A new app styled as the “Airbnb for skills” is drawing support from users in Scotland seeking to match their talents with the needs of start-up firms looking to grow their business.

Founded by Clarkston-based Emma McConalogue, Kesero has attracted 160 users since its soft launch at the end of last year. Instead of cash, people trade their skills, with time being the currency.

The aim is to allow individuals and businesses to access services they might not otherwise be able to afford. On a one-to-one basis, that could mean something such as trading an hour of gardening for someone else’s dog-walking.

However, Ms McConalogue said most of the demand so far has come from small firms in need of start-up business support in areas such as marketing, business strategy, social media and graphic design. This is being met in large part by people recently made redundant because of the pandemic, along with new graduates and those seeking to work more flexibly to better balance their personal and professional commitments.

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“I think that is going to be a big part of the market for us,” she said. “In many ways it is operating as a lead generation tool, where people can find businesses in need of their skills.”

Ms McConalogue, a former accountant with Shell, came up with the idea in early 2017 while on maternity leave with her second child. Having already once been through the demands of holding down a full-time job while looking after a young child – and knowing that she would be made redundant at the end of that year – she was considering what her next move might be.

“I knew that getting part-time work as an accountant would be difficult, and I was talking to a friend about that,” she said. “That is really where the inspiration came from, and it all evolved from there.”

She initially got help from Business Gateway to refine her idea, and then secured funding from Scottish Enterprise to develop a prototype put together with the help of Glasgow-based agency Spectre Creative. Kesero has since been funded through a combination of Ms McConalogue’s redundancy pay-out, a Transmit start-up loan and a donation from a potential investor to whom she pitched her idea.

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After a year in development, the app went live in December of last year. Ms McConalogue said despite little advertising or publicity, Kesero has grown by tapping into the growing interest in local communities, and the continuing rise of the sharing and gig economy.

“We’re delighted to be launching Kesero at a time when collaborating and sharing have become so crucial,” she said.

“We’ve been working hard behind the scenes developing and testing the app with our early adopters and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response it’s had. It feels like the timing couldn’t be better.”

Among those early adopters is Paula McPherson, who like many that have been furloughed or laid off during the pandemic is starting a new business.

“Starting a new business is very demanding,” she said, “however having the ability to share my skills with others in exchange for their skills has allowed my business to move forward without delay and reduced costs.”

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Upon joining the platform, users are given two hours of time that they can cash in to recruit the help they need. They build up further time by offering their own skills.

No money changes hands for each booking, and the transfer of time is handled automatically, leaving users free from any awkward requests for payment. Two-way ratings and reviews are used to allow people to evidence their skills.

“We’ve made sure the app is similar to ones people are already using,” Ms McConalogue said. “And Kesero has been carefully designed to be accessible from anywhere: you can list your skills quickly and easily and find what you need, when and where you need it.

“Individuals, businesses and charities can all create accounts and there is a range of account types tailored to the needs of each group.”

Most of the current user base is from the Glasgow vicinity, with a few based in Edinburgh. However, Ms McConalogue is hoping to take Kesero UK-wide within the next couple of years, as there is “no need for the business to be location-specific”.