Launched at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, PIF (Pay It Forward) is an app that is taking a literal approach to social networking.
Essentially a Tinder for networking, the app is designed to introduce people from within a specific industry (starting with the start-up community) who may not have otherwise had a chance to meet.
Each user has a profile with a photo and brief description of themselves. Users can then view other user’s profiles, and decide whether or not they want to be matched up, a la Tinder. This aspect of the app’s matching algorithm is pretty straightforward: Once two people swipe right on each other’s profile, they are automatically placed into a conversation.
However, what makes the app interesting is a second algorithm which allows users to be placed in a private chat with someone they wish to meet, without a mutual request from the other person.
While this sounds potentially intrusive, the algorithm is based on a “pay it forward” system, where users are allowed to start one unsolicited chat with someone in the startup community for every unsolicited chat request they accept.
While highly valuable to someone trying to gain contacts inside an industry, its not as clear what the benefit of PIF would be to someone already well connected in an industry.
This is a similar problem faced by LinkedIn: There are a small number of influencer that a large number of people want to connect with.
However, the company’s point of view is that “all of us have other people whom we want (or will want) to connect with, but currently we don’t even know they exist.”
This perspective makes sense, especially in the startup world where talent discovery and deal flow are major parts of an investor’s workflow. If PIF can help a high-profile VC make an investment in a disruptive startup they wouldn’t have otherwise come across, it would quickly show entrepreneurs, investors, and other players in the startup ecosystem the benefits of unsolicited connections.