A number of startups in years past have tried to carve out their own niche in the business networking space under the looming shadow of LinkedIn by offering an alternative way to connect with industry colleagues, often on mobile. But today, a new app called Caliber is offering a slightly different take on the concept: instead of trying to compete with LinkedIn directly, its service offers a complementary tool that lets you chat with your LinkedIn contacts as well as grow your network without being overrun by request spam.
Caliber itself first launched last summer, but initially offered a Tinder-like app for making business connections. That app grew to 20,000 users, but the team realized that it wasn’t quite what people wanted. Users didn’t want to just connect with other interesting people, they wanted to be able to reach their business contacts and message them, explains company co-founder and CEO Andres Blank.
However, building a messaging app for business use presents its own sorts of challenges. Users have to create accounts that include their professional identities, they need to be able to search for and find the right people on the platform, and most importantly, the app needs to be careful to not encourage spam.
That latter problem is something I’ve seen a number of other attempts in this space gloss over – startups would create these interesting social experiences for connecting industry colleagues, but they would never address the issue of spam.
That is, when you’re someone whose advice or insight is valuable, or you’re someone who’s in demand – think, for example, a VC getting hundreds of pitches from entrepreneurs – you become overwhelmed by the number of requests to connect or incoming messages on any platform you join. For these sought-after users, the problem makes it difficult for you to participate, and it even discourages you from doing so.
What’s interesting about Caliber is that it has focused on developing a solution to this problem.
The app leverages LinkedIn to build out its user profiles and understand who’s connected to who. If two people are already LinkedIn connections and are both on Caliber, they can message each other in the app. If they’re connected on LinkedIn, but only one person uses the app, the app lets you send a LinkedIn InMail to the non-Caliber user. And if both users are not connected on LinkedIn, one user can send a request to connect with the other on Caliber instead.
But the app doesn’t barrage users with requests the minute they come in like most social apps do. There aren’t buzzy push notifications forcing to you to respond to each incoming invite. Rather, at the end of the week, Caliber presents a list of your requests and it ranks them for you, showing those first where you have mutual connections or the person is popular within the app. This allows you to make better decisions about who to connect to, and why.
Then, unlike on LinkedIn or Facebook or most other social networks, all the unanswered requests just disappear after a week’s time.
That doesn’t prevent those same users from trying again later, but it does make the process of growing your network – smartly – a lot easier.
Meanwhile, if you’re the one in need of expanding your network, you can use Caliber to seek out users based on their professional experience, including their roles, skills and companies.
Currently, the Caliber app only enables messaging between contacts, but in the future, the team wants to expand the app to support things like video calls, file sharing or appointment scheduling, as well as connecting to contacts on other networks, like Twitter or AngelList, for example . And eventually, it wants to generate revenue through business-level features, like support for connecting with CRM systems, or the ability to generate data that could help recruiters or hiring managers find in-demand professionals.
One potential problem Caliber could face, however, is that it’s being built on top of LinkedIn – a company which doesn’t have a good history with regard to supporting its ecosystem of third-party apps. For instance, it recently began limiting full API usage only to partners. Caliber is applying for partnership status, but hasn’t been granted this yet. However, Blank is hopeful.
“Right now in the short-term, you could say there are some similarities [between us and what LinkedIn] does with InMail, but in the long-term, we’re a pure communications app,” he says. “LinkedIn is much more about identity. It’s about your resumé…I think we’re complementary to them and we also give back to their platform,” Blank notes, adding that Caliber can help people establish a connection on LinkedIn, too.
The company is a team of five based in New York and is now closing a seed round. In addition to CEO Blank, an angel investor who previously founded and sold Pixable, the startup is co-founded by Chris Calmeyn, a TechStars alum and previously head of product at Piictu and a product manager at Travelocity.
The new app is available for both iOS and Android.