Kiva partners with Zaarly, Etsy and others to pair marketplaces with microloans

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on July 1, 2013

From The News Desk

Mike Stone drove through the streets of San Francisco one night last December, worrying whether he had made a big mistake. He had quit his job at a retail store the month before to launch a business selling DIY kits for making your own wall clocks, cocktails, soy candles, terrariums, and tea blends. A few weeks into the effort, he and his partner had used up their savings, failed at getting their products into, and were having a "we're going to fail" crisis.

To get by, Stone had started offering rides to strangers through Lyft. He hated driving, and he wasn't exactly in a jovial mood when a dark haired woman - his latest customer - clambered into the backseat. She started asking Stone questions about his life outside Lyft, and when he mentioned his fledgling business she took notice. Like many of Stone's customers through the tech savvy Lyft clientele, she worked at a tech startup -- Zaarly -- and thought that Stone would be a perfect fit for the business.

Zaarly started as a Task Rabbit esque company, which would allow people to post how much they'd pay for certain services, like "receiving a cheeseburger at my house" or "getting my bathroom curtain fixed." But the company pivoted their purpose in September. Now, the startup handpicks the best local service/goods providers from thousands of applicants to get an online Zaarly storefront. Zaarly sends professional photographers to shoot the provider's wares, pays for shipping costs when customers buy the product through the e-commerce site, and offers other resources to help the chosen entrepreneurs grow their business.

Stone's customer talked him into applying for Zaarly. The startup picked his business, then business picked up, and by January Stone quit Lyft and started working full-time on DIY Makerskits. They're interviewing for tech incubators, trying to develop a mobile app, and publishing a book. All these projects require capital, which was the one thing Zaarly couldn't give Makerskit - until now.

Kiva Zip, a branch of Kiva that provides crowdsourced micro loans to American entrepreneurs, is striking deals with several startups - Etsy, Zaarly, and SideTour - to trade services. "Kiva came to us and said, 'We are able to give people the money they need to get going, but we have trouble getting them to the next step. But that sounds like something you do for a living at Zaarly,'" said Bo Fishback, founder of Zaarly.

Kiva is giving micro loans to a handful of Zaarly's storefront owners that need a loan to take the next step in growing their businesses. In exchange, Zaarly will provide online storefronts and resources for a few Kiva borrowers.

"I would say since the beginning of the year we've really started thinking about giving-get partnerships," said Justin Renfro, Associate Manager of Business Development for Kiva Zip. "We only provide one small piece of the puzzle - capital. It's a pretty big piece of the puzzle, because it takes capital to grow your business but there's a lot of things other businesses offer." Mike Stone is one of these beneficiaries, and Makerskits will be using their Kiva Zip loan to speed up their growth and finish their mobile app.

In the inaugural Zaarly-Kiva class, 4 Kiva borrowers will work with Zaarly to create an e-commerce presence, and 3 Zaarly entrepreneurs will receive $5,000 no-interest Kiva loans. It's a small group in the scheme of the SF entrepreneur landscape, but Kiva's Renfro says they start small with such partnerships, to see if the loans get repaid and are valuable for the borrowers.

Kiva Zip is striking deals that stand out in the world of non-profit and startup partnerships. Their recent agreements are symbiotic, in that each organization is helping the other. Generally, startups partner with charity organizations so they can give back (and get good press), not so they can receive something in return (see: Warby Parker, and Google, among many others).

Although it makes good business sense for a non-profit and startup to help bolster each others' weak spots, both organizations have different philosophies and bottom lines. Zaarly's Fishback said, "That's the bet here: that our two organizations are so aligned that we're not adding too much work to each place. If it turns out we're wrong about this, that we want something different for our storefront owners then Kiva wants for their entrepreneurs, then this almost certainly won't work out."