The following is a guest post from Claire Wasserman of thumbprnt. thumbprnt is an alternative networking site based in NYC. We are a team dedicated to solving the need of Millennials to network with others based on ideas and inspiration and not just job titles and job postings. They were previously featured in our blog about lessons they learned at NEXT @ SXSW. Here, Wasserman tells us about life after NEXT.
You have no idea what this will be. No clue what people really need. You’re not even sure these are the people you should be serving. So ask them.
Never were more enlightening words uttered. What could have defeated our startup in one foul swoop, in fact, liberated us. Armed with not much more than unreasonable amounts of energy and excitement, we had come to NEXT with the desire to build a site that would empower people to make their professional dreams a reality. How we were going to get there was another story.
The basis of our thesis: Millennials believe they should be passionate about their work. For better or worse, this generation feels entitled to a meaningful life void of meaningless jobs. They want to find themselves (think “Girls”).
We knew LinkedIn wasn’t working for them (corporate! cold!) and that portfolio sites were too industry-specific and also lacked personality so we tried to think of solutions.
Could we be a mentoring site? A career advice site? Collaborator matchmaking? Steve Blank told us to stop moving and to start listening. If we simply asked people what their challenges were we might just find the product we needed to build.
A funny thing happened when we started listening. Tapping into the deep-seated needs of others spurred us to do some introspection into who we were- not just as a company- but as people. Reflecting on how networking had fueled my own career, I realized that the key had always been knowing “connectors.” That elusive bunch with orbits of creatives swirling around them with whom they can introduce to other collaborators. Creative matchmakers.
I met David Tisch, the managing director of Techstars New York at NEXT. I told him that we wanted to be an alternative to LinkedIn he rolled his eyes. “No,” he scoffed. “You’re a community.” He told me to figure out how understanding the hierarchies of a community and the hunger of our market could intersect and manifest itself in a way that would be empowering. Then we would be untouchable, he said.
I thought back to those creative matchmakers and to what Tisch said. Perhaps there was actually something here that could solve a lot of problems. Now, instead business model rewrites and product feature brainstorming, we immersed ourselves in the world of “connectors”– their needs, their desires, their communities.
We still haven’t “solved” anything. We’ve just honed what questions to ask and whom we should be asking. Keeping our early adopter group tight actually liberated us from feeling pressure to nail it from day one. Focusing on connectors also allowed us to seamlessly integrate the research phase into community and product development.
We’re also trying to build something that is an enormous and a relatively abstract undertaking. A network is a circuitous and personal exchange and though people say they want alternative networking, how does that fit into the real world? Can you even replicate real world exchanges online? The unknown can be as exhilarating as it is terrifying.
So we’re throwing our startup hats in the ring. Framing the approach- and a flexible one at that- is what’s key; not “getting it right’. There is no one way to solve a problem. We just need to feel confident in ourselves as the ones to try and attack it. We are still working hard, thinking hard, problem solving every day. But every time I am stumped, I remind myself that its better to search for the right question than the right answer.
Why do we keep going? thumbprnt is who we are as people. How long have we been working on this, they ask? Since the womb.
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