Demi Skipper has a full-time job managing the mobile app team for OpenTable and a side-hustling gig selling wedding dresses out of her apartment. But she she still finds time to entertain and inspire millions of social media followers with increasingly valuable barters as the Instagram influencer behind the viral #trademeproject.
The 29-year-old YouTuber and entrepreneur was inspired by One Red Paperclip founder Kyle MacDonald, a Canadian influencer who decided in 2005 to attempt to barter for a house. He began by swapping a paperclip for a pen, eventually acquired a snowmobile and ultimately ended up with a two-story farmhouse over 14 total trades made in one year.
Skipper set out to also acquire a house, but in under a year. In May of 2020, she swapped a bobby pin for a pair of earrings. Exactly 18 trades later, she is the proud owner of a $19,500 diamond necklace.
“I think I’m getting pretty close,” Skipper told Business Insider. “I’m hopeful that within three more months I can do it.”
Her bartering has proven to be a hit on social media, particularly on TikTok, where 4.5 million followers—whom she lovingly refers to as the #trademeproject family”—have made Skipper’s “one of the most viewed accounts on TikTok.” Her social influence has paid off, as her messages are now filled with offers for boats, real estate, and RVs.
“Kyle MacDonald was able to trade for non-tangibles like a role in a movie or a trip, but with COVID it adds another level of difficulty,” Skipper told BI. “People would be shocked by how many hours go in behind the scenes of the one-minute video announcing a new trade. I’m up at 6 a.m. every day looking for new trades.”
The key to Skipper’s trading success is to swap unrelated items from different consumer categories. Skipper copped the new iPhone 11 Pro Max by offering high-end sneakers, instead of an older iPhone model. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are among the online platforms she uses to find potential deals.
While her most difficult trade to date was swapping a busted 2008 Dodge Caravan minivan for and electric skateboard, Skipper’s third trade of a $24 margarita glass set for a $64 Bissell vacuum cleaner proved to Skipper that the goal of getting a house is definitely possible. If and when that happens, she’ll consider giving it to a #TradeMeProject fan in need, or perhaps converting the residence into an Airbnb rental.
“What’s next is just as much of a surprise for me as it is for everyone else,” she said. “Trade to trade, I’m like ‘Oh God, I only got from this to this,'” Skipper said, “but then I look back and I’m like ‘OK, I started from a bobby pin. You have to know that the journey is worth it.”
How to buy a house without money, you ask? Give Skipper’s strategy a shot.