The Big Read

Trading places: How Bunz went from cashless bartering community to cryptocurrency flameout

“If f—— up is an art, I’m Picasso,” said Sascha Mojtahedi. It was March 2018, and he was addressing a room filled with hundreds of other entrepreneurs at a speakers’ series about failure. “I can’t count the number of things that I’ve started and made a complete mess of,” he said, listing some of them: there was the motorcycle shop, the wearable-tech company, the band and most recently, he admitted, Bunz. 

The Toronto-based bartering platform—whose users can trade everything from furniture to bus tokens, but never money—had attracted buzz as it went from an informal online community to a growing business. But Mojtahedi, its CEO, was recounting the story of the company’s terrible year: a failed redesign had seen it lose swaths of users and core employees as it blew through $1 million of angel funding. Bunz had since bounced back, he assured the crowd, thanks, in no small part, to his belief in the company and his sense of duty to it. What Mojtahedi didn’t tell the audience was that Bunz was about to launch a cryptocurrency; unbeknownst to him at the time, it would become his messiest endeavor yet. 

Less than two years after the digital currency’s launch, Mojtahedi had failed to secure funding to sustain it. As it unravelled this fall, to try to keep Bunz alive he cut most small business out of the program, fired the bulk of his employees and froze their crypto wallets, blocking them from spending their tokens. In the process, the company alienated most of the online communities that once bore its name, and drove away the brand’s founder, Emily Bitze.

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