I don't know about you, but sometimes my personal and business accounts aren't as fat as I'd like them to be. It can be mentally frustrating, because I admittedly start going through a checklist of how that potentially could limit what I'd like to achieve. But based on Nahema  Mehta's story, old-fashioned bartering deserves way more of our attention.

Talent and passion, not cold, hard cash

Mehta used to be on a quest to tick off as many "impress them" boxes as she could, working for organizations such as Merrill Lynch, Sotheby's and even the Supreme Court. But those boxes had nothing in them when it came to making Mehta truly happy, and eventually she'd had enough.

"I knew that art was something near and dear to me," Mehta says, "and decided to invest my time and energy into something that spoke to me, which led me to launch my passion project, Art Remba."

Through Art Remba, Mehta hoped to bridge the disconnect between young art enthusiasts and galleries. There was only one problem--while she understood how critical a website would be, she couldn't afford to pay both a designer and coder.

But instead of giving up or trying to pitch others for funding, Mehta got creative.

"Even though I wasn't going to be an expert, I knew as a founder I should have some experience coding. So, I asked if I had any other skills the coder could find useful and ended up exchanging one hour of French lessons for one hour of coding lessons. I ended up with a great website, and he ended up speaking conversational French."

From small company to global mission

With her website up, Mehta eventually ended up on a panel at a conference about the future of e-commerce. In the audience were Paul Duffy and Lena Danielsson, the then-current CEO and innovation director for vodka brand Absolut. The pair immediately caught on to what Mehta aimed to do and approached Mehta about leaving Art Remba. The result was the creation of Absolut Art as an autonomous startup with the Absolut brand. That backing meant that Mehta finally was able to do what she loved on a global scale.

Mehta admits that she and her Absolut Art co-founder, Marcus Lådö, had to handle a pretty big learning curve when getting started. This was particularly true in hiring, where they had to learn to take time to slow down and ensure that each employee was supported and aligned with the organization's goals. And stepping out of Absolut's shadow sometimes can be difficult, too.

But Mehta also says Absolut's reach offers a huge advantage when it comes to connecting with consumers, and that the opportunity to work with and learn from Absolut's executives has been invaluable. Quantifying the success, since starting in 2015, the Absolut Art team has grown 700 percent, opened an office in New York City and expanded the platform to include art from more than 10 countries.

And Absolut Art has provided other opportunities, too. For example, after unexpectedly having to hang 100 works in a single evening, Mehta and Lådö created "Hangsmart", a device that allows you to quickly mount, position, adjust and level a piece of art. That device is set to officially launch this fall and connects to Absolut Art's mission of greater accessibility to contemporary art.

All because one person looked at what she had to give instead of what was in her pocketbook.

How to make bartering work for you

Today, Mehta wholeheartedly encourages other entrepreneurs to barter if they can, too.

"Bartering for work is win-win: You receive the assistance you need while sharing your gifts with the world."

There's no real formal process to bartering, as Mehta points out. But she offers the following guidelines if you want to do an exchange yourself:

1.     Identify your power points. These are whatever skills or material assets you've got to trade. You often can pin them down by thinking about your hobbies, side gigs or the positive elements of previous reviews. When in doubt, ask others!

"Everyone has something they're good at and can offer to the world, so come up with a few of your hidden talents that you think there might be a market for."

2.     Tap your network. "Start spreading the word that you're looking to trade your special skills for whatever you're on the hunt for, and you'll be surprised how connected you actually are. In addition, you could utilize message boards, social media or listservs to post and see who bites." 

3.     Put it in writing. "In order to make sure you have a smooth transaction, be sure to set specific guidelines upfront and consider drafting a contract to make sure both parties will end up satisfied--everything is better on paper!"

But most importantly, have courage!

"Be daring," Mehta urges. "You'll find power in vulnerability. You can do this by taking calculated risks early in your career and being persistent once you do. It's also important to always remember that world is small and (if you're lucky) life is long. Make a habit of creating value for the people around you -- you'll be surprised at the number of doors that open along the way."

Published on: Aug 24, 2018
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