Is it possible to accelerate serendipity through an app?
Ludovic Huraux thinks so. That’s why he cofounded Shapr, a professional networking platform designed to increase the chances that you can bump into the person who could lead you to your dream job, invest in your startup, or simply give you some much needed advice.
One part matchmaker, one part curation tool, and all parts dedicated to hook ups with potential influencers, Shapr is just coming out of beta. It has 2,500 users since launching a year ago, and has just finished raising $3 million in seed funding from private investors including Frédéric Mazzella, founder and CEO of BlaBlaCar, a U.K.-based ride-sharing company.
Huraux, a French native and founder of the country’s popular dating site Attractive World, believes Shapr’s early traction can be credited to the platform’s limit on how many people you can have in your network: only 50.
Sound familiar? That was the premise behind Path’s original iteration. Aimed at becoming the anti-Facebook, where friend groups could balloon to 5,000 members, Path elected to travel a different route (sorry) to make connections more meaningful by capping a user’s network at 50.
The theory of keeping the inner circle tight has scientific roots. Research by Oxford University psychologist and anthropologist Robin Dunbar revealed that our brains can only manage about 150 close, personal relationships. More than that, and those friendships are at best, superficial.
That didn’t guarantee success in the case of Path, which raised users’ friend count to 150. And then again to potentially include as many as 500. Path has also iterated beyond just being a place to hold a private memory archive and introduced a mobile messaging service that could be used to text both friends and businesses. It remains to be seen if that idea will succeed.
Still, Huraux contends that in matters of business, making connections between people you know and trust is even more valuable. Inflated networks like LinkedIn’s, he says, are often meaningless when you really need to meet with someone. “I came to New York six months ago,” Huraux explains, “And I didn’t know anyone.”
Never mind that he had upwards of 1,000 LinkedIn connections which algorithmically (and theoretically) should open the door to some 600,000 others, he says. Indeed, the average LinkedIn user had between 500-999 connections in 2014, according to Statista, with 501 being the magic number that makes someone a “power connector.” When he was looking to establish Shapr’s presence here, Huraux wasn’t getting much attention from that network.
“It takes a lot of time,” Huraux admits, to build the kind of personal relationships that would allow someone to reach out and ask for assistance with their business and get an immediate and trustworthy response. Much less to get that person to make a warm introduction to someone else on their behalf. Indeed, LinkedIn coach and trainer Julie Holmwood wrote recently that, “Concentrated communication and deep-engagement with a select few, could be the key to your very own kingdom of dreams.”
Armed with his personal experience and seven years of growing Attractive World based on similar, selective principles, Huraux is ready to roll out this concept to a larger user base.
Right now, the app is available for download on iOS and Android for free. Shapr’s CMO Zane Groshelle points out that it currently uses the contact base you have on LinkedIn as a starting point and from there you must manually select those whom you wish to invite into your inner circle. You can scroll or start typing for the desired name to pop up. From there, he says, the other person must accept your trust request in order to be added to your network.
Huraux says it won’t be like this for much longer. An algorithm is in the works to winnow what could potentially be a massive list down to the most relevant people.
Once your group is established, Shapr offers a Facebook-like news feed for users to post updates for job openings, freelance opportunities, or simply to make more connections. But Shapr also starts working like a dating app, presenting new potential matches made from your contacts’ inner circles. If interested, you can tap to reach out and send an email, or, swipe left to put that potential connection on hold.
It’s here where Ludovic’s experience with the dating site Attractive World also comes into play. “In the dating experience it is good to match people,” says Huraux, “but you need to break the ice.” He envisions that Shapr’s matchmaking tool should also contain with some accountability to get people to meet face-to-face.
Though Groshelle admits the site is not currently optimized currently to have people meet in the real world, Huraux says that, too, is coming in the next iteration.
The bottom line, he says, is a focus on quality over quantity. People still want to meet new people and removing the dread of face-to-face networking events by moving introductions to an asynchronous matchmaking service may certainly help bolster the confidence of reluctant connectors.
But he’s also thinking Shapr’s marriage of matchmaking technology and small scale networking may help the platform take off. Not surprisingly, Groshelle says the user base tends to be younger millennials, who are most familiar with Tinder, Secret, and other immediate, ephemeral products. These are the same users who are gravitating to smaller social networks like Snapchat in greater numbers, according to Pew Research. “We have so many ways to be connected,” he maintains, “This is not what people expect.”