Tuesday, 14 August 2012 Written by Christopher Demas
Interview with James Brown, Co-Founder of Goalee.com
James Brown is the co-Founder and Co-CEO of Goalee.com, a startup that aims to connect people based on their future goals and similar interests.
Q. What is Goalee?
A. Goalee is an innovative networking platform that functions like a hybrid of professional networking site like LinkedIn and a matchmaking site like eHarmony.
You tell Goalee your networking goals (perhaps "Find people working in Finance in NYC"), and Goalee identifies contacts for you that fit that criteria. Goalee goes a step further, however, by ranking those contacts based on how much they share in common with you, making for a richer networking experience and a higher likelihood of a successful connection. Pulling data from your existing Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, Goalee compares the backgrounds, goals, and interests of all users to identify shared characteristics, and uses those shared characteristics to point out networking opportunities. You can then add your matches to your LinkedIn network directly through Goalee, using communication templates provided by Goalee to make the outreach effective.
Q. What do Goalee users hope to get out of using your service?
A. We want to provide users with a platform to grow their professional networks quickly and more effectively than ever before. Building a network can be a tough experience, and most social media outlets are focused more on maintaining a network than discovering brand new connections. Our goal is to provide users with a dynamic recommendation system that helps them find new connections that are highly-relevant to the user's networking goals and highly compatible with the user.
Q. At what point did you begin developing Goalee?
A. Goalee originated as Aught9, a solution my partner Chris Sturgill and I developed at the University of Rochester (UR) while at the Simon Graduate School of Business (2009). The site focused on building private social networks for business schools leveraging social media data in unique ways to keep profiles updated, find new connections, etc. This helped students better connect to alumni and created a great deal of value for the school. That led to early investment by an alumnus of the school, which allowed us to build the platform with UR from 2009-2011. In March 2012, we decided to narrow the focus of the site to help people find better connections based on their networking goals, allowing them to tap a larger market and open the platform to universal access and launched Goalee.
Q. Have you received any funding? If so, what type of investors: friends, family, VC etc?
A. We have been lucky to assemble a fanatic group of angel investors.
Q. What do you see as being your biggest challenges to date?
A. Our biggest challenges have been figuring out how to tackle a problem that, in many ways, has yet to be addressed. The tough part of social discovery (whether it's finding new friends or finding new professional connections), is that it's a two-way street. Not only do you need to generate a match that is interesting to the user, but the match also needs to be interested in the user themselves. Another entrepreneur summed up the challenge of developing a social discovery site by saying that, in many ways, the work behind the scenes is like the work of Netflix building a recommendation system for movies. The key difference, and challenge, is that "the movie needs to like you back."
Q. What will be your biggest hurdle moving forward?
A. We'll need to constantly focus on ways to improve the user experience to make the process of networking more fluid and engaging. Maintaining the learning system behind our matching algorithm (and expanding the algorithm) will be a significant challenge.
Q. What has motivated you to keep going?
A. The endless drive to achieve the perfect execution of our vision.
Q. How are you attracting new users? Has your method changed over time?
A. We're focused on partnering with colleges and universities to engage their students and alumni. We're brand new…so our methods have yet to change.
Q. Where do you see Goalee being in 5 years?
A. Five years is an epic amount of time for someone in our space. We're focused on five months from now, during which we want to build a strong user base and prove value to our initial users by helping them generate networking opportunities they would have missed if not for Goalee.
Q. What was the best piece of advice you have gotten?
A. "If you think you're too small to have an impact…try going to bed with a mosquito in the room."