Networking is challenging even in “normal” times. Networking effectively online can be even more difficult. Fortunately, one Twin Cities startup has a plan to change that.
Sending out cold emails or connection requests on LinkedIn is a hit-or-miss proposition. Will the other person answer—and if they do, will they be able to help? On those rare occasions when the stars align, both people can help each other.
What if there was a way to take a lot of the guesswork out of expanding your network, to consistently get connected with credible, experienced professionals who are able and willing to help with whatever you’re working on?
The founders of a Minneapolis-based networking platform asked those same questions, and developed an answer. Here’s the story of Kris Eul and Kinetic.
Kinetic is a place where professionals can build more meaningful relationships with others locally. Through thoughtfully curated introductions, office hours, and virtual coffee clubs, the platform helps members accelerate their networking progress.
Making productive connections with relevant professionals can be a heavy lift. Kinetic is designed to take a lot of the guesswork out of expanding your network, connecting members with credible, experienced professionals who are ready to help.
The company’s first beachhead is in the tech industry. As of March 2021, the Kinetic network has about 800 members. Nearly 60% have over 10 years of experience. Over 90% have at least four years of experience within their respective industries. And the site has an average conversation rating of 4.8 out of 5.
This founders interview is sponsored by virtual event platform, Shindig. Create virtual events that make people say, “You had to be there.” Check them out at Shindig.com.
Year founded: 2020
Funding rounds: self-funded to date, but outside fundraising is in the works
Company size: 800 members; 600 introductions made; 95% of introductions made want to meet again.
Tom: What inspired you to work on a solution to this particular problem?
Kris: At the beginning of 2020, I was at Kipsu, a high-growth Minneapolis-based company focused on software for hotels and resorts. Of course, when the global pandemic hit, Kipsu’s market was decimated.
I got furloughed on the first Friday in April. By that Monday, I had somehow convinced my cofounder (and wife) that this idea was a prime opportunity to pursue.
Prior to Kipsu, I’d been with a boutique social media agency where we got to work with some professional sports teams and some big CPG brands. My job was to help develop and deploy social tools to interact with fans and consumers.
What I realized was the way we measured engagement or interactions was very surface level. It was all about, how much could you build that follower count? How many retweets? How many likes? How many scrolls? How much time can you get them to spend on your site and your platform? It was a lot of these vanity metrics.
I realized we were connected but we’re not really connecting. I was looking for more. Like…there has to be something more out there to help expand my network.
Along the way, in 2015 I wrote this blog post that I posted on LinkedIn titled, “How LinkedIn can become more valuable than Facebook.” I wrote about how the world’s largest professional network could actually enable the professionals there to connect with each other based on interests and goals in a really thoughtful way. Focus on where they’re going and what they’re working towards versus their previous experiences or factors like where they’re located or their education. It could be something really powerful.
Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, they didn’t build it. So when a pandemic hits and we’re stuck at home, we can’t go to networking events, but yet we had high unemployment rates, a lot of turnover, a lot of people in transition, and—we still had to figure out a way to move the needle. We struck at a good time.
Tom: That’s a great segue into the next question: once you had the platform put together, what were your best channels for getting the word out to the people you wanted to reach about Kinetic and what it does?
Kris: We initially focused on startups. We had a bit of an unfair advantage there with my background and my cofounder’s background in the startup ecosystems here in Minnesota and as well as Wisconsin. So we got plugged in pretty quickly.
In October 2020, we partnered with Minnestar, a local startup organization here in Twin Cities, and we powered the virtual networking for their Minnebar event. The next month, we did the virtual networking for Wisconsin Startup Week.
From those events alone we added a few hundred members. And it certainly helps when you get a little bit of print in a large publication; we were featured in a StarTribune article in January.
In February, we launched via Product Hunt. The number one hunter there, Chris Messina, hunted our product and that also helped quite a bit.
We’ve yet to spend any money on paid ads…a common question I get is, “What’s your CAC (customer acquisition cost)?” We don’t know because we haven’t spent any money yet. That’s something we’ll obviously have to figure out along the way. But for now, there’s organic growth happening because we’re finding our sweet spot in the startup tech space.
Tom: I see that you’re active on social media. You mentioned Minnestar and other local organizations that are great places to kickstart growth. Are you doing anything in content marketing?
Kris: Not much yet, simply because we’re a small team that’s going through a growth period and focusing heavily on just doing what we do really well today, building that reliability with our membership base. And then also being focused on this fundraise so we can really pour gas on the fire and double down on our efforts.
Tom: Just wondering, because you had mentioned the article that you wrote for LinkedIn back in 2015 and it seems like potential thought leadership…you’ve obviously thought a great deal and are passionate about this.
Kris: Yes. A common question we get is how is this different from LinkedIn or Clubhouse. With the meteoric rise of Clubhouse, a lot of people are gravitating to that, and I think what we’re finding is that there’s a spectrum of conversation.
Clubhouse is the audio drop-in app, where you can hop in as you’re available. It’s not always guaranteed that the topic you care most about will be discussed. Based on the size of the room, you’re not always guaranteed to be let up on stage to ask a question, and to really have a conversation.
We’re on the other end of that conversation spectrum. We’re being intentional, purposeful, taking your goals and your interests and making sure we can do a really good job in aligning you through the introductions and office hours we suggest based on what you’re looking for. We help members set a date, time, and discussion topic so they can go into it knowing exactly what they want to ask and what the other person is looking for.
If anything, Clubhouse has shown us that more and more people are spending their time outside of their professional lives on audio or having conversations. In a way, conversation is coming back, which is a really good thing. We can be so much more outcome-based when we have a conversation versus transactional dialogue or discussions in 280 characters. The more complex the topic, the richer the experience will be.
Tom: You mentioned, Clubhouse, but another one that comes to mind is Lunchclub. It’s a little bit like Kinetic but it’s national, so the introductions can seem very random. What’s intriguing about Kinetic is it’s local. So you’re meeting people who you may actually run across in real life once people are out and about again.
Kris: We’re definitely aware of Lunchclub, and have heard good things. But there’s a different process in our methodology, how we do our matching, a richer experience around how we bring our professionals together that I won’t go into too much detail on as it’s part of our secret sauce.
I think it’s one of the reasons why we’ve actually had folks on Lunchclub who have come to Kinetic and said they just get a better experience here. So, they’ve moved off, or they’re splitting their time, or actually increasing their time on Kinetic while decreasing the time on other platforms because we’ve been able to build that consistency.
Another thing too is that we’re building in public. If you go to our website, you’ll see the counts of how many members are signed up and how many conversation minutes have been shared based on the introductions that we make and the office hours, plus how many industries are represented.
When we have onboarding calls or when you have your first call when you sign up, it’s with one of the cofounders because it’s a very personalized experience. And that’s something that you’re not going to be able to get in other places. But when you take into consideration people’s aspirations and goals, especially when it comes to their professional careers, it’s extremely personal, so it takes a personalized approach.
One of the things we often say is we don’t hide behind our tech. You’ll never hear us talking or read on our website about how great our AI (artificial intelligence) or our machine learning is. Or anything of that nature. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter how good that is if it doesn’t produce the results that person or that member is looking for. So we take a human-centric approach to something that’s very personal.
Tom: You alluded earlier to having done things differently. So if you would, finish this sentence: “Knowing what I know now, if I were to start over today, what I would do differently is…”
Kris: The fundraising part. I wouldn’t spend time trying to convince the wrong potential investors. It’s okay for both founders and prospective investors to say no, to recognize that the situation may not be right for them. And just walking away to go find other alternatives.
I think that’s a big thing. Spending time trying to convince the wrong people doesn’t do anybody any good. It leads to a lot of frustration.
Also, just really understanding product-market fit before trying to double down on a certain industry or a certain segment because again, it can lead to a lot of frustration, a lot of long, sleepless nights.
Those are the two things I would do over.
Tom: You’ve obviously had startup experience, first at Kipsu, and now with your own startup at Kinetic. What’s the most important advice you could offer to an entrepreneur starting out today?
Kris: Just start. I think we so often, in general, build up taking a step of any size way more than it has to be and we overanalyze. We have a tendency to overanalyze.
There’s a great book I often reference, “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss, who was an FBI hostage negotiator. In it, he talks about how we overvalue losing something than gaining something new.
Start by taking one small step. Just try one thing, or send out one email, make one phone call, do 15 minutes worth of research on your idea. Don’t immediately go quit your day job. Think that through and make a risk assessment before you go in full-time.
But it’s easier to start than a lot of people think and, whatever step you take, however big or small, it’s the first step and it often will create the momentum to keep going.
Tom: Awesome. Last question—how do people connect with you and find out more about the company?
Kris: People can sign up at joinkinetic.com and get added to the waitlist. Again, part of our thoughtfulness and making the introductions is making sure that we grant access to new members in a carefully controlled manner so we can maintain that high quality of introduction and conversations as we grow and as we scale.