TradeMade is an app for bartering items and services with an environmentally conscious approach.  


PHOTOS: Jena Cumbo

An excerpt from an interview with Co-founders Jake Madoff and Royal Sayewitz. 

How did you come up with the idea for TradeMade?

Royal: I would say it’s a combination of a lot of things that we were studying. One of the very first things you learn as an environmental studies student is that Earth has a finite amount of certain resources. And after we utilize all of that, we’re done. So the idea for TradeMade is based around making use of what is already circulating in the material economy because we can’t just keep sucking resources out of the planet. On top of that, for my senior thesis, I investigated how carbon labeling could kind of nudge people towards procuring things second hand as opposed to buying them new. So we kind of implemented a carbon labeling system to influence the behaviors of second hand consumption.

Initially, did you guys have the idea to create an app? And then you came up with something that aligned with your interests? Or did you know that you wanted to create something in the sustainability realm from the get go?

Royal: I think it started as an environmental project. And the bartering system, the carbon labeling system and all the elements that became TradeMade are just a manifestation of all of our fundamental beliefs. First and foremost, we’re environmentalists…that’s what we care about and this is kind of just a coherent platform that incorporates all of the ideas that we are thinking about. 

Jake: We always have to be reminded that the way in which we package it, or market it, needs to be money oriented. That's what people respond to. In a sense of, it’s money saving first and environmentally conscious second. We hope the core of it, being an environmental project, will shine through when people use the app. 

How did you guys meet?

Jake: We met in ethics class called Cooperation of the Commons. I like to say that he always offered food…he always had food when he came in. 

Royal: I always had elaborate meals. 

Jake: He had his degree in the culinary arts…so he would always bring great food. Even full meals sometimes. And that’s so rare for anyone to offer food in a class. Then we started just talking and I was doing a startup that was in the green labeling space and we just kind of shared ideas and it happened. 

Are you both fully working on it, or do you have other jobs?

Royal: It’s part time for both of us. 

Where do you guys work?

Royal: I’m a market manager with growNYC.

Jake: And I’m working on another startup called Agreeable and Co. It’s “where great taste meets conscious consumption.”

How would you say that your time is broken up? 

Royal: I have a job that I spend about 40 hours a week on…I would say I spend about 40 hours a week on TradeMade as well. 

Jake: We probably have about 6 hours a week of tabling sessions at NYU. And then, phone calls and emails, phone calls and emails.

Do you have an office space? 

Royal: Washington Square Park. 

What is success for TradeMade?

Royal: I think the figurative way to explain success would be when it catches and we see people downloading it and using it on its own. It’s not like, we do an event and we see that translate into six downloads and six uploads of items. But when it happens on its own...organically.

Jake: I like to phrase it as a ‘micro pipe-dream’ and a ‘macro pipe-dream’ — the micro would be having people uploading things, being ok with meeting someone in person. Just seeing social barriers somewhat deteriorate. And the macro, for me, would be talking with people on the street—or anyone that has used it—and see that they know what the carbon footprint of any random item is, like a book…which is 16 lbs of carbon by the way. That would be the moment of, oh my god…it’s finally settling in.

Do you guys see yourselves as entrepreneurs? 

Jake: No.

Royal: Yeah. What I realized one morning was that this idea wasn’t born of: ok, this is awesome we want to create this and make it a viable business. It just had to come out. It was just a manifestation of everything we were feeling, you know? It wasn’t like we need to make this a profitable business. It was that this thing just needs to exist.

Jake: I don’t like how entrepreneurs are fetishized in modern day society. I was recently talking to someone who was writing a book about entrepreneurs. I asked if he has talked to anyone in the environmental space, if he had talked to anyone focused on climate action or climate awareness. And he said, No. I asked, why not? And he said, I don’t think that’s interesting to people. I asked, What. why not? He said, People are more interested in tech people — who are changing the way we socialize. I said, Ok…great. But can we not just give some credit to other things? Other kinds of technology? When is money going to be start being put towards things that don’t make money but actually make a difference?

Which technology do you think will have the most positive impact on human society in the future. I would assume 3D printing would not be your answer…

Royal: We both actually interned with a professor who uses 3D printing in an interesting way. He prints our biological material instead of plastic. 

That’s one side of 3D printing. But the other use of — printing a new fork for every meal seems to go against everything that TradeMade is about. 

Royal: Right. I mean, 3D printing could be interesting in that sense…if we figure out ways to print with sustainable materials. 

Jake: It’s happening. Pineapple leather. It’s pineapple waste that they’re now printing into leather fashion. The technology started in Australia. 

Jake: I am very pessimistic about VR. I’m worried about technology taking physical nature out of the picture. I’m worried about people being ok with real nature being removed…and being replaced with someone experiencing nature using VR. But I recently talked to someone who had a really interesting rebuttal to that. He said that It may cause people to feel more connected. Using VR, let’s say you have someone visit a National Park or experience a jungle that’s being deforested and you’re literally seeing animals having to migrate, or seeing differences between a glacier from 2008 to 2016. If people are really able to experience that, then VR has the power to build empathy like no other technology.

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years time?

Royal: In a forest. 

Jake: That’s what we always say…in a forest. 


- Interviewed by H.B., ROKO Labs.