5 Minutes With. . . Karla Ballard


Karla Ballard is the CEO and Founder of YING, a peer-to-peer skill sharing platform leveraging Time Credits as a form of payment for skill exchanges. Members can use YING to earn Time Credits for tasks such as volunteering or helping out friends. The credits can be spent on other members to use their skills for help.

Karla has worked with Comcast/NBC, Verizon, Participant Media, Sprint, City Year and others. She’s spoken at Harvard, UCLA and Georgetown University. She is a board member of Alliance for Women in Media and Co-Chair of the Gracie’s Awards Gala and USC’s Next Gen Council for Stephen Spielberg’s SHOAH Foundation. She’s also served as the first female national president of the National Urban League Young Professionals.

What led to you start YING?

Seventeen years ago I was working in a neighborhood in Anacostia, D.C. and was blown away by some of the comments from residents that I was exposed to that were part of a time bank. I was very curious because I was a former banker at MBNA America, which was then bought out by Bank of America, and I couldn’t believe there was something called time banking. So, I was absolutely astounded by the excitement from the residents that I worked with that they could actually acknowledge the skills they had and utilize the skills they had within a sharing ecosystem within the neighborhood. And to hear their excitement about it and cash was never discussed, never involved, to hear how engaged they were in working with each other, exchanging their skills with each other, that got me really excited about the concept. So, fast forward, now, over the last 17 years there have been certain things that have happened in the cultural zeitgeist that have made me realize there could be an opportunity to modernize the concept of time banking and make it much more scalable for many more people to be part of it. The three things that have taken place within culture that essentially led to us creating YING is 1). The idea that the sharing economy, which even just 17 years ago was more of a concept that not many people knew about and time banking was just one example in the U.S. of it, now it’s going to be a $335 billion industry in 2025 so, the fact that it’s now a word in the zeitgeist, 2). Mobile technology and this idea of on-demand really became much more popular and widely adopted because of AirBNB and Uber and GrubHub, all these different examples, 3). The fact that alternative currencies actually became part of the conversation here throughout the U.S., but also throughout the world, and that came from Bitcoin and Blockchain conversations. So in June 2015 when Bloomberg did a beautiful article on time banking and the sharing economy as a whole, they start to talk about how the first organizational manifestation of the sharing economy was actually time banking back in 1986 so my mentor of 17 years, the founder of time banking, Dr. Edgar Kahn I reached out to him and said ‘Hey, I think we have the ability to modernize something pretty fantastic. If I can get your blessing, I’d like to do that.’ So he gave me the blessing and we decided to Venmo-ize this whole concept and the co-founder of Venmo was one of our first investors, Iqram Magdon-Ismail, and we created a peer-to-peer skill-sharing platform that leverages time credits as a way to get the services you need.

Why do you think we need a service like YING?

Pew Charitable Trusts has a wonderful report that talks about structural employment and the impact of automation and machine-learning and AI and we’re projected to lose potentially 47 percent of our jobs as we know it today in the next two decades. And that’s massive; that’s just unheard of. So when you really think about what we’re going to have to do in terms of getting back to the basics, I think YING really responds to that as a solution. What I mean by that is, many of us may face unemployment and that can lead to a whole bunch of different things, but what we don’t have to have that lead to is our ability to access and leverage the skills we all have around us. To not get ahead of that would be a shame. So what we’re doing is creating this beautiful inventory of skills; that’s what the platform is able to pool from is understanding what your skills are any they don’t have to be the ones that you show on LinkedIn. They could be “I bake. I love children. I knit. I garden. I’m a plumber. I’m an engineer.” These are skills that we’re able to collect and create a marketplace where individuals can exchange with each other based on this idea of accepting time credits.

Did you always want to become an entrepreneur?

In third grade I started selling Karmi Bars. Karmi Bars were a mix of chocolate and marshmallows. My best friend’s name was Remi and it’s Karla and Remi, so we just put Karmi bars. I was very committed I remember to getting the baking tray out and the tin foils and cooking them, then packaging them in wax paper and bringing them to school and selling them. So I feel like it was always in my DNA.

What is the biggest lesson you learned from employment that still helps you today?

I think part of it is having a plan and being very focused on the end game and making sure that you’re also taking into account partners that can come to the table and help you get there even faster. Part of it for me, in corporate America, is learn how to work with your team members, work externally of course in the ecosystem, and strategically plan to meet the bottomline and whatever ROI you chose to be your goal. So being able to get that type of training was invaluable and also professional development training. In an entrepreneurial world, it’s hard to come by those types of learnings because in many ways sometimes you’re operating solo initially in the beginning. I’m really grateful for the corporate training I had around those areas because I get to be much more efficient as an entrepreneur.

You’ve kind of revolutionized time banking. What do you think is unique about your perspective of time banking that has helped you become so successful?

Part of it is the fact that it’s current, it’s built structurally to fit within the language and the acceptable language of culture today. That does look like on-demand technology, that does look like a focus around mobile, it does look like a major social media element. Being able to really stay in tune with this idea that millennials are all about try and they’re all about experiences. I think that is going to be very key because we’re not just a platform, we’re a lifestyle brand. It’s a major commentary on the evolution – if you remember the food co-ops, even the YMCA was all about coming together in a community and connecting with each other and looking at each other in the eyeballs and working for that common economic good. In this case, that’s what we’re building; that modernized, global movement.

What advice do you have for young women trying to become entrepreneurs?

Stay true to always being flexible, that your ideas may shift and change, and don’t beat yourself up for that. You have to stay flexible to what it is that you’re ultimately envisioning. What I mean by that is, yeah, you have a focus, you know what your vision is, but stay flexible to what the treads of today are feeding back to you. It’s going to be key because every day, especially because of social media and as much as we’re looking at screens, things are shifting and I think you have to be malleable as an entrepreneur. Stick to your goal, no doubt about it, but I would say be flexible to the understanding of the trends that are happening, the new technologies that are out there, the new hashtags that are influencing media.

Another thing, when it came to fundraising… Mentally, I think as women we tell ourselves a very different story in our head about what we can receive financially versus what we can’t. I think we have to be very mindful of that internal dialogue in our head, and always second guess any kind of negativity and doubt and lean in to your fears, lean in to your doubts and challenge them.