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Spotlight On Start-Ups: Switchboard, The Craigslist For People You Trust

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Photo credit: iStock

A Portland based start-up company, Switchboard, is an online forum for sharing or trading goods and services.

A community such as a church, school, or neighborhood group can sign up for a Switchboard and then make transactions with one another.

"It's kind of like Craigslist, but just for the people you trust," said Mara Zepeda the co-founder of Switchboard. 

So how does it work?

Every post a user makes on Switchboard is either an "ask" or an "offer," and fellow users in your Switchboard can respond.

Users can share just about anything on the site, from odd jobs to recipies to material items. The 'PDX Startups' Switchboard shares jobs, events, advice and opportunities. The 'Meat Collectives' Switchboard offers users access to local farmers selling holiday turkeys, or home butchers asking for suggestions.

"There's even a Switchboard for women cyclists and they swap gear and crowdsource ride suggestions," said Zepeda. 

So how did it get started?

Zepeda said her and her co-founder, Sean Lerner, got the idea for Switchboard when they graduated from Reed College. She said the Reed network was made up of kind, big-hearted people willing to help students and alumni find things like jobs, internships, or even a place to stay, but that there was no online home for people to be helpful.

"At the time, Reed, like most institutions, was using imperfect tools to connect students and alumni: a static, out-of-date database that was not interactive, and social networking sites that sell user data and sacrifice community building," said Zepeda. "We wanted to make a simple space where communities that care about one another could get away from social sharing and status updates and just help each other out."

Much like Zuckerberg did with Facebook and Harvard, Zepeda and Lerner originally just built Switchboard for Reed College. But it was so successful that other communities such as non-profits, schools, congregations, and even farmers came to them asking for Switchboards of their own.  Time will only tell if it sees the success of Facebook.

Why Portland? 

Zepeda said Portland is a great place to base a start-up company like Switchboard because of the city's attention to detail, focus on local business and authentic spirit of collaboration. 

"Portland makes sense for many reasons. The city has become a laboratory of sorts, in which different micro-communities use Switchboard. This has given us invaluable user feedback from a number of sectors that inform the features we add and how we grow," said Zepeda. We're honored to have built a tech company with roots in the local community."  

Starting a business is never an easy task, but Zepeda encourages aspiring business owners to think of it as fixing something that is broken. 

"But the only way to confirm something is broken, and that you've hit on a valuable fix, is to get out and talk to as many customers as possible," said Zepeda. "At every step, ask users for feedback. Become an anthropologist of your problem space."

Visit Switchboard, join a Switchboard community and make and ask or offer here. 


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