Networking is hard. Finding the right business connections by attending events or sending cold messages through social media can be frustrating and unproductive. For those who get hit up for advice often, it can be difficult to carve out time.
After 20 years in the tech industry, Max Leisten went back to an early passion for helping people find the right connections. He jumped into the recruiting market and, in the summer of 2016, interviewed about 150 people.
Through his work, he noticed that a large majority of the people he spoke to were asking family and friends for feedback on their resumes — it was safe, easy and confidential. Even though they wanted an honest and relevant opinion, Leisten says that, most of the time, this isn’t an effective way to get that feedback.
“I got really fascinated about the human dynamic behind why more people don’t ask for help, and how we could make it easier to do so and pay attention to the people that you asked for help,” says Leisten.
Leisten found that there are certain networks that have a hard time connecting to others. Examples include military re-entering the workforce, people transitioning careers, those in higher education, and entrepreneurs.
That assumption drove him to found Protopia, a startup that makes it easy to give and receive advice through email or Slack message. “We want to help innovative communities connect by paying attention to what both sides need,” says Leisten.
“When you look at mentors, investors, service providers, everybody wants to help. We make it easy and guilt-free.”
Leisten operates under the motto that, “the simplest UI is no UI.” He shares that he didn’t want people to download another app (as he often doesn’t either) and went back to the original app — email.
Through email, Slack, and soon SMS, the user can email Protopia with a specific question or request for a connection. The natural language processing system analyzes what’s being asked and finds the best experts within the database to answer, based on location and area of expertise.
Rather than the individual taking the time to email multiple experts — who may or may not be right to answer the question — Protopia sends those emails to a handful of those optimal domain experts, who remain anonymous and are free to say no until one accepts. Once there is a match, Protopia connects the user with the advisor.
The platform even coaches the user on how to follow up in a professional manner to get the best outcome from the interaction.
Protopia has its own database of experts, and also takes advantage of other external networks, such as Boston accelerator MassChallenge’s network of 700+ advisors. “We’re also reaching out to corporations with the hypotheses that they need a better tool to connect their experts and innovators,” says Leisten.
“We’re engaging global organizations that need to innovate and collaborate faster to help them find their internal experts fast and efficiently to accelerate sales and development,” says Leisten.
The Cary, NC-based startup collects the data and builds rich profiles for the advisors and users alike to better improve and tailor the matches over time.
In late 2017, Protopia went into early adoption mode with paid customers, and launched publicly early this year. The startup charges a subscription fee based on how big the chosen network is, with add-ons for implementation and consulting.
They remain bootstrapped and customer-funded, and are exploring options with strategic funding partners that understand their B-Corp status. Protopia is committed to making an impact in the local community through a sustainable business and community-oriented product.