What is the “Symbiotic Economy,” and How Can Companies Take Advantage?

February 21, 2017


We love to stay on top of developments in both talent and Procurement. Both worlds are on the move, with new tech and new models of purchasing and employment supplanting their twentieth-century equivalents.  We found out about a new company that could be a flash in the pan – as many startups are – or it could be a sign of things to come in the broader economy.

The rise of contingent staffing, the “gig” economy, the “sharing” economy, whatever you want to call it, has had big implications for both employers and employees. Some employees have felt their positions become more precarious, but others – particularly in high-skilled verticals like Procurement and Supply Chain – have been able to thrive, leveraging their specialized skills into high-paid jobs at the cost of some stability. Employers have adopted contingent staffing models to “rent” talent for peak workloads and become more flexible in the way they employ labour. Sites like Upwork have provided marketplaces for freelance hiring that are even more flexible and project-based than bringing on independent contractors on a medium-term basis.

Now, another site has entered the fray that offers people the ability to exchange services without even using currency. Simbi bills itself as the marketplace for the “Symbiotic economy,” a model where people exchange their talents, skipping the need for payments in the first place. It’s a throwback to a pre-currency mode of employment – like the barter system 2.0.

Now: we recognize that cash isn’t going anywhere in the economy. No one is returning to the barter system. People need to be paid. Companies need to be paid. But exchanges of in-kind services is an intriguing idea in a world where more work can happen remotely. For now, most of the freelancer’s service offerings are pretty workaday (Italian conversation lessons, photo editing) rather than the kind of impactful skills that are relevant to a large business. Simbi might be the beginning of things to come rather than something that will transform the workplace even farther in and of itself.

But think about the possibilities for a system like this on a larger, more business-facing scale:

  • A high-skilled Strategic Sourcing professional could do a business transformation for a financial services company in exchange for wealth management services for a fixed period of time, or for life.
  • Business contractors could exchange skills on projects rather than having to pay each-other.
  • Small companies can trade in-kind services rather than cash. A recruitment agency needs web design, and a web design company is looking to hire. They negotiate the terms for them to share each-other’s skills using service levels rather than financial compensation.
  • More broadly, think of large companies transacting business on this level, using each-other’s mutual specialty skills without having to transact. It simplifies supplier negotiations, and leads to more integration between vendor and buyer.

It’s pie in the sky, but it’s also pretty exciting, outside-the-box stuff, both from the perspective of how companies procure services and how individuals seek employment. But what do you think? Is something like Simbi all hype or could this model actually work? Let us know in the comments!  


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