As social creatures, we connect, explore and shop based on the recommendations of people we trust. When a foodie friend suggests a new restaurant, we reserve a table. When a colleague or mentor tells us to meet someone, we do so without hesitation.
But when we broadcast suggestions or requests on social media, there's no guarantee that valued sources or experts will see them and respond. There's no consistent way to cut through the noise.
At least that's what Claudia Batten, a serial entrepreneur, found when searching for technology hardware experts. Despite being extremely well-connected -- Batten has thousands of ties on LinkedIn, thousands of (real) Twitter followers, and hundreds of Facebook friends -- she lacked a quick way to tap her contacts for advice. Instead, she found herself individually emailing people she thought might be able to help.
"It was really inefficient," Batten said. "But even worse, it was ineffective."
Batten and co-founders -- who agreed that their increased connectivity had diminishing returns -- created "Broadli," an app to catalyze the targeted assistance they observed among "super-connectors" and highly effective peers.
"LinkedIn is a powerful tool," Batten continued. "It's great that everyone is in this awesome digital Rolodex, but now let's put them to work."
Broadli enables users to activate their networks strategically, to zero in on people who can be most helpful at a particular time. The app connects to a user's LinkedIn account and pulls in contacts, which the user then sorts into categories: "Inspired," "Dormant," "Don't Know," and "Want to Know." Folks with whom she has close, personal relationships are "Inspired" and form a trusted network. All other contacts are divided into one of the other clusters and stored for later networking potential.
From there, the user defines her mission -- the foremost thing she is trying to accomplish, such as moving to a new city, changing jobs, or launching a company or charity. Her "Inspired" inner circle can then make tactical introductions to members of their own coteries to help the friend advance toward her goal.
In developing the app, Broadli co-founders aim to facilitate the "intentional generosity" they've experienced in trusted networks. Networking, they say, isn't a zero-sum game. Rather, it should be about building relationships that go the distance, helping others without expecting an immediate return.
"Networking for ambition alone is a thing of the past," Batten continued. "It's supporting people to help them achieve their dreams because, when they do, you feel the 'win' yourself. It's supporting people because you care about their lives."
One might expect such idealism from starry-eyed Millennials, but Broadli's three initial co-founders are high-flying female executives in their late-30s and 40s. After decades in the workforce, the women were looking for a better way to work, and Broadli's corporate structure -- or lack thereof -- mirrors the flat, non-hierarchical collaboration they hope their app will accelerate.
Even before last month when Zappos, the online retailer, announced its plan to abandon a traditional top-down org structure in favor of self-governing circles for the company's 1,500 employees, Broadli co-founders worked successfully without titles, job descriptions, or ownership of ideas. The process of incorporating forced Broadli to name a president, but co-founders insist this "old-world" paradigm runs counter to creativity and innovation. Major advances, they say, result from openness and diversity.
While Broadli's team now includes two male co-founders, Matt Null and John Weiss, the entrepreneurs say the app was created from a "feminine perspective," which values collaboration.
"Real collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision," said Alessandra Lariu, a Broadli co-founder who is also CEO of Shout, a global advertising collective. "Real collaborators behave in a 'what's mine is yours' manner."
Weiss says he finds the forward-thinking nature of his female colleagues refreshing; they consistently focus on possibilities for the future, he said, whereas some male-dominated organizations tend to emphasize past success.
Still, the Broadli crew cautions against getting mired in group-think and wonders how their model will scale (they'll be watching Zappos closely). But for now they're continuing the experiment.
"We're so excited about the possibilities of this venture -- not only for the ability to extend purposeful networking, but also for the opportunity to create a way of working together that is qualitatively different from other workplaces we've known," said V. Mary Abraham, a co-founder who is also a lawyer and knowledge management expert. "An organization created by women who are consciously looking for a better way is a wonderful thing!"