Barter App Is Kids’ Stuff . . . & Much More

Now that the holidays have left behind a new pile of toys, it may be time to get rid of some old ones. Shabbir and Burhanuddin Shams of Naperville are building an app for that. 

QuikToy is a toy trading app designed to teach kids useful lessons and facilitates possible new friendships. Inspiration struck about a year ago while the father and son were tackling their annual basement clean-out. "This time he had bags and bags of toys  . . .  my son was 11, and kind of said he was done with toys," says father Shabbir.

His son Burhanuddin asked if he could trade some of his toys. "It was just kind of a moment. I said, ‘Why don’t we do that? I’ll take some pictures and post them on Facebook,’" Shabbir says. He added a note to the photos: "This is what my son has. If anyone is willing to trade, let me know." Boy, did they!

"It just snowballed. A lot of people said they’d be willing and told us what they had." 

The passing comment morphed into a meet-up of 50 people at the local elementary school, where 200 toys were traded. Gazing at the crowd of kids enthusiastically perusing and bartering, Shabbir realized they’d hit on something. "We said ‘Let’s keep going and see if  we can build an app for that.’"

Around 50 toy trading parties later, they have learned a few things. Even younger kids "get" the idea of trading. "It’s uncanny how their minds work when they’re doing these trades. It even evolves during the meet-up. They do one trade, learn from it, and figure out what’s at stake, what’s going on."

Kids are pretty savvy about the value of one toy versus another, but parents still try to intervene. "Our stance is we don’t butt in, but I have to remind parents. I tell them to come with the notion that, at worst, you have toys you might give up or don’t mind donating. At best, you come out with an amazing trade your kid is happy with."

Win-wins seem to prevail. Not only do most of the kids leave happy, they often meet new friends — someone in the area who also likes, say, LEGO or Star Wars. "In the groups we’ve had so far, 6-to-8-year-olds seem to be the sweet spot. They’re the most brutal in negotiations — they negotiate like there’s no tomorrow," says Shabbir with a laugh. "They end up making fewer, but better, deals and walk out with a big smile."

The toy-trading meet-ups provide research for the Napervillians to fine-tune QuikToy, which aims to provide more than just new playthings. "It helps kids become savvy in terms of trading, helps make the world a cleaner place, and teaches concepts like commerce and entrepreneurship — those are the values behind why we do this."

Barter rules are simple: one toy for one toy. "When parents get too involved — ‘this toy is worth more!’ — we remind them not to get in the way," says Shabbir. "The kids are happy with any toy."

The parties have proliferated through word of mouth. Shabbir hopes to set up many more through the winter and spring, offering his expertise for free. "A friend in Oak Brook does this every quarter now. It’s great for kids to come together, connect with each other and have a new library of toys every three months."

The free app, aimed at 6-to-12-year-olds, is expected to launch in Chicago and the suburbs this summer. Simple enough for kids to use on their own, it provides security oversight from parents. Trades are made in person, within a set radius of a child’s home. The app suggests a public place to meet without disclosing where either child lives."It’s an app, but ultimately it’s the human element that is critical. If you meet someone to trade LEGOs, you may get to know each other. You live nearby. You can develop offline friendships," says Shabbir, whose day job is in banking and finance tech.

A surprising by-product? His sons are less tempted by impulse buys. "Right now, we have a policy that most new toys you get are through trades. But once in a while, it’s ‘Let’s buy something.’ They’ve become better consumers — they look at value retention. I want it, but is it something others would be interested in? They discuss which is the ‘better deal.’ Does it have this or that? They look at all these dimensions now." 

Best of all, Shabbir notes, the kids are figuring things out for themselves."We aren’t telling them, ‘Don’t do this.’ We’ve shown them their decisions have impact." 

That’s a lesson they’ll keep.