Everything started at a Sunday brunch when I asked my friend JoAnne about the startup she’d just joined. JoAnne, a fifty-something woman with the hip energy of a 25-year-old, perked up as she explained what the startup did: it was a super-secure payment service, founded by a libertarian Stanford grad and a young Russian-born cryptographer. They’d raised $100 million and grown to 100 employees. There was just one hitch: an international cadre of fraudsters had found ways to use their service to swindle millions of dollars and the team had to find a way to stop them.
Combating international fraud sounded way more interesting than my job. I excitedly asked JoAnne if her startup might want to hire someone like me and a few days later I found an email in my inbox introducing me to Max Levchin, the CTO and co-founder of PayPal. She described Max as a talented entrepreneur and technologist; I was a mathematically-inclined 22-year-old who might be able to help solve the fraud problem.
Although JoAnne took just a few minutes to write that email, it completely changed my life. Our exchange led to me finding a new job and taught me an important lesson about the value of the right introduction.
Sharing Context, Sharing Trust
JoAnne’s introduction was valuable to both me and the team at PayPal because it accomplished four things:
- She gave me important context. PayPal was growing and on a strong path but had a fraud problem where my skills could be helpful.
- She gave Max important context. I was a promising data geek who was open to new opportunities.
- She expressed her trust in my abilities. Because of her words and because Max and the team had confidence in her recommendations, Max wanted to talk to me.
- She expressed her trust in Max and his team. Because I valued her judgment, I spoke to Max and ultimately decided to join a team I’d previously known nothing about.
Each of those four things was valuable and collectively they increased the probability of me working at PayPal by at least 100x. I joined Max’s team a month later and thanked JoAnne for making it happen. Without her intro, PayPal wouldn’t have hired me and I would never have made what became the most important move of my career.
More Intros Like This, Please
When you’re in an employer’s shoes and trying to hire good people, you’re looking for trustworthy information about candidates: who’s likely to do great work as part of your team? When you’re in a candidate’s shoes and considering a new job, you’re looking for trustworthy information about teams: where could you do fulfilling work with people you’d enjoy working with? JoAnne’s introduction answered these questions for Max and me, but it only happened because of a well-timed brunch.
Bonafide is my new startup, and our goal is to arm both candidates and teams with better information so they can make better decisions about whom to work with. Connectors like JoAnne facilitate good decisions by propagating trust between candidates and teams.
Today we’re excited to announce the release of a product that recognizes connectors and helps them become more efficient. We’ve built a tool called Bonafide Connector that uses natural language processing to find introductions you’ve been a part of. Bonafide Connector takes your archived Gmail intros and turns them into meaningful data about your strengths as a connector, the best things you’ve written about others, and the great things others have said about you.
For a sneak peak, here’s my Connector Report:
We’re recognizing some of our members as top connectors based on data from over 100,000 email introductions. We’ll be updating these rankings as more people sign up for Bonafide (check back for updates). Congrats to the top connectors!
The Beginning and The End
Each day, every professional gets to know a little more about the people she works with. She learns of others’ strengths and weaknesses, she figures out whom she can trust and how she can trust them.
Connectors serve an important role in sharing trust and introducing people who could work well together, but it’s hard to make a great connection. I got lucky with that Sunday brunch and joined PayPal, but more often than not, the right candidates and the right teams don’t find one another.
JoAnne did a lot of big things in her life, but the most impactful for me was the fifteen minutes she took to connect me with Max. Thanks in large part to her, I got to spend 3.5 years at PayPal with dozens of phenomenal people, learning lots about using data and building a great company. It never ceases to amaze me that an action that takes a few minutes can have such a huge positive effect on someone’s life. I’ll always be grateful to JoAnne for her help, and I hope to make it a little easier for others to do what she did.
In memory of JoAnne Rockower, who passed away in 2014. Thank you to JoAnne and Max for making this post possible!
And thanks to Michael Lipman, Leo Polovets, Karen Song, Andrew Chen, Jason Schwarz, and Nazila Alasti for providing feedback.