelf life of 1-2 days at best, and then they get buried."

To solve this problem, he built map-localized Swaphood to allow people to post and exchange items in their neighborhoods. While potentially a fun new way to meet people, the process may also benefit the local economy, by bringing second-hand goods back into the market, even if by bartering. It's not a charity service. "You can offer to swap something or can offer cash," says Jawad.

Aside from a clear focus, what sets Swaphood apart from other posting sites is its elegant simplicity. On the homepage, the first thing a potential swapper sees is a giant map, localized to the city from which they are browsing. Swappers can zoom in and out on available items or browse by category in a sidebar.

Posting an item also just takes a few clicks- no photos, no long descriptions. Once a user types in an item's description, images of the item immediately pop up, thanks to Amazon's ItemLookup API. After signing in via Facebook or Twitter or registering on the site, voilá, swappers can post away.

Its simplicity and low barriers to use speak to Jawad's experience, and have likely catalyzed the site's swift growth. Since Swaphood's official launch in November 2011, it's grown from around 800 registered users and 300 items posted as of January 2012, to over 2000 members and averages 65,000 monthly pageviews, with over 3,050 items posted as of today. Its biggest uptake has been in the UAE, Egypt, India and now Qatar. 

Yet Jawad didn't quit his day job as the CTO of Dubai-based VC firm Honeybee Tech Ventures, which launched last year, to build Swaphood’s traffic. Ever since he co-founded business news portal Zawya, along with Ihsan Jawad and Husain Makiya in 2001, Jawad says toying with startup ideas has been his weekend hobby.

"I didn't invest money in the idea," he says. "I just experimented on the weekends and evolved it into a functioning website."

While the site is similar to, Swaphood, aside from enhancing search with a sleek map, doesn't offer courier services, instead cutting costs for swappers by encouraging them to meet locally. Jawad also made sure to offer electronics- now one of his most popular categories- from the start. "A lot of people want to get rid of old iPhones," he admits. Yet he also sees a lot of teenagers posting games to trade, and mothers and housewives posting baby and kitchen items.

To enhance the social dimension, Swaphood has now added a Facebook plugin called "Friend's Items," where users can view what Facebook friends have listed. As the site looks to expand into other markets like the U.S. or U.K., Jawad hopes that the social element of Swaphood will help the site grow organically. An Arabic version is also on its way. 

At the end of the day, says Jawad, the site is about enjoying the process of finding new things. "We all swapped toys, books, video games with friends when we were kids," he says. "I think we forgot the fun and social part of this engagement as we got older and would be nice to experience it again." 

Hopefully Jawad’s focus on fun and an experimental approach will inspire more wanna-be weekend entrepreneurs to simply launch an idea already.

"What's critical for building a site is simply to experiment," says Jawad. "If you don't try, you fail by default. If you have a concept and the resources and ability to test it out, it's ok to fail. I have failed before in many instances, but you can always learn something through what you do."

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