Hawaiian Entrepreneur | John Garcia Exchange Avenue

Ahupua’a Economics: Hawai’i as a Model for the World 

John Garcia - Purple Prize Finalist & Founder of Exchange Avenue

Culturised Transcripts Exchange Ave Founder John Kealoha Garcia


MAKANI:  Hey what's up? Howzit. Aloha.  It is me, Makani.  Welcome to culturized. This is a place that we get to learn share, talk culture. Whether it's ethnic. Whether it's native. Whether it's social, whatever culture you're involved in, this is a place we get to hang out and share with each other about it.

And today, I'm excited. First of all, I gotta thank Star-Advertiser for giving us a venue and an opportunity to share culture. We gotta thank Kapa kava for supplying us with the social lubricant. Jam’s World. Man makes me look so good.

We're going to get right into it, my guest today. So, Purple Maiʻa is a non-profit foundationn by two kanaka that was started, cculture and technology, just keep that in mind. One of their um, I guess you could say, offshoots of Purple Maiʻa is a thing called purple prize. Now purple prize is now taking these kids and these people and these adults who have learned coding, who have learned technology,  but culturally based.  In front of me, is one of those guys who has done that. A lot of times you talk about culture and technology, “What are you talking about?”

Ladies and gentlemen from the purple prize, finalist, Mr. John Garcia. What's up brother?

JOHN GARCIA:  What's up? How's it going?

MAKANI:  Good man.

JOHN GARCIA:   Thanks you guys for having me. I love the set.

MAKANI:  We are a cultural show, but we follow CDC guidelines.  A lei kukui for you.

JOHN GARCIA:  Thank you

MAKANI:  And, as you know the lei kukui represents knowledge and that is what you're doing my friend. The knowledge that he has, he's putting it together to move us forward. And of course, whenever you know because we get together, we have to uh, we don't break bread but we drink kava.


MAKANI:  Right. So I'm going to give you a choice. Our good friends from Kapa Kava, reach right into that tanoa right there.  We've got uh guava-lychee.... you oh, you're going for the traditional straight. Nice. Okay, there you go. This guy's not fooling around. We're talking no sweet nothing straight traditional, all right.

JOHN GARCIA:  Which is your favorite?

MAKANI:  You know what um, there's the poliahu, and I would show you the bottle, but it's already gone.

JOHN GARCIA:  Thank you.

MAKANI:  There you go. Again, our good friend from Kapa Kava supplying us with the ability to talk.


MAKANI:  Oh, how's that? That's straight traditional, there you go. Straight up, straight out of the ʻumeke. I want to get right into it. Purple prize.


MAKANI:  Now, explain to us.  What purple prize is. Not the finals, but what is that whole thing about purple prize.

JOHN GARCIA:  Sure. So the purple prize is an indigenous innovation incubator. So it's a place where ideas go and they come out thriving.

MAKANI:   Now from what I understand, purple prize actually you don't have to be an already, a tech guy. You can just be like me, right out of the house, and be like,  “Uh, I want to learn how to code. I want to learn how to....”

JOHN GARCIA:  All levels of entrepreneurship were there.

MAKANI:   And so purple they actually go through all these different levels.  What have you learned prior to getting to the finals? Did you already have a tech background?

JOHN GARCIA:  Yeah, so I've been an entrepreneur here in Hawaii for about 20 years

MAKANI:   Nice.

JOHN GARCIA:  So I have a background as a creative director. I've seen a lot of different parts of the economic system. You know, being a creative director here you get to see the diversity you know. I've had an opportunity to work with Kamehameha schools. Spent some time in media and so being inducted into the purple prize was my chance to really build something different. You know after a career in having my hand in designing so many Hawaiian things but not really understanding or being really connected to that expression and so this was my chance.

MAKANI:   So, did that kind of... purple prize set it apart?  So like you said, indigenous innovation. Did you come into the purple prize with an idea already?

JOHN GARCIA:  You know, I kept an open mind this was a chance for me as an entrepreneur. I've started a couple of things in the past.  I wanted to do something different, you know. Being self-taught in Hawaii,  there's so many sophisticated creative people, you know. And so,  I think having formal education obviously it just helps that helps the theory and the process and so purple prize unlocked that. I didn't have an idea. I just knew I wanted to build something meaningful for the people of Hawaii, you know.

MAKANI:   Speaking of formal education, What high school you went?

JOHN GARCIA:  Kalani. So public school. I grew up on the east side. A townie. I'm Hawaiian-Spanish and so the weekends I spent with my Hawaiian family. And you know as a kid I grew up sort of this product of two cultures which I think was a blessing and also led to this long career of trying to discover who I am. My cultural identity.

MAKANI:   It's always good when, like you said, it's kind of a dual-edged sword right? It's like you've got two indigenous cultures that's running through your blood. You're in Hawaii so you gotta favor a little bit of the Hawaiian side but you can't forget the Spanish side.  So were you lucky enough to be immersed in both of them? Or was it a little bit more Hawaiian?

JOHN GARCIA:  You know it was it was uh, very little of both actually. And so, yeah, sort of disconnected from both. Not so much from my father, right,  but more from my mother.

MAKANI:   We always ask this question. You know a lot of times we say, we use the word disconnected or we weren't really taught culture when we were young. Did you notice things though about your family, about your upbringing that there were cultural nuances as you grew up?

JOHN GARCIA:  Yeah, definitely.  My grandpa. I think he was the earliest example of aloha aina for me,  you know.  But what it looked like for a young boy was, he has a nice yard.  He makes good stew luau. They were sort of these values people just gravitated to him for, you know, and so.

MAKANI:   But those are the little things like we remember and his yard was always well manicured and those are the things that you remember. So the things that you had culturally growing up, how have you brought that into today, your life today?

JOHN GARCIA:  Sure. You know it was it wasn't a long period of time that I had access to that Hawaiian side of my culture, you know. My grandfather passed away, and as we grew up just started going less right. And so, I think the natural progression being in all these different corporate roles took a toll right but the things that were constant.  You know, grandpaʻs stew luau, keeping an impeccable yard. That was the idea of aloha I know.

MAKANI:   I love it.

JOHN GARCIA:  Um, you know, going back home to Kaimuki. Visiting, going back to Nanakuli on the weekends. That's like, you know, shows me that there's different values in different places. And so, you know, I had to adjust and adapt to that.

MAKANI:   And, I think that's a part of culture. That's the great thing of culture. So now being brought up in that and you move along from Kalani high school. After that where did you go?

JOHN GARCIA:  Self taught.  I went to KCC. I took some classes.  I started my business when I was 17. And so I graduated. I knew I wanted to get into technology.  I started learning.  I became a computer technician in high school and I knew I just wanted to build my business and be industrious that way.

MAKANI:   I like that. So how many businesses or how many entrepreneurial things have you gotten into before purple prize?

JOHN GARCIA:  Oh man this is a long career. Yeah I would,  I mean a lot of different things from media companies to soap companies.

MAKANI:   See, I love that. Now let's get back to purple prize. So you got into purple prize and how long from finals beginning to finals?  I forget how long.  How many weeks is that?

JOHN GARCIA:  It's six months. It's a six month incubator.  I was part of two parts of this process so the first one was called kamaka ʻīnana. Which was a design thinking program.  So I went into this with just a blank slate knowing that I have a unique set of skills.

MAKANI:   Right. You were confident of that.

JOHN GARCIA:  Sure, but you know it's also I have to you know, the mentors guide us through. Helping us to unlock what this thing is.  And so, part of that process is taking into account what is my burning question. And so, for me, it was, I feel so disconnected from my culture. How can I connect and and at the time I'm also an executive advisor at the Nation of Hawaii. And so, I work with uncle Bumpy Kanahele and Brandon Makaʻawaʻawa out there. And so indigenous connectivity has been a theme through 2019. And helping to set up the broadband network out there with the internet society. And this idea of building a digital ahupuaʻa and capturing these indigenous economies called ahupuaʻa economics through shared abundance. You know, that was really the pinnacle for exchange avenue.

MAKANI:   Just the fact that digital ahupuaʻa just saying that like we were talking with our Purple Maiʻa guys, Donovan and Olin.  Just how did you come, did that just come to you? Like, this is digital ahupuaʻa,  or is it something that that you just kind of created? Or just, BOOM! That's what it is.

JOHN GARCIA:  You know, there's many layers to it. You know,  I think at the heart of it, itʻs the ahupaʻa system.  Being at the puʻuhonua, we get to see a modern day ahupuaʻa in action. And so, when we look at ways that we can better serve our citizens and bring resources to the people who need it. Obviously if you have land you can build.  You can grow. You can do things with it.  So we look at our digital identity and the types of platforms that we can build in that space which we have full jurisdiction over.

MAKANI:   For somebody that that may not understand. Real quickly, explain to us ahupuaʻa from the cultural standpoint. 

JOHN GARCIA:  Right, so,  kumu, one of my kumu, one of my teachers, Kamu Enos says it's the og social network.

MAKANI:   I love that guy!

JOHN GARCIA:  It's the og social network. And what that means is, it was an ancient land division it was a mountain to ocean land division that the native Hawaiians used for thousands of years to exchange and share resources. So aloha was the currency that made it run and aloha aina was at the heart of that. So ensuring that the land was taken care of. The people were taken care of and all the resources that they need were made within that division, that ahupuaʻa.

MAKANI:   That ahupuaʻa, from the mountain to the horizon. Everything happened within that. Just this digital ahupuaʻa... John Garcia from purple prize is here. The concept of ahupuaʻa, that Hawaiian concept. You've taken that, and see, I don't even want to say modernized because we were so ahead of the game, Hawaiians back in the day. What have you done with this ahupuaʻa concept in what you're doing right now?

JOHN GARCIA:  Sure.  So, prior to the overthrow, the native Hawaiian people lived in a highly organized, self-sufficient subsistence social system that was based on communal land tenure. And so, we don't really take the concept,  we're inspired by it right. So, Exchange Avenue is a portal that allows us to understand the mechanics of how this ancient system worked.  It also allows us to teach through it... an educational tool. People can see just by using it they can understand the places. Maybe what some of  the byproducts of that place was and connect with their neighbors. And so, that's how we're inspired to build our economy.

MAKANI:   Now is it just it's so.... ahupuaʻa of course is relational right? As you're talking about, so with this, how do you create that?  How do you take that concept modern? Does it take some some convincing for people? Does it take reminding?

JOHN GARCIA:  Teaching...and learning actually. It's interesting how it started.  Part of the this purple prize process took into account your standard startup terms like MVP, minimum viable product. So when we got to this idea of okay, I know that I want to create some kind of exchange, I didn't really land on the idea until I actually built something for myself. For about a year,  I lived in New York city for two years, tried to exile the islands. Find another home somewhere and realized I have to come back, take care of my family and I started growing kalo.  I started growing vegetables right.  So I have a foodscape and that foodscape really was the headquarters for Exchange. And I was just giving to all my neighbors and they became my first members. So that's how it started. I had to get my hands in the soil and just start there.

MAKANI:   Start doing it there. With purple prize, I mean now you have this product and  you have an entrepreneurial background. Did purple prize even further help that? You talked about they help in creating this for you and taking it all the way to the end. How has purple prize helped you in that?

JOHN GARCIA:  Sure. I mean helping me to untangle

MAKANI:   Take your idea to a concept.

JOHN GARCIA:  Iʻm able to use my entrepreneurial background to amplify that more. There was some financial support in the beginning to help us to get our businesses off the ground. And then of course, the prize money. Since we're a finalist, we ended up having a nice prize. So that'll take us through the year and then we're raising some more funds. We're raising a quarter million to help us to go 18 to 24 months and make Exchange Avenue global.

MAKANI:   Wow!

JOHN GARCIA:  So they've been the jumping off point for that and they're going to continue to support Exchange Avenue then in that way.  

MAKANI:   And, It's up and running now?

JOHN GARCIA:  Itʻs up and running now.  We launched June 16th. We have almost 600 members and people are signing up every day to connect with that space, with this exchange market and to see who's in their community.

MAKANI:   Wow. So okay. If somebody's just tuning in and they're hearing us talk about this ahupuaʻa system. You're talking about digital ahupuaʻa.  What's that about? Exchange Avenue. If they have the app what's the easiest way to explain to them what that is?

JOHN GARCIA:  Sure so our mobile app has three core functions. The first core function is a marketplace. It's a hyper local marketplace for barter and trade. So, you can see items that are available and you can reach out to the person just like craigslist. So, we facilitate that handshake.  The second is, there's a an inventory builder. So if you're a farmer, if you're creative, you can put items up. Goods or services that you want to offer in the marketplace. And so, that's how you add value to the network. Then the third is, by exchanging, you earn points.  So we have an internal token system that rewards people for exchanging.

MAKANI:   So, of course we talk about ahupuaʻa and we know that one island has one ahupuaʻa. Now with this app, is it specific to say one ahupuaʻa? Say Kaimuki. Right. I'm just selling to people in that ahupuaʻa? Or can somebody in Nanakuli purchase an item or get an item from somebody in Kahala?

JOHN GARCIA:  Sure, so the way that we customize the views is let's just say you are in Nanakuli or in Kaimuki you would see the items that are closest to you.  You have the ability to hop from ahupuaʻa to ahupuaʻa if you like.

MAKANI:   I love that. So if you were thinking well the ahupuʻa is only going to let me within this area but you guys are already thinking ahead of the game. Because every ahupuaʻa needed to work with each other.

Ka wā ma mua, ka ma hope.  Youʻve got to know where youʻre from in order to know where you're going. You took this concept of ahupuaʻa right and you created a mobile app.


MAKANI:    And commerce happened in between ahupuaʻa in the old days and you were inspired by this concept and created your mobile app which is called?

JOHN GARCIA:   Exchange Avenue

MAKANI:    Exchange Avenue.  Now with this mobile app some things that come to mind is like craigslist. We were talking about a chair. Would they be competition to you?  

JOHN GARCIA:   You know, no. There are so many different listing websites out there, facebook marketplace. In fact, I think it helps to validate Exchange Avenue because we're so hyper local.  We're through the lens of ahupuaʻa. It's also a learning tool and there's there's more functions than craigslist.

MAKANI:    That's what I like about it. Just hearing that, knowing that I would rather barter, trade, purchase something from somebody I had a connection with.

JOHN GARCIA:   Correct

MAKANI:    And if I'm like, “Oh, he's in my same ahupuaʻa.”  

JOHN GARCIA:   You're contributing to that community's economy

MAKANI:    I love that concept. Is was that one of the things you were thinking about when you created this?

JOHN GARCIA:   Right. I mean, you know when you're launching a company, you need to validate it right? You need to, how does it have traction? We have analytics and data to prove you know, these points, that it works. One of them was people signing up.  The other one was how many exchanges we have and how many items that are on the network.

MAKANI:    So you could either be somebody providing service or product or somebody just wants it.

JOHN GARCIA:   Correct.

MAKANI:    Um, what kind of products you got in there?  Is it limited?

JOHN GARCIA:   No. Well so, you know, there's lots of different things that are on there.   We have items from all islands. On Kauai, we've seen Hanapepe salt and like fresh grated coconut milk. Things that you don't usually see on you can't really even buy it.

MAKANI:    Like true ahupuaʻa stuff.

JOHN GARCIA:   Right, and so we're starting to see some of that. There's lots of farmers and people who are getting into planting. We launched in the midst of it and so this was just... good timing, I think. You know, and so it's filled that gap in connecting people with like interests or working on food security and working to grow more of their own resources, cultivate more of their own resources.

MAKANI:    I shake my head because I'm going, “Why didn't I think of this, right?”  And that's the beauty of it. But um, what's the weirdest product you've had so far?

JOHN GARCIA:   Not weird, but horseback lessons in Hilo.

MAKANI:    Oh Yeah?

JOHN GARCIA:   That's like really neat you know.  I woke up one day and it's like horseback riding lessons.

MAKANI:    Now, okay. So you get the mobile app.  So say somebody on the mainland and just you know Bob and Muriel from Iowa wants to come to Hawaii. So they could actually go on that learn some culture?


MAKANI:    But get hooked up with somebody that has a product or service in Hawaii?

JOHN GARCIA:   Sure,  they could post an exchange.  Let's just say Bob is a helicopter pilot.  So, you know, there may be a connection there of some of the skills and some of the culture that they can share through the app.

MAKANI:    Is it just barter or you can actually exchange?

JOHN GARCIA:   It's exchange,okay. And so, all we do is facilitate it.  The people define the value and then those relationships grow once they connect.

MAKANI:    There's the key right there. So it's exchange of service product. that's pretty amazing horseback riding


MAKANI:    Um, so I can come to you and be like I want to sell some noni juice?


MAKANI:    Or exchange some noni juice.

JOHN GARCIA:   Well, you would say this is what I have an abundance of. Just so happens this person was a horseback riding instructor and they were looking for different plant medicines.  They were looking for different soil. They were looking for kalo huli. And so you post things that you're interested in. What values and what skills you bring to the network and you offer you share.

MAKANI:    You're like the modern-day konohiki. Right now you're like the land manager. That's like, okay, so the farmer or the fisherman needs this from the farmer.  You know what is great about this is, that's what I think culturally we need today. The fact that we all needed somebody to work together. The fishermen needed the wood carver. The wood carver needed the farmer.  The farmer needed this and that's exactly what you're doing.

So again, the mobile app,  exchange app.

JOHN GARCIA:   Itʻs EA for short. (https://app.exchangeave.com/)     

MAKANI:    That's brilliant. EA.


MAKANI:    Purple prize finalist,  John Garcia here talking about how he uses culture in his new app. You gotta go get it.  It's the ahupuaʻa system and that's how we do it on culturised.

We're gonna find out how you use your culture to move yourself forward.  To move your people up. So, if you want to join us, it is right here. We got to thank Star-Advertiser.  We got to thank Kapa Kava, Jam's World and all of you.

If you got some culture,  stay risen.


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