This is a post by regular contributors Roy Malkin and Don Oparah
Building and managing a network is hard enough, but really getting the most out it is a complicated and time-consuming process. Calling itself the “Ultimate networking tool,” New York-based startup nextSociety says its platform can help users identify who is most relevant to them.
What’s more, the company has German and Austrian heritage – COO Alex Tange was born in a small town in what was then East Germany, and is following in the footsteps of his dad who became an entrepreneur when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. In addition to nextSociety, Alex also started a networking group for German professionals in New York which has grown to more than 5,000 members.
Two of his co-founders, Peter Steba and Ben Simsa, sat down with Silicon Allee at The Next Web Conference in the Big Apple last month.
SILICON ALLEE: Tell us about nextSociety.
PETER STEBE: It’s a unique metric tool that identifies the most important 150 of your contacts for you. We are doing this with a cementing algorithm, looking based on your keyboard search. For example, if you are looking for venture capital or programming, we extend those keywords to all existing social networks and find the 150 most important people for you right now.
SA: What makes the platform unique?
PETER: We put a lot of effort into the algorithm. Showing you 150 connections is not hard, but making a good filter to let you see 150 that you really want is, since the filter you need changes all the time. So the filter tries to understand the concept of meanings. For example, if you type in ‘venture capital’, it doesn’t only give you connections with the keywords ‘venture capital’ but also shows people who have relevant skills or some other status-related terms in there.
SA: So is it really aimed at entrepreneurs and startups looking for funding?
BEN SIMSA: It’s true that a lot of entrepreneurs will find this platform interesting and helpful but it can also be good for people who want to make a career shift or who are just looking for people with whom to build a product together. It’s really about unleashing the power of the network you’ve already built. A lot of us actually don’t know the potential of the connections we’ve already built.
SA: Once users have found each other, how do you help them to interact?
PETER: We have a couple of ideas about steps that we are thinking about right now. First of all, we help you match with 150 people, and then we show on your features what the 150 people are up to right now. And next it’s going to be engage buttons to enable people to communicate and chat. It’s being tested right now by a focus group, mainly focusing on the algorithm, the system stability, and one or two of the engage features that are most used.
SA: The product is currently available in US – when are you planning to come to Europe, and specifically Germany?
PETER: We already have a beta version for Android and iOS and we plan to launch a more stable version soon. There are several conferences in the following six months and we are trying to make progress so we can present it to a wider audience. Also, it is very important for these kinds of tools to be social – so that users can benefit from inviting people. We are working very hard on this ramification and rewarding system. This will be tested in a couple of weeks and step-by-step until we find what the right incentives should be.
SA: What challenges have you faced so far in building this app?
PETER: The biggest challenge is always finding the right people, the right team and the right developers. At the beginning you have a full team but later you always need more developers and mathematicians. It actually takes some time since not everyone is a fit for this startup culture. It’s not like doing a nine-to-five job; instead it’s about thinking about your project every night to find a solution because you need to be fast to make it succeed. We think we have a perfect team right now but we are still looking for more developers for different platforms.
SA: Do you plan to use your tool to find the team as well?
BEN: We actually just launched the product at the Next Web conference and whenever we met people they always said, “oh I wish I was into that,” which makes us really confident in building it.
SA: Would you be interested in moving into the dating space, or is your product only for business?
PETER: The dating business is very crowded, so our focusing only on business allows us to grow faster.
SA: What are the biggest difference you have observed between the markets in the US and in Europe?
BEN: In the US, it’s all about how many users do you have, but when you are pitching in Europe, the first question is always ‘how do you make money’. So the biggest difference is how you approach pitching, what kinds questions do you get, how you engage with VCs and investors.
SA: What approach you will take in terms of entering Europe?
PETER: Traction. And we also need to give it some tweaks because Europe is different in the use of social networks and numbers of connections. But our goal market is the US and we want to focus and expand that first before rolling it out to Europe.
SA: Are there any privacy issues involved? How can you keep people’s information safe?
BEN: That’s a good question and it’s why we started off in New York, because in the German-speaking world, it’s an even bigger point of focus. Though it is a sensitive issue, all the information we have behind the scene is what we use to analyse and eventually do good to the users.
PETER: The information is like fuel and our tool is the engine. The more fuel you put into it, the better the engine works. And we are not using their information to do whatever, but we focus on those people who are relevant to users.
SA: What are your plans for monetisation?
PETER: We are targeting free users at first since we are using all their existing connections through Facebook, LinkedIn etc. We help you find 150 relevant people in your own network for free, but when you want to get secondary connections or people outside your network, we are going to charge users.
SA: What advice do you have for other European startups?
PETER: Focus on the team and find the right people. You don’t need to be the master of everything but the master of something. And really find the right people to see how each other can make up for each other.
SA: As we’re talking in New York, what do you think of the scene here?
PETER: We had the honor of being selected as a finalist at TechStars last spring, which is a very good experience for us and it’s where my advisor came from. He’s been helping us since then and we’ve had a lot of mentorship programs and introductions. Our company is based there. So New York is a good place to be, since it has a lot of connections and resources.