Dave: Hey everyone, Dave here with another episode of the Philly Tech Connect podcast. Today I’m speaking with Abu Kamara. Abu is the Innovation leader of Barter AI, which is a developing AI assistant that connects people with people. But we’re gonna learn more about what that really means. Abu, how you doing?

Abu: I’m doing well, Dave. How are you?

Dave: I’m doing well as well. Thanks for being an active member of the PT Community. We met at one of the happy hours that we did recently at Victory Brewing that ran into New Adventure Cafe. Now you’re on the podcast, so it’s always good when you start to see people in multiple places. Have you been engaging with the scene a little bit, and is that new for you, or you’ve been a long time active member?

Abu: I’m relatively new. I want to say this might be like month two or three of me showing up in person and whatnot. I’ve heard of PT here and there, but prior to that, I was working full-time at another startup. I wasn’t really out and about. But more recently, I’ve been more active in a lot of networking events and just networks in general.

Dave: Awesome. Let’s talk about what happened more recently. It seems like you implied that you left your job to go start a project or a business. Is that true, or what’s going on?

Abu: Yeah, unfortunately but also fortunately, I was affected by the tech layoffs. It was a good fit, honestly. The work that I had done at the startup was pretty much done, and they were tight on money. I saw that as an opportunity to start to apply more effort and work towards Barter AI that I’ve had for a while.

Dave: Awesome. I’m sorry, obviously, to hear about the layoffs. That’s unfortunate. But it’s good that you are taking this as a silver lining opportunity to pursue an interest of yours. So let’s talk about Barter AI. Tell me about what the concept is and how you came up with the idea.

Abu: The concept is just as you said. It is a developing AI assistant that connects people to people for the purpose of exchanging resources, skills, and services. There were a series of inspirations. I like to say that I started this startup because I failed my last one back when I was in college. I co-founded a grocery delivery service for international students that was solving a huge issue for international students, but it required a lot of overhead even in the MVP development phase, and we really just couldn’t afford that level of overhead. Unfortunately, after a year and a half to two years, we had to put it on pause forever. And so I started thinking like, okay, there are lots of startups that face this issue. 90% of startups fail, one in three fail because of running out of cash. So how do we address this issue, especially for early stage businesses and startups? Then I was inspired by a kind of new age bartering concept that when paired with AI could almost automate these experiences and situations where you’re connected with the right people to where you form a mutually beneficial relationship and support each other. So that more or less was the inspiration and cause for Barter AI.

Dave: Cool, man. Yeah, I want to dive into that a little bit more and understand. So the specifics and maybe you’re at a point right now where still trying to develop that product-market fit and you don’t have the exact solution yet. But when I think of the word barter, correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t necessarily think about an exchange of money but more of an exchange of services or maybe some sort of goods or something like that. So is that the idea? Hey, somebody is an expert or has these types of resources, for example, they know how to produce a podcast and I know how to do digital marketing. Hey, I’ll do a couple of hours for you, you do a couple of hours for me, we work together. Something like that?

Abu: Yeah, that’s exactly the concept. That’s actually a prime example.

Dave: Interesting. Okay, cool. So in theory, you might be asking everybody to say what they can offer and what they need, and then they have to come with some way of valuing their service or their time and what they think is fair in return or something like that?

Abu: Yes, more or less. And it’s funny that you bring that up specifically because an ongoing question has been like, okay, how do you really facilitate the value of resources and skills, right? These more intangible things. And so far, I guess our answer to that question has been these things are so context-based that perhaps it’s not necessary to try to step in and give everything a super defined meaning of value. The value is really dependent on the person, how much they value somebody coming in and helping out with the podcast, how much they value somebody coming in and helping with marketing or like technical stuff. And we like to say that we take a step back and just form the connection and see what manifests.

Dave: One of the things that’s always tricky about this too is like filling up the marketplace enough that there’s enough people that offer the variety of services that people need. Are you thinking of trying to start in any particular niches or industries to maybe narrow that down, or is this B2B, B2C, hey, I need somebody to help with my plumbing, I can help with it, what’s the spectrum of what we’re talking about here?

Abu: Just to be clear, I’m still like super early. I have an MVP out, and that’s really just a website that goes through a certain flow and collects information from attempts to target early stage businesses and founders. But to answer your question, it’s generally early stage businesses and founders. I think we’re still at a point in discovery where it’d be wise to narrow down a bit more and pick an even more niche. But we’re still taking in information, interviewing people, and trying to decide, okay, what do we stay more hyper-focused on? Because as you can imagine, which is why I think you presented the question, it can be difficult to… there are a vast amount of skills and resources and people out there in general, right? That come from a variety of backgrounds. So it’s okay, how do you do this thing where you’re trying to connect users to where you’re finding people who are more immediately beneficial to others where they could form a mutually beneficial relationship? Yes, there’s still some discovery to be done there in terms of narrowing down.

Dave: Of course, it’s always about the discovery. Never ends, just there’s always twists and turns and things like that. As I mentioned, we’ve been connecting at some of the different entrepreneurial startup scenes in Philadelphia. Have you been talking about this idea with people? Have you gotten any feedback, potential beta users, or just in what is your impression of the scene been?

Abu: I’ve been engaging with individuals from PT, obviously, but also Venture Cafe. There are a couple of other networking events like Philly AI Connect, which is new. And then there’s Philly Data and AI. I’m also part of Venture for America, which has a kind of a Teach for America model but around startups. I like to say that it’s a Tinder for people who want to work at startups and startups themselves, but they provide a lot of very helpful and useful resources for fellows that want to pursue startup work or startups. And so I’ve also been able to tap into that network of people to connect and do a little bit of beta testing.

Dave: What’s next in terms of the roadmap? I don’t know if this is live where just anybody could sign up, maybe doing more of a closed kind of invite-only type of experience. But what are your goals coming up?

Abu: There are two sides to it. There’s, I want to say, this discovery and user engagement side. So it’s around engaging conversations with more early stage businesses and early stage founders, trying to get them to submit to the MVP that I have. We’re actually working on a kind of next-level MVP that answers some of the user feedback that we’ve gotten from this initial one. Just have people submit to that, engage in more conversations, do that level of discovery. But then there’s also some work on the tech end. And if you’re in the AI space, you know the challenges around machine learning and engineering around the AI that you’re leveraging, whether it’s conversational AI or more generative AI. And so there is that technical challenge. So what we’re doing is taking a bit of a manual approach, gathering information and prepping that for machine learning purposes. So that’s what we’re working on now. I would say the next step is to continue to do that and really engage and capitalize on these upcoming events and opportunities, including Philly Tech Week. You know, it’s going to be my first time going, and you know, I think there’s going to be a lot of fun just connecting with more and more people and trying to see, okay, how do we deliver the value to our target markets.

Dave: Yeah, it’ll be my first Tech Philly Tech Week as well. I’m excited to see what to expect and hopefully I’ll see you there. You had mentioned that we are working on this. Our plans are this. Who else is involved in Barter AI?

Abu: I don’t have a co-founder right now. I would like a co-founder, so I’m doing some investigating and trying to see who’s out there, who’s interested. But right now, I have a part-time project manager that’s helping with some of the backend very manual processes, just taking in user information and organizing it a bit better for other purposes. And then I do have a more so a consultative software engineer who’s taking lead in setting up some future infrastructure and whatnot.

Dave: Very cool. Someone out there listening may be that potential co-founder. They may also just be interested in being a part of the beta or giving you some feedback. So if anybody wants to follow up with you, get in touch. Where should they go?

Abu: Yeah, they could reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m Abu Kamara with this face. You could also reach me via email, which is Abu thecreative@gmail.com. I would say that those are the two primary channels. If you’re in PT, definitely hit me up on Slack.

Dave: Awesome, man. Yeah, appreciate it. Hopefully, someone will get in touch. Love the idea and want to talk more about it. Thank you for being a PT member, for coming out to the event, and also just supporting the tech community at large. And appreciate you. All right, see you soon.

Abu: Yeah, sounds good. Thanks, Dave.