14 Jan Startup Spotlight: Conspire
LinkedIn was a game-changer for professional networking. But as powerful as it is, how many of your hundreds of connections are real, ongoing relationships versus tenuous, one-time encounters? And even worse, when you’re seeking an introduction, how can you gauge the strength of a 2nd degree connection?
Conspire is tackling this interesting problem – how to access your network efficiently – from a whole different direction. Using your email, they can tell you the most efficient pathway to meeting any company or person. This tool is a must for anyone (should be everyone) who seeks warm introductions when approaching an investor or new customer.
We at TrepScore were already heavy users of Conspire when their CEO, Alex Devkar, became one of our beta testers. We got to chat with him for a few minutes about how Conspire came about and how it will reshape the way we look at networking.
What is Conspire?
Conspire is a professional network that understands who knows each other and how closely connected they are. Specifically, we are able to identify when two people are willing to help each other, which allows our users to intelligently and efficiently access their networks.
Today, if you want to contact a specific person or company you’ll probably compile a list of contacts who you think might know your target. But you can’t tell how well any of your contacts know your target, if at all, so you’re operating in the dark. With Conspire, you can immediately identify which among your contacts is the most direct path to your target. You will know who to ask to get the best result.
How does Conspire map those relationships?
With your permission, our product analyzes patterns in your email to build a picture of your network, and then it combines that network with our understanding of millions of other relationships. Conspire only looks at the headers of your emails, which are the To, From, CC, Subject and Date fields, never the bodies of your emails. We currently support Gmail but this month we will be launching coverage for all email services.
The philosophy of what we do, which is to analyze communication patterns to understand how well people know each other, can be applied in many different ways. For example, we will be applying it to Twitter in the future, and then other platforms over time.
Who should use Conspire?
The ability to intelligently access your network is applicable to a huge variety of users. That said, in order to build a business your goal can’t be to provide a service for every person from day one. So at least initially, we have focused on the people that we know best, which are people running startups and early stage tech companies. We will expand to other types of users over time.
The use cases of the product so far what you’d expect: entrepreneurs hustling in different forms. That includes pitching a product that no one has heard of, getting introductions to investors, reaching out to potential employees. Conspire helps enormously with those relationship-centric tasks. The most common use case is sales, and it allows our users to find a warm intro to a potential customer, rather than rely on a cold email.
How much does it cost? Where can we find it?
The web app is at conspire.com, but there will be a mobile app in the future. It is free but we will be adding special features for a paid premium version, which will primarily target very heavy users. These features include powerful filters to identify types and not just specific targets, for example companies of a certain size in a certain industry.
Why did you decide to build the product and ultimately start the company?
I co-founded the company with Paul McReynolds, who was my freshman year roommate and good friend ever since. We were both at a career point, after working for startups, where we wanted to found a startup ourselves.
Our company entering Techstars was focused on harnessing the data that sits neglected in an organization’s emails. We interested in the content of those emails. But while in the Techstars we had two breakthrough realizations. First, it was the relationships and not the content that was most valuable. We also realized that most of these valuable relationships extended beyond the confines of a single organization.
How did you come about these realizations.
We talked to lots of folks and even built pieces of it and tested it. I have a slightly different philosophy than the pure lean startup approach of basing everything on customer feedback. The bigger component for us was our vision to deeply understand the professional graph, especially in our earliest stage.
What is an accomplishment that you’re especially proud of over the last 6 months?
Two major areas. On the technical side, we have worked through some challenging technical problems. We are looking through over a billion emails and turning that into a graph about how people relate to each other. For example, we had to get smart about what type of email activity really reflects a stronger relationship and how to identify all the email addresses that belong to each person. We’ve made enormous progress on both of those challenges.
We’re also very proud of our team and the community that we have built around the company. Techstars has been a huge part of that.
What are some of your goals heading into 2015?
We have two top level goals. The first relates to user engagement. We see great engagement in our existing groups, startup founders and sales people. But as we expand to other types of users, we need to keep same high level of engagement.
On growth, we hope to achieve 100 million in our network in 2015. That’s important to us because we can credibly say to the tech world that we can show you a path to anyone that you might want to meet.
What is challenge that you have worked through in the past six months?
Team building. We’ve done a good job, but it’s an ongoing task. I recently read something that really resonated with me. If you were to write down your top three priorities as a startup founder, most people would say that recruiting and team-building are somewhere near the top. But then if you look at your calendar, does the time you’re spending reflect those priorities?
Where do you turn for advice?
I first turn to my co-founder. It’s really helpful to have a strong co-founder relationship at the early stages. I read as much as I can from operators or VCs—blogs and books. I’d credit Techstars for their mentor network. No matter what problem you’re facing, there’s probably a company that has gone through it and can give you insight.