I often hear people say they moved to San Francisco and Silicon Valley to be in the thick of things — to open themselves up to running into a new mentor at the local coffee shop, or pitch a top venture capitalist during a chance elevator encounter. Advice websites and how-to books are great, Q&A sites such as Quora are helpful, but there’s still nothing like one-on-one conversation from someone who has been there before when you’re trying to build a new company.
A new company called Clarity wants to help provide that service to startup founders no matter where they are. Launching to the public today, Clarity provides a marketplace that hooks up phone calls between entrepreneurs and mentors such as successful businesspeople and venture capitalists. The advice givers can either talk for free or set a price for their time, and Clarity lets them either keep that money or donate it to a charity of their choice. If the money is not given to charity, Clarity takes a 15 percent commission.
How It Works
Martell has assembled a star-studded collection of 1000 advisors who are on board for Clarity’s launch, including noted investor and 500 Startups founder Dave McClure, Greylock Partners principal and Twitter and Facebook alum Josh Elman, Startup Weekend CEO Marc Nager, Color and Science labs co-founder Peter Pham, Rypple co-founder Daniel Debow, and lean startup guru Eric Ries.
The key thing about Clarity is that it arranges a double-blind phone calling process — neither party knows the other’s actual phone number. The site also requires that users connect through Facebook, so there is a layer of identity verification in place there already. Founders can browse the Clarity directory through curated topic pages that show each adviser’s expertise, or plug a few sample questions into Clarity to get suggestions on who they should speak to. Clarity works for phone numbers throughout the world — in its five month beta testing phase, it has brokered 4000+ calls from people in more than 60 countries.
Why It Matters
Clarity was founded by Dan Martell, a young tech industry veteran of sorts who has built and sold two successful companies — and been on both the giving and receiving end of good advice. “For the first years of my working career, I was still living in my native Canada and I was desperate for advice. I emailed the minister of my province there, he respected that I was a young entrepreneur, and he introduced me to three guys that had built hundred million dollar companies. That was the reason that I moved to San Francisco in the first place,” Martell said. “I know that getting the right advice at the right time can dramatically change an entrepreneur’s life.”
Martell says it’s a positive experience for both founders and mentors. “I’ve done about 400 calls myself during the beta, and what people don’t realize is that it’s hard to give someone advice without taking something away from it yourself. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m driving on the 101 Highway for 45 minutes, call me if you want to talk about product or marketing.’ You queue the calls, and you get in this rhythm, and it’s actually really energizing. I’ve talked to some entrepreneurs I’d absolutely invest in.”
Phone Calls: Back To The Future?
Clarity, which has been self-funded by Martell, is based in San Francisco and has four full-time employees. By the end of 2012 the company expects to triple in staff size to about 12. Right now, the service is focused on technology and business, but Martell said in the future it could expand to any number of topics, from the restaurant business, to athletics, to general life coaching.
A lot of people are kind of proud of not using the voice communication function on their smartphones anymore, and call me old-fashioned — but I still think it’s an important skill to actually talk to other people (or as an old boss of mine used to say, “Give good phone.”) In fact, most of the really successful people I’ve met still prefer to talk on the phone over email or texting. It’ll be cool to see how Clarity takes off in the future.
Here are a few more screenshots of Clarity in action: