Thursday, 3 January 2013

Next Door To Referral Key

Nextdoor, the social network that promises to introduce you to the people on your block.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Nextdoor, the social network that promises to introduce you to the people on your block (By Seth Stevenson). According to some recent survey results, Americans have become rather unneighborly. A mere 30 percent of us socialize with our neighbors more than once a month (down from 44 percent in the mid-1970s). And a shocking 28 percent of us know none of our neighbors by name. We may keep in touch with faraway friends on Facebook, but when it comes to hanging out in our own communities we are bowling alone.

Tech entrepreneur Nirav Tolia noticed that we increasingly seem to prefer rubbing elbows online—instead of in real places where real elbows might really rub—and saw a business opportunity. In late 2010, he created a service called Nextdoor. It's a social network that attempts to webify the original social network: the neighborhood. There are now Nextdoor sites in more than 6,500 communities in 49 states (not clear what's up with those anti-communitarian South Dakotans). All of them were launched by regular folks who sought a way to connect with their neighbors, but didn't want to ring doorbells or make small talk in the elevator.

To start a Nextdoor site for your own 'hood, you first define the physical boundaries of neighbordom. Who do you consider your fellow villagers? They could be spread out over a vast open realm if you live in a rural area where the houses are far apart; or might mingle around a few leafy blocks if you inhabit an inner-ring suburb; or could be smooshed together within a single high-rise building if you're a city dweller. Nextdoor prefers that each of its neighborhoods contain at least 75 households. So far the median number hovers somewhere around 200 to 300.

Join the free private social network for your neighborhood. Click here.
Once you've targeted your territory, you recruit your neighbors to sign up. Nextdoor provides postcards to put in mailboxes and flyers to post on telephone poles or in apartment building lobbies. No one is required to join, of course. If neighbors do hop on board, they must register using their real names and physical addresses (which Nextdoor then verifies before admitting them). Any posts on the site will be made under those real names—not made-up screen names—with real addresses visible for all other neighbors to see.

What happens on a Nextdoor neighborhood site once it's up and running? I spoke with Nextdoor users in San Francisco; Lafayette, Col.; and Hamilton, N.Y., and poked around on a couple of sites. Turns out there are lots of requests for recommendations: Anybody know a good nanny/auto mechanic/plumber? Also some spirited discussions regarding the relative merits of local restaurants and grocery stores. Much selling of or giving away of old patio furniture, outgrown baby strollers, and unwanted sporting equipment. Announcements about upcoming block parties and holiday gatherings. The occasional safety alert, when someone's car gets broken into while it’s sitting in a driveway.

You might wonder whether you could achieve similar ends simply by creating a Facebook group and asking neighbors to join. But Tolia points out that many have made the same argument about LinkedIn—that it’s useless because you could do the same stuff on Facebook—and yet lots of people find that site more useful than Facebook for professional networking. Nextdoor has dedicated tabs built in for things like events, recommendations, and safety. It eventually plans to make money by selling targeted ads of some sort to local dentists and window washers and such.

Perhaps more important, Nextdoor is private: Only verified neighbors can see each other's posts, and Nextdoor neighborhoods' pages are not indexed on any search engines. Some other community sites allow anonymity, which has encouraged incidents of nasty small-town gossip. Tolia says that using real names and addresses has kept Nextdoor free of vicious name-calling and rumor-spreading. The Nextdoor users I spoke to agreed that this is the case.

All in all, it seems like Nextdoor may offer most of the benefits of neighborliness with few of the icky downsides. You can establish online ties with your neighbors, thereby eliminating the need to ever interact with them in person. Or—in a best-case scenario—the online connection might manage to surface some cool nearby folks you actually do want to have a beer with. I'm thinking I might go ahead and start a Nextdoor site for my building.

'Thanks for the referral. Here's your steak.' - In August of 2007, Lewis Weinstein launched the beta version of ReferralKey, a site intended to help digitize the process of sending referrals from one professional to another. If a real estate agent sent one of his clients to a mortgage broker, the site would track that - and also keep tabs on whether the mortgage broker ever returned the favor. Weinstein envisioned building a new kind of social network for small businesses that would provide continual streams of leads to its members, in a way that sites like LinkedIn and Facebook do not. But the site didn't immediately take off. Weinstein, a serial entrepreneur and third-generation tax accountant in Needham, found that professionals using the site felt it just wasn't helping them generate enough new business. "The common response was, 'I thought you were gonna send me referrals,'" he says.

That's where the steaks come in.

When Weinstein relaunched the site this past April, he decided to create a new system of incentives. Professionals can now offer a cash bounty to spur others in their online network (or anyone who views their profile on ReferralKey) to send them a new prospect. (Some professionals, such lawyers, real estate agents, and accountants, have codes of conduct that prohibit them from taking such a payment.) If the prospect turns into a paying client, the recipient of the lead instructs ReferralKey to cough up the money via PayPal.

Users of the site can also upload their databases of clients and send out a message encouraging them to refer their friends and relatives to their trusty financial planner, for instance. "The site will track what happens as a result, and offer them an Omaha Steaks gift certificate, one from Callaway Golf, or one from L.L. Bean, for the new business that gets generated," says Weinstein. As an accountant, he says, he would typically send his clients a letter once a year that offered them a $75 gift certificate to Legal Sea Foods for any new business they sent his way, but the program was a pain to administer.

Weinstein says that ReferralKey attracted about 5000 members during its beta period. Since then, it has grown to just over 32,000 members. Premium memberships, offering an unlimited stream of referrals, cost $19.95 a month. Weinstein raised a first round of about $1 million from individual investors to launch the site, and says he's now hoping to raise a $3 million second round from venture capital firms. He still operates his accounting practice, with offices in Boston and Needham, noting, "Accountants work their a--es off three months of the year, but that gives me time to do entrepreneurial stuff the other months." ReferralKey, with four employees, is co-located in the Boston office of his firm, GenerationTax.

What Is Referral Key? (My Referral Key Review. Free Steak Aplenty) - Referral Key is one weird force to be reckoned with. Three times in the past week I have received email invitations from someone in my address book that state, “If you’re taking on new clients, I’d like to include you in my private referral network to send you business leads through Referral Key.” All three times these invitations came from a person I sort of know on varying degrees, and all three times these invitations have confused me immensely. So I decided to investigate what new, hot thing I was missing. On the surface, Referral Key seems to be a way to get and give referrals on stuff. Although the concept of “cash rewards” sounds a bit spammy, to say the least, I’ll go in with an open mind and think that maybe that’s just bad website copy. I click forward, to presumably confirm my dear friend’s referral.

Here’s where things got confusing. In accepting the “referral invitation” from one person, I had to enter in some data in order to “accept” the invite — never mind that I’m not entirely sure what that means. Most importantly, though, I encountered the following drop down menu, where it became blindingly clear to me that I didn’t (seem) to fit in. Read more...

No comments:

Search This Blog