The Story of Simbi or “How I lived a millionaire’s lifestyle on a pauper’s spending”

KJ Simbi PicAllow me to introduce myself — I’m KJ. I founded Simbi about a year ago, and I’d like to welcome you into this budding community.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a few blogs guiding you into the Symbiotic Economy. If you missed my email introductions, or if you haven’t joined Simbi yet and wanted to learn more, you’ll be able to get a whole lot of info in these posts. This is a values-based kind of place, so it’s important that you understand our origin, our mission, and how you can become a central part of our little revolution.

Today, I want to tell you the story of Simbi.

It begins over a decade ago when I was an idealistic young social entrepreneur trying to “help” African refugees. FORGE, the organization I started in 2003, built schools and libraries, internet cafes and health centers. For tens of thousands of refugees living in squalid camps, our work gave them a chance at a better life.

We served 70,000 refugees per year, received presidential awards, and shared the stage with heads of state. And yet, it never felt like enough.

We were a bandaid on a much larger problem. No matter how much the organization did, it wasn’t fundamentally changing a system that left people poor, dependent, and disempowered. “There must be another way”, I thought to myself. I couldn’t tell another eager young refugee that we didn’t have any more scholarships to send him to school.

After almost 10 years of FORGE, I sought a radically different path. I moved to a small town and started a yoga studio. I had slowly gotten into the transformative power of consciousness and healing, and believed it might provide a more sustainable solution for the problems plaguing the planet. My ex and I invested everything we owned into getting our little studio off the ground. It was (and is) a pretty awesome place.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t make a ton of money. After paying our mortgage, we’d find ourselves with no more than a few hundred dollars left over each month. It was pretty desperate, but it wasn’t that different from the economic experience of hundreds of millions of Americans. This country has built the richest economy in the world, and yet all too many of our people sacrifice and struggle just to put food on the table.

Yet, despite being short on cash, I found my way into a surprising solution. By virtue of having a brick-and-mortar studio on the main street of town, people started walking through our doors and approaching me: “Look, I really need yoga. I’m a carpenter — could I build you a custom cabinet for your yoga mats in exchange for some classes?” Ummm, yes! It didn’t take long before I was living the life of someone who made 10x more than I did. Massages, chiropractic, handyman services, accounting, you name it. My ex and I were able to totally transform our standard of living — our bank account be damned.

And there was another, massive benefit: the relationships we built felt more real, and the services we offered each other felt more meaningful. Having come from a background of doing poverty work, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.

You don’t need money to create value.

All you need is a skill, an open heart, and a desire to do something different.

I soon found, however, arranging direct trades can be pretty difficult. I had to rely on the serendipity of who walked into the studio with the nerve to ask. When I really needed to get my hair highlighted and didn’t have the budget to pay for it, I wasn’t willing to knock on doors to get it done. I scoured the internet looking for a marketplace where people could connect and exchange. I found none.

That’s when I knew what I needed to build.

So here we are, a few months into launching Simbi in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. I’ve been blown away by the quality of people we’ve attracted, and the range of possibilities they’re creating for each other. This community is young, but it’s powerful. We still have a long way to go and many obstacles ahead. We will surely make some mistakes along the way. We will need your patience, your help, and your advice. But we will not back down until we’ve shifted from corporatism, consumerism, and greed to interdependence, connection, and abundance.

We know it’s possible.


This was part 1 of 3 of a series written by CEO & Founder of Simbi, KJ Erickson. To learn more about Simbi, or join the Symbiotic Economy, please visit our site at


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