blind

Talk With Your Colleagues Anonymously, With Blind

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Tired of being monitored by your company while wanting to dish with colleagues about said company? Or maybe you’re curious about what people with similar work experience are making at other companies. Blind, a two-year-old app founded in South Korea and newly available in the U.S., may be just the thing for you.

Its big idea: bringing anonymity to the workplace so you can “share the real you” with other employees. If you happen to figure out what’s really happening in the upper echelons of the company, so much the better.

Blind’s origins trace back to Naver, the South Korean Internet giant, which long ran a widely used employee forum but pulled the plug when employees began making less-than-flattering remarks about management.  When a group of Naver employees left to form Blind, many Naver employees embraced the platform, followed by employees elsewhere.

It’s been growing ever since, says Osuke Honda, a general partner at DCM, which led an unannounced Series A round of “single digit millions” in the company in May. Indeed, he says that another pivotal moment for Blind came late last year, when a senior Korean Air executive exploded in a rage after a flight attendant presented her peanuts in a bag instead of on a dish.

Interestingly, those Korean Air employees had to wait until 200 of their colleagues had signed up to join Blind before they were able to create their own chat room. Explains Honda, “The rationale is if it’s 10 people using Blind, it’s hard [to ensure that those employees are] anonymous.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, “If it’s 500 employees, the hurdle of opening a chat room is more difficult.”

The company may lower the number – slightly – as it seeks to attract U.S. users. But to date, that threshold has not proved too high. Blind says employees of nearly 800 companies are now actively using the platform, including Microsoft and Amazon.

While the company doesn’t break out how many employees that totals, it says 40 percent of its users return daily and 80 percent return monthly. Blind also says the average usage on the site amounts to 20 minutes a day.

The concept of an anonymous employee forum isn’t entirely new. Old timers may recall the Vault, a site that emerged during the go-go dot-com days and enabled people to post anonymous reviews of their companies. (The site is still ongoing, having acquired new owners along the way.)

Blind takes much greater pains to distinguish itself from the likes of Secret and other mobile anonymity apps.

DCM has backed the anonymous social app Yik Yak, and Honda says DCM is advising Blind based on lessons learned through that earlier investment, particularly when it comes to balancing the quality of interactions without “going too far in policing it,” says Honda. In the meantime, Blind says its workplace focus is a big differentiator.

“We’re in a professional space, so there’s very little ‘bad’ content,” says Alex Shin, Blind’s U.S. head of operations. “Our goal is really to flatten hierarchies within companies and give employees a chance to discuss what’s going on” — both in chat rooms that they set up for their own colleagues, and in so-called lounges, where employees from different companies can gather to talk anonymously.

Says Shin of the types of content posted to Blind: “It’s, ‘Microsoft just launched a new phone; how do you think I will do? Or ‘What do you think of our new Surface Pro stuff?’”

In the cases where those conversations take an unsavory turn, Blind has an answer for that, too, says Shin. “If people say things that are inappropriate, that content gets flagged. If the content gets flagged numerous times, it will disappear. If a user gets flagged seven times within a certain period, we’ll phase out that user, as well.”

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges to Blind would seem to be privacy concerns. No one wants to get caught bad-mouthing the boss. Shin insists it’s a non-issue. “We verify new users and match employers via email domain or LinkedIn/Facebook, then users’ email is encrypted and everything else is erased as soon as you’re verified.” Blind “has ever base covered,” he says.

There’s also the question of a business model, something about which “we talk about a lot,” laughs Honda of DCM. It’s also a question the company is putting off, for now.

“For the next year, it’s more about getting penetration – getting people to share ideas and create forums and what not,” says Honda. Later, one possible direction for the company would be into recruiting. “There are lots communications that go on about jobs and HR-related stuff.” He says he could see Blind ultimately embracing aspects of Glassdoor’s model. “We don’t want to move in that direction too soon, though,” he adds.

If your company isn’t using Blind and you’re interested in checking it out, you can establish a waitlist, or sign up for an existing waitlist, here.