CampusCoin, an online marketplace that uses virtual currency, is what co-founder Galia Benartzi describes as Pinterest meets Craigslist with a little bit of Free and For Sale.
Combining Pinterest’s layout, Craigslist-style listings and the community-centered marketplace of Free and For Sale, CampusCoin allows users to post and sell goods and services. Users can purchase items ranging from concert tickets to tips and advice from older students using the virtual currency, called CampusCoins.
The marketplace, launched about two weeks ago, is an example of a larger trend — a movement away from cash transactions toward those of digital currency. Benartzi and Jackie Mostny, a UC Berkeley alumna and the company’s community manager, said they brought the project to campus because of the school’s diversity of communities.
Mostny, who graduated in 2012, was involved in both the Greek system and the Berkeley Student Cooperative while on campus.
“The microcommunities on campus became a really big part of my life here,” Mostny said. “This concept of communal space that I learned from Berkeley is now an online space where you can walk in and shop for what you need while knowing that what you spend will stay in the community.”
Additionally, Benartzi said UC Berkeley’s history of “rejecting the inherited system” made the campus an attractive choice for the prototype.
Similar to students speaking against government systems and human rights violations, Benartzi said CampusCoin gives students a chance to “check out” of a financial system she believes is flawed.
“There’s a national awakening of how money works and how it doesn’t work,” Benartzi said. “Recent financial crises have woken people up to the idea that something is terribly wrong, and now we can use the digital platforms we have to imagine what a better economy could look like.”
Users of CampusCoin sign up for the site with their UC Berkeley email and are awarded 10 coins — one CampusCoin has a value equivalent to one dollar — to spend in the online market. After joining CampusCoin, students can continue to earn coins by offering an item or service to the community and inviting friends to the site. Once the market has a critical mass of buyers, sellers and items, new CampusCoins will be issued for additional actions such as joining the Facebook group.
Currently, there are 332 users registered for the marketplace. Within the first year, Benartzi and Mostny hope to have thousands of members.
Although CampusCoin is the first community-specific digital currency to reach campus, other online payment systems, such as Bitcoin and Venmo, also exist as alternatives to hard currency.
Max Wilson, president of the Bitcoin Association of Berkeley, believes that although CampusCoin and Bitcoin are different, the systems will build upon each other as more students move away from the idea that one needs hard cash to make transactions. His club aims to bring an ATM unit to the south side of campus at which students would be able to trade cash for Bitcoins.
“The future of money is already happening,” Wilson said. “From here on out, people are going to continue to get used to the idea that they can use their cellphones to make payments and that they can trust a program to handle their wallet.”
Despite Bitcoin’s categorization as a cryptocurrency, a medium of exchange that uses an algorithm to secure transactions, Benartzi credits the system with opening the door for a national conversation about alternative types of money.
“We’re reframing this concept of wealth, of what it means to be wealthy and what it means to have abundance,” Benartzi said.