Admit it: You’re on LinkedIn but rarely use it, besides to accept a friend of a coworker’s invitation to “connect” and casually stalk your next potential employer or employee. It’s like a party where everyone sticks to their comfortable clique and watches one another from a distance. Little meaningful engagement happens there.
Ask yourself the last time you heard someone say, “You’ll never believe what I learned on LinkedIn today.”
It’s that missing link inherent to social networking — the unbridled and in-person exchange of energy and real networking — that Karma Circles wants to capitalize on. They have created a platform on which professionals can directly connect with one another to request meetings or seek other services.
At a recent techie meetup known as 1 Million Cups, Rajiv Kumar of Karma Circles presents the young startup’s platform to a room of 20 people in what’s become a weekly peer-to-peer feedback session at Impact Venture Capital’s (formerly Velocity Venture) downtown campus on the 28th floor of the Renaissance Tower in downtown Sacramento.
Based on the notion that entrepreneurs network and discover solutions over a million cups of coffee, 1 Million Cups is a free, weekly gathering that helps elevate startup communities on a grassroots level, according to the organization’s website. Jack Crawford, general partner at Impact Venture and a Kauffman fellow, was instrumental in getting the Kauffman Foundation’s approval to launch the program in Sacramento.
At these sessions — stimulated by the effects of coffee on an audience of mentors, advisers and entrepreneurs — two early-stage startups present their respective companies for six minutes, followed by a 20-minute Q&A session with the audience, which typically morphs into a workshop session to refine and strengthen the platform.
“I can see I could use more focus here,” says Joanne Werneke, following some constructive feedback by audience members in late October. She’s the co-founder of PTTrack, another early startup that aims to develop a wearable device and an integrated app platform for patients and providers that tracks physical therapy in an HIPAA-compliant manner.
“We’re not just coaching them on pitching, we’re coaching them on elements of a successful startup,” says Laura Good, a member of the local 1 Million Cups organizing team.
By the end of the session, Werneke has received feedback on improving her marketing, made new connections and heard fresh perspectives on approaching investors. “It helps you really clarify your pitch,” she says. “I would highly recommend it — to get that feedback and have the interaction when you present your idea so you can get a sense of how you should approach future investors and other people to add to your team.”
But 1 Million Cups is not an investor pitch, Good stresses; instead it’s an opportunity for startups to receive coaching and feedback. Many regular attendees include startup founders, including but not limited to Crawford, Apptology CEO Rich Foreman and Liz Tang of the UC Davis Engineering Student Startup Center. “It’s not just about the presentation, it’s about the substance of their company,” Good says. “Our goal is to help them hone in on the parts of their business, or if they missed developing something.”
For Kumar, he learned that a major selling point for Karma Circles is the ability for users to grow their network through helping others. “We believe people have goodness — they generally like to share,” he says. “People like to share, this is what we do. We like to brag, and also to help.”
As far as who can apply to present, the stage is open to any startup, from early concept stage to having already launched. To keep the pipeline full, and to avoid scrambling, organizers reach out to coworking spaces and investment firms, says Ryan Frisch of 1 Million Cups Sacramento.
“It’s a great opportunity for people with an idea to come in and practice and get honest feedback,” Frisch says. “The whole spirit of the event is to help each other out.”