Small businesses connecting through this for that
by Stuart Kennedy
This content is produced by The Australian Financial Review in commercial partnership with Telstra.
A new commerce site that lets participants employ the ancient art of quid pro quo while helping develop connections between small businesses has had its first transactions.
The Proquo platform went live in June after a year in development. The site’s name is a play on the Latin “quid pro quo”, meaning “something for something” or “this for that”.
The idea is to provide a place where small businesses can not only transact with each other by buying, selling and swapping services, but also build collaborative alliances.
Proquo startup is an equal joint venture between NAB and Telstra, with the platform being developed both at NAB’s innovation hub, NAB Labs, and Telstra’s Gurrowa Innovation Lab.
While anyone with an ABN can use Proquo, the only services that can be traded are technology, marketing, design, accounting or legal services.
The first transaction on the new services trading platform was between Bourne Digital and Career Money Life, two Melbourne-based startups.
Sandy Hutchison, founder and CEO at three-year-old Career Money Life, was after a crack web design outfit to upgrade the public side of the company’s site.
“We built that part of the site at the beginning, and it was on my to-do list that we really needed to update it. It needed to be more aligned to our brand,” she says.
Choice and control
She knew Proquo was being developed through her connection to The Village at the NAB co-working complex in Melbourne’s Docklands, and decided to become an early participant.
Career Money Life offers career development and outplacement services, and lets the employee choose what services they want and when. It has everything on tap from resumé-writing to psychological counselling.
“It allows people to have choice and control while also giving corporates the governance and control over the funds,” says Hutchison. “We meet and vet anyone who becomes a supplier – it’s a high standard.”
Hutchison found Bourne Digital after listing her requirements. She likens Proquo to a dating site for small business. “It’s good at matching people. You can list the things you are looking for and the things you offer.”
Once a match is made between participants, the platform helps facilitate the process of developing a brief of work that is agreed upon by both parties and the form of payment, whether cash, a service swap or both.
On their side of the deal Melbourne-based Bourne Digital, a nine-month-old startup founded by managing director Selim Ahmed, was looking for business.
Range of services
Bourne Digital offers a range of services including digital platform design, usability testing, web and mobile app development and advanced analytics.
Ahmed knew about Proquo from having been a service provider to the platform and was keen to use the platform to help Bourne Digital build relationships with the startup community.
While Bourne Digital has a number of corporate clients, it also wanted to get involved with more avant-garde smaller businesses and be able to feed back insights gained in the startup world to its large enterprise clients.
“My background is corporate so that has given me access to larger enterprises, but a lot of the real cutting-edge projects don’t happen at corporate they happen in the startup world and the SME world, where there is a need to be innovative and agile,” Ahmed says.
“We were among the first to get on to Proquo because it is a zero-barrier to entry platform for a whole new market that we couldn’t access otherwise.
“What we found was a whole lot of people on Proquo looking for web design and web development services.”
One of those was Career Money Life. “They were our first transaction on Proquo and we really wanted to get it right,” says Ahmed, adding that building trust and offering a five-star service level is vital to further participation on the platform.
While Ahmed’s first transaction on Proquo was for pay, he says future ones could be barters.
“Are we up for bartering? Absolutely. We see that as a new way of working for SMB.”