Over the past few months Hashable, a startup focused on networking, has become an addiction among many of the power players in New York’s tech scene. It allows users to track who they meet with and who they introduce, creating a dataset that measures in fine detail the social economy of Silicon Alley. “Once I started, I was hooked,” says Charlie O’Donnell of First Round Capital. “Now I’m feeling a bit competitive. I really want to be one of the top connectors.”
Big-name investors like O’Donnell and Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson use the service regularly. But on the site’s leaderboard the top three users, not counting Hashable employees, are a CEO of a small dating site, a relatively unknown investor and an NYU senior and Dogpatch Lab’s intern named Trevor Owens. Which begs the question, how exactly does the site quantify social capital?
First, a quick breakdown of how the site works. Hashable has been in private Beta since July, but made it’s big debut on TechCrunch yesterday thanks to Erick Schonfeld, who introduced Fred Wilson to Chris Dixon with this Twitter post.
Once users sign up for Hashable, it scans their emails and Twitter posts for Hashable tags. Because Schonfeld tagged his tweet with #intro and @ hashable Dixon and Wilson will each receive an invitation to a Hashable icebreaker page where they can learn more about one another. Schonfeld gets a few points, called Hashcred, for introducing the pair. If they endorse the introduction through Hashable, Schonfeld gets even more.
“There is so much activity that goes on within your social graph that doesn’t get seen,” says Hashable CEO Michael Yavonditte. His aim is to go beyond sites like LinkedIn, which show users connections, but have no mechanism for recording the depth or chronology of these links.
“The big picture here, from my perspective, is that LinkedIn is useless because there’s no way to tell the difference between someone that “connected” with you after meeting once on a bus, and someone you have breakfast with every week,” says Justin Wohlstadter, who manages the NYC seed fund Penny Black. “Hashable has really created the first environment where it’s possible to track and visualize that data. And once you do that, a ton of cool and useful things are possible. Imagine you’re launching a startup in the clean-tech space, and you go to a friend’s profile and see that he has lunch every week with Vinod Khosla. That’s powerful information.”
So why is an intern like Trevor Owens more powerful on Hashable than a big-name VC like Fred Wilson? “We’re trying to measure social capital, but the site just started, and it’s not perfect,” says Yavonditte. “At the same time, I think it speaks to the way a young guy like Trevor approaches the New York scene.”
Charlie O’Donnell agrees. “Fred Wilson probably isn’t a top connector. Having worked for him, I know his inbox is flooded with various requests and he probably doesn’t make nearly as many intros as Trevor does. A guy like Trevor uses introductions as a way to create social capital and he’s enthusiastic about climbing up the social community ladder. Fred probably gets a ton of people introduced to him, but probably doesn’t make nearly as many in return given where he is in his career.”
Owens agrees that Hashable was a chance to define himself on the Silicon Alley scene. “I thought it was cool to be an early evangalizer and was motivated by the fact that Emily Hickey, Hashable’s chief marketing officer, had invited a lot of NYC influencers like Charlie O’Donnell and Fred Wilson. I knew I could beat them on the leaderboard if I got a head start. I’m really on the ground floor of the startup scene, whereas I think Fred kind of has to avoid a lot of people or he would get mobbed from his popularity. He can’t take as many risks just hanging out and talking with unproven people like I can.”
Hashable CEO Michael Yavonditte says that he expects the service to improve rapidly now that it has opened up beyond the private beta. “We’re still figuring out how to balance the amount of credit people receive for various interactions. People who can make big connections or help a startup to find significant funding will see a much bigger increase in their Hashable status than someone who just introduces folks over coffee.”
Yavonditte believes that over time, the advantages of being an active user and early adopter will start to fade. “David Tisch, director of NY Techstars, is not a very active user of the service. But he has risen to #32 on the leaderboard because so many other users see him as a valuable connection in the scene and reference him in their Hashable posts.”
For now, however, Yovonditte is less focused on making the service a definitive guide to the most influential users and more concerned with making Hashable as fun and addictive as possible. “In the post-Facebook world you have to be cool first. The business side of things comes much later.”
The big question that remains is how much information people will be willing to share on the service and whether or not people outside the tech community will be as open and interested in sharing their networking activity. Hashable users like Charlie O’Donnell and Trevor Owens both said that they publicize most of their networking activity, but would be hesitant to put information on Hashable that might tip others off to sensitive investment plans.
“I’ve debated this one with friends, but as of now I can’t think of a situation where I wouldn’t post the connection,” says Justin Wohlstadter. “Obviously the old guard has a lot of hesitation about publishing that kind of data, and I was at cautious at first too, but so far no one has provided me with a good argument for keeping any of this activity private. Plus, I’ve used a lot of early stage startups in my life, and this one is frickin’ addictive.
bpopper at observer.com