Last fall, social analytics startup SocialRank sold its product and business to Trufan, allowing the team to focus on something new: a professional social network. Today, they’re officially unveiling Upstream to the public.
To be clear, CEO Alex Taub told me that he’s not trying to replace LinkedIn — he acknowledged that thanks to network effects,”If you want to go and try to take down LinkedIn, you’re not going to be able to take them down.”
Instead, the goal is to create something that fulfills a different need. Where LinkedIn works primarily as an online résumé and rolodex, Upstream aims to help users build the connections and relationships that are important to their careers — something that’s sorely needed at a time when large-scale meetups and conferences aren’t really possible (though we’re certainly trying to create the virtual equivalent at TechCrunch).
“This is the place for your professional social life,” Taub said.
Upstream’s first product focused on professional groups and communities, allowing users to post what the company called Professional Asks, like if they’re looking to hire someone for a certain position or need an introduction at another company.
Taub suggested that things really took off with Upstream’s next product, Upstream Events, with a guest speaker followed by a period where attendees were matched up for five-minute, one-on-one video chats with the other people at the event.
Upstream says it’s already hosted more than 100 events, with 72% of people who who attend one event subsequently attending another.
While the team has been pretty busy, today is the first time it’s talking publicly about the product and vision. And it’s launching some new features.
For one thing, while communities were previously shared via a private, unlisted link, you can now browse all the different communities in a Discovery section. At the same time, community organizers will be still be able to control who joins with the ability to approve or reject new members.
There’s also a new spin on Events called Office Hours, allowing users to set aside structured time for one-on-one virtual sessions with anyone who’s interested in speaking to them. These sessions can be listed publicly, or they can be unlisted, so that you only share them via email or within a certain community.
In a blog post, Taub noted that he met his SocialRank/Upstream co-founder and CTO Michael Schonfeld via Ohours.org, and they’re trying to replicate that experience here:
Let’s say you are the CMO of a large company and you want to give your people the opportunity to meet 1:1. The thought of coordinating the individual scheduling of ten minute blocks using your Outlook calendar and email is not attractive. But with Upstream, you are able to choose the 30min block you want to offer and how long you want the sessions to be. You decide you want to run your office hours every other Friday at 2pm ET for the rest of the year. The event is built and able to be shared seamlessly to whoever you choose to offer the Office Hours to.
In fact, Taub’s blog post lists more than 30 different people who are already offering office hours on Upstream, including New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz, Foursquare co-founder/Expa partner Naveen Selvadurai and Amazon Photo Head of Product Nate Westheiemer.
Upstream is also announcing that it has raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding from 8-Bit Capital, Human Ventures, Basement Fund, NYVP and various angel investors.
Looking ahead, Taub said that the next big priority is launching a web version of Upstream (which is currently available via mobile app), and to continue building live experiences, asynchronous experiences and features that provide real utility.
“We imagine a future when professionals come to Upstream for an event or Ask, and stay for the compelling opportunities that make Upstream an energizing and beneficial experience for them,” he wrote.