Bunz Trading Zone — the popular Toronto Facebook group where members can swap everything from tall cans of beer to house plants for goods and services — is winding down.
But Bunz the company is just getting started.
What began as a local Toronto Facebook group in 2013, inspiring myriad spinoffs and copycats, has since evolved into a fledgling company — and on Monday, it released a redesigned version of its mobile app.
'I get that a lot of people are just more comfortable using Facebook ... but we'll be better.' - Emily Bitze, founder of Bunz
At the same time, the Bunz Trading Zone Facebook group, which now numbers nearly 60,000, will no longer be accepting new members, the company said.
Emily Bitze, who founded the Facebook group in 2013, said the company can't maintain both communities simultaneously, and she believes that the future of Bunz — which has its sights set on a global expansion — lies in its app.
"We have such a greater vision for Bunz, and we really want to focus on that," said Bitze, also the company's founder, in an interview at Bunz's downtown Toronto office last week. "And to be honest, we haven't been able to give the Facebook group the attention it deserves."
Bloomberg first reported that the core Bunz group would no longer be accepting new users last month.
The City Network
In the new app, what were once separate Facebook groups are now presented as feeds — collectively referred to as the City Network.
There is a feed for general discussion, or non-trade posts, with others in your local city.
There is also a dedicated feed for trades, of course, and a separate feed for house hunting (on Facebook, known as Bunz Home Zone) and questions (formerly Bunz Helping Zone).
There are plans to add a feed for job hunting in the near future, too — and eventually, user-created feeds for niche interests such as knitting or internet memes.
Bunz is also working on a feed called Experiences, tentatively planned for the summer, where members can offer their skills for sale — say, a small dumpling-making class, or a graffiti tour of a neighbourhood.
"We saw the way that the community was organizing themselves, and we saw their needs, and it was just about finding out how to put a lasso around all of this stuff and put it into an app," Bitze said.
'We'll be better'
Bunz doesn't yet know what it will do with its Facebook group — but its slow demise shouldn't come as a surprise, given the company's global ambitions.
"At the end of the day, we're not really in control of our group there," Bitze said. "We're just tenants in Facebook's house."
In the past, companies with deep Facebook ties have had to contend with the possibility that an update or change to the platform — a tweak of an algorithm here, or the elimination of a feature there — could have drastic negative effects on their business.
More importantly, as Bunz expands, bringing its multiple sprawling groups to new cities would also pose a logistical challenge on Facebook. And Bunz would have limited ability to introduce new features own on a product that Facebook controls, versus a product designed by Bunz itself — both of which the app solves.
"I get that a lot of people are just more comfortable using Facebook because they're on Facebook all day long," Bitze said. "But we'll be better."
Since the Bunz app was first released in January 2016 for iPhone and Android phones, 100,000 users have signed up, according to Sarena Ally, Bunz's marketing lead.
"Over 50 per cent of our users are in Toronto proper with more stretching across the GTA," Ally said, followed by Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal and Edmonton. She declined to provide specific numbers.
The new version also coincides with a more aggressive international push — starting with Brooklyn, New York, and Austin, Texas.
But an open question is how Bunz will make money — a strategy that Bitze and her colleagues were reluctant to discuss, because their monetization plans are still under development, they said.
The company has 13 full-time employees at present and is in the process of raising additional funding, according to Ally.
She would only say that the company has raised "a significant seed investment from an anonymous angel investor" — declining to name the amount, the name of the investor, or whether the investor is U.S. or Canadian.
For now, Bitze says, the company's top priority is ensuring the "community vibe" that made the Facebook group so successful translates successfully to the app.
"People don't like change," Bitze admitted, "[But] we want people to understand that we built it for the community."