The not-so-secret secret to scaling an online network? Get others to help you build it. For free.
Reaching a point when this becomes common, if not necessary, is the holy grail for an online network. Insanely successful networks have all found it.
- Pay with Paypal
- Login with Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter / Google
- Apply with LinkedIn
Getting here isn’t easy of course. To get others to build on your foundation you have to prove to them—and more importantly their users—a clear and outsized advantage. Here’s an example.
Treatings.co is a social network for meeting professionals over coffee. Signing up with LinkedIn, your professional graph (where you worked, skills, etc.) is copied into your profile. I doubt users care about this. It’s table stakes. But it’s a must-have for Treatings as it makes an otherwise miserable signup process few would ever complete—filling in your resume—seamless. What do users care about? They care about making more relevant connections, more efficiently. Which the LinkedIn data certainly helps facilitate.
Effectively, Treatings is a derivative of LinkedIn. A localized use-case of the professional graph LI has built—and come to own—in the past decade.
Others aren’t building entirely on top of Angellist yet—as Treatings has done on LinkedIn—but they are acquiring new users (potential investors / issuers) on its behalf.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Follow on Angellist (Company)
First up: Pando. Worry not, this isn’t a discussion of Pando vs. Venturebeat vs. Techcrunch ;-).
While TC and VB have built their own startup databases (Crunchbase & VBProfiles, respectively) Pando has gone the leaner route and tapped Angellist’s API to pull data on startups it covers. See below.
Its use case is plain vanilla, calling eight or so “endpoints”: Company Logo, Name, Tagline, Industry, Location, Company Overview, Key Individuals (Founders / Advisors / Investors), and Open Hirings.
I’m unsure if they’re doing so, but Pando could also display the startup’s fundraising startups. A few months ago AL opened the endpoint “/startups?filter=raising.” It returns all publicly fundraising startups and returns values such as raising amount, raised amount, pre-money valuation, etc. By way of example, I called this endpoint and dumped the data into a google spreadsheet. You can find it here.
This is the only example I’ve found of a media company integrating AL’s API. I suspect there are others. And we can safely assume AL is aggressively looking for new partners. Their sales pitch: we give you context (more relevant, more timely information); you give us free traffic and brand awareness ;-).
Follow On Angellist (User)
I’m not active on Angellist, but a while back I noticed my follower count was randomly ticking up. Hmm… Perhaps people are so interested in who I am and what I’m doing that they’re proactively searching for me?
Haha, not the slightest.
Rapportive is the culprit! Rapportive (acquired by Linkedin in 2012) is a gmail plugin that pulls the social profiles of your contacts based on their email. If you haven’t already, go download it. It’s wicked useful.
As you can see, anyone I email—who has Rapportive—can follow me on Angellist. It’s subtle. But with millions of Rapportive users, it’s pretty powerful.
Apply with Angellist (Company)
A final example. Some accelerators/incubators now require startups to “Apply with Angellist.” 500Startups being the most visible example:
This doesn’t guarantee a startup will use AL for a fundraise but filling out your profile and connecting with the network from the get-go is likely to be an influential primer.
Why does it matter?
In effect, each of these is an example of someone else building out AL’s distribution. For free. Whether it’s acquiring new investors, new issuers, new users who one day may convert, or just growing brand awareness. (Spillover everywhere of course.)
For free. This is key.
Building a network in a new marketplace is darn expensive. New customers can’t just be bought. They have to be bought, educated, educated again, and again, and then converted. This makes the cost of acquiring new investors—particularly accredited investors—insanely high. By my calculations the acquisition cost of an accredited investor, through a paid channel, e.g. CPC/CPM ads, is somewhere in the range of $500. (Publishing my thoughts here next.)
Consequently, being able to acquire issuers/investors at scale outside of paid channels—which all of the above examples are—is a big plus.
(To note: high acquisition costs aren’t a negative signal of the marketplace. It’s entirely expected as a natural occurrence of all new markets. Early e-commerce companies faced similarly high acquisition costs in the 90s when they had to educate customers on a new way of shopping. “Wait. How do I know this will be shipped to me? What if it doesn’t fit?”)
Does this mean Angellist has won?
Absolutely not. And directly comparing them to a Seedinvest, OurCrowd or Fundable et al.—each of which are curated marketplaces—is a mistake in my view.
AL does have quality control mechanisms. Mainly, it requires issuers to have at least $100k committed from a high-quality investor before raising capital through its platform. (Anyone can advertise but issuers must meet this threshold to run the transaction through AL.) But it’s largely do-it-yourself. This works for some.
But my dad, for example, wouldn’t know left from right on Angellist. No way would he ever convert. (Sorry Dad!) And that’s fine, he’s not AL’s target. As for issuers: some will want, if not need, a more curated and involved experience, which other platforms—ecosystems rather—have been designed to offer.
One final thought.
LinkedIn has Groups; Angellist has Syndicates. Any LinkedIn (Angellist) user can start, lead and grow a Group (Syndicate) on-platform.
Now let’s circle back to Treatings.co, a separate off-platform network built on top of LinkedIn’s graph. In effect, a derivative of LinkedIn. Raising the question… will Angellist one day also spawn derivative networks? It could look something like a couple FinTech entrepreneurs launching their own platform—own branding, own features—but using AL to signup users and process the transaction. Could this be a future AL is building for? I’m unsure, but something to think about.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. How are you thinking of Angellist in context of other platforms?