Category Archives: LinkedIn

LinkedIn cuts off email address exports with new privacy setting

A win for privacy on LinkedIn could be a big loss for businesses, recruiters, and anyone else expecting to be able to export the email addresses of their connections. LinkedIn just quietly introduced a new privacy setting that defaults to blocking other users from exporting your email address. That could prevent some spam, and protect users who didn’t realize anyone who they’re connected to could download their email address into a giant spreadsheet. But the launch of this new setting without warning or even a formal announcement could piss off users who’d invested tons of time into the professional networking site in hopes of contacting their connections outside of it.

TechCrunch was tipped off by a reader that emails were no longer coming through as part of LinkedIn’s Archive tool for exporting your data. Now LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that “This is a new setting that gives our members even more control their email address on LinkedIn. If you take a look at the setting titled “Who can download your email”, you’ll see we’ve added a more detailed setting that defaults to the strongest privacy option. Members can choose to change that setting based on their preference. This gives our members control over who can download their email address via a data export.”

That new option can be found under Settings & Privacy -> Privacy -> Who Can See My Email Address? This “Allow your connections to download your email [address of user] in their data export?” toggle defaults to ‘No’. Most users don’t know it exists since LinkedIn didn’t announce it, there’s merely been a folded up section added to the Help center on email visibility, and few might voluntarily change it to ‘Yes’ since there’s no explanation of why you’d want to. That means nearly no one’s email addresses will appear in LinkedIn Archive exports any more. Your connections will still be able to see your email address if they navigate to your profile, but they can’t grab those from their whole graph.

Facebook came to the same conclusion about restricting email exports back when it was in a data portability fight with Google in 2010. Facebook had been encouraging users to import their Gmail contacts, but refused to let users export their Friends’ email addresses. It argued that users own their own email addresses, but not those of their Friends, so they couldn’t be downloaded — though that stance conveniently prevented any other app from bootstrapping a competing social graph by importing your Facebook friend list in any usable way. I’ve argued that Facebook needs to make friend lists interoperable to give users choice about what apps they use, both because it’s the right thing to do but also because it could deter regulation.

On a social network like Facebook, barring email exports makes more sense. But on LinkedIn’s professional network where people are purposefully connecting with those they don’t know, and where exporting has always been allowed, making the change silently seems surreptitious. Perhaps LinkedIn didn’t want to bring attention to the fact it was allowing your email address to be slurped up by anyone you’re connected with given the current media climate of intense scrutiny regarding privacy in social tech. But trying to hide a change that’s massively impactful to businesses that rely on LinkedIn could erode the trust of its core users.

LinkedIn launches its own Snapchat Stories: ‘Student Voices’

The social media singularity continues with the arrival of Snapchat Stories-style slideshows on LinkedIn as the app grasps for relevance with a younger audience. LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that it plans to build Stories for more sets of users, but first it’s launching “Student Voices” just for university students in the U.S. The feature appears atop the LinkedIn home screen and lets students post short videos to their Campus Playlist. The videos (no photos allowed) disappear from the playlist after a week while staying permanently visible on a user’s own profile in the Recent Activity section. Students can tap through their school’s own slideshow and watch the Campus Playlists of nearby universities.

LinkedIn now confirms the feature is in testing, with product manager Isha Patel telling TechCrunch “Campus playlists are a new video feature that we’re currently rolling out to college students in the US. As we know, students love to use video to capture moments so we’ve created this new product to help them connect with one another around shared experiences on campus to help create a sense of community.” Student Voices was first spotted by social consultant Carlos Gil, and tipped by Socially Contented’s Cathy Wassell to Matt Navarra.

A LinkedIn spokesperson tells us the motive behind the feature is to get students sharing their academic experiences like internships, career fairs and class projects that they’d want to show off to recruiters as part of their personal brand. “It’s a great way for students to build out their profile and have this authentic content that shows who they are and what their academic and professional experiences have been. Having these videos live on their profile can help students grow their network, prepare for life after graduation, and help potential employers learn more about them,” Patel says.

But unfortunately that ignores the fact that Stories were originally invented for broadcasting off-the-cuff moments that disappear so you DON’T have to worry about their impact on your reputation. That dissonance might confuse users, discourage them from posting to Student Voices or lead them to assume their clips will disappear from their profile too — which could leave embarrassing content exposed to hirers. “Authenticity” might not necessarily paint users in the best light to recruiters, so it seems more likely that students would post polished clips promoting their achievements… if they use it at all.

LinkedIn seems to be desperate to appeal to the next generation. Social app investigator and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong today spotted 10 minor new features LinkedIn is prototyping that include youth-centric options like GIF comments, location sharing in messages and Facebook Reactions-style buttons beyond “Like” such as “Clap,” “Insightful,” “Hmm,” and “Support.”

When users post to Student Stories, they’ll have their university’s logo overlaid as a sticker they can move around. LinkedIn will generate this plus a set of suggested hashtags like #OnCampus based on a user’s profile, including which school they say they attend, though users can also overlay their own text captions. Typically, users in the test phase were sharing videos of around 30 to 45 seconds. “Students are taking us to their school hackathons, showing us their group projects, sharing their student group activities and teaching us about causes they care about,” Patel explains. You can see an example video here, and watch a sizzle reel about the feature below.

For now, LinkedIn tells me it has no plans to insert ads between clips in Student Voices. But if the Stories content assists with discovering and vetting job candidates, it could make LinkedIn more unique and indispensable to recruiters who do pay for premium access. And if these Stories get a ton of views simply by being emblazoned atop the LinkedIn feed, users might return to the app more frequently to share them. As we’ve seen with the steady increase in popularity of Facebook Stories, if you give people a stage for narcissism, they will fill it.

LinkedIn’s start as a dry web tool for seeking jobs has made for a rocky transition as it tries to become a daily habit for users. Some tactical advice in its feed can be helpful, but much of LinkedIn’s content feels blatantly self-promotional, boring or transactional. Meanwhile, it’s encountering new competition as Facebook integrates career listings and job applications for blue-collar work into its social network that already sees over a billion people visit each day. It’s understandable why LinkedIn would try to latch on to the visual communication trend, as Facebook estimates Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all apps in 2019. But Student Voices nonetheless feels unabashedly “how do you do, fellow kids?”

LinkedIn Learning now includes 3rd party content and Q&A interactive features

LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social network for the working world with some 580 million users, took a big step into professional development and education when it acquired Lynda.com for $1.5 billion and used it as the anchor for LinkedIn Learning.

Now, with 13,000 courses on the platform, LinkedIn is announcing two new developments to get more people using the service. It will now offer videos, tutorials and courses from third parties such as Treehouse and the publishing division of Harvard Business School. And in a social twist, people who use LinkedIn learning — the students and teachers — will now be able to ask and answer questions around LinkedIn Learning sessions, as well as follow instructors on LinkedIn, and see others’ feedback on courses.

Unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning comes when a person pays for LinkedIn’s Premium Career tier which costs around $30/month, or when a company takes an enterprise team subscription for the Learning service. Today, LinkedIn tells me that it has around 11,000 enterprise customers, and it doesn’t break out how much traffic is has overall on LinkedIn, but says that there has been a 64 percent growth in paid learners since the start of 2017 — number that it’s clearly looking to boost with these new features.

James Raybould, the director of product for LinkedIn Learning, said that the third-party expansion will come slowly at first with a handful of partners getting access to integrate with LinkedIn Learning. Over time, this could expand to be a public API for anyone to integrate content, he added, but for now LinkedIn is doing the curating. The company has had a patchy history when it comes to sharing data and its platform with third parties, and it shut down full access to its API to everyone but a handful of partners several years ago.

Notably, he also said that LinkedIn itself is not planning on curtailing the amount of content it will continue to produce for Learning: it’s currently adding on average more than 70 new courses each week on average, he said.

The content in this first wave of third-party providers feels like a natural extension of the Influencer-based content that LinkedIn has been running in its main newsfeed: it runs the gamut from actual courses to learn new skills in specific disciplines, to the more nebulous area of professional development.

The first group includes Harvard ManageMentor (leadership development courses from Harvard Business School’s publishing arm); getAbstract (a Blinkist-style service that provides 10,000+ non-fiction book summaries plus TED talks); Big Think: 500 short-form videos on topics of the day (these are not so much ‘courses’ as they are ‘life lessons’ — subjects include organising activism and an explainer on how to end bi-partisan politics); Treehouse with courses on coding and product design skills; and Creative Live with courses and tutorials for professionals in the creative industries to improve their skills and business acumen.

The fact that LinkedIn is adding in more learning material that’s a natural extension of the kind of content it already offers to users in their timelines is not the only parallel between main LinkedIn and LinkedIn Learning. Raybould said that to help users discover content that might be most interesting to them, it uses data about what users browse and click on in the regular site.

“We have rich information about the network, including on engagement,” he said, and that helps LinkedIn’s algorithms suggest what to populate in individual learning libraries.

This is also, presumably, one of the reasons why third parties will want to integrate: to get new audiences that are more targeted to the kind of content they are producing:

“At Harvard Business Publishing, we work to create the world best learning experiences to help organizations discover new ways to solve their most pressing leadership development challenges,” said Rich Gravelin, Director, Partnerships and Alliances, at Harvard Business Publishing, in a statement. “As an inaugural partner in the LinkedIn Learning Content Partner Program, we are bringing rich leadership development content to professionals across the globe, helping them navigate today’s complex business landscape. Thanks to the robust platform that LinkedIn Learning has built, we’re able to meet learners where they are and provide them with the unique and personalized learning experiences they need to succeed in their organizations.”

The social features also follow this model. Last year, LinkedIn rolled out a mentorship product across selected markets to pair users with people who can give them steers on their career development. That product set out a precedent for how LinkedIn might use its wider social network and communication features to engage users in different ways, in the name of professional development.

The new addition of Q&A features follows on from that, giving those taking courses or watching videos a way of interacting and following up with those who are doing the teaching. Adding that in could see more engagement across the whole of the Learning product.

It’s a surprise, in a way, that it’s taken this long for LinkedIn to add an interactive Q&A feature in, considering that direct messaging and users interacting with each other has been a cornerstone of the product. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if it proves to be a compelling enough feature to bring in more users to LinkedIn, luring them away from Udemy’s and Skillsofts of the world.

 

Facebook poaches leaders of Refdash interview prep to work on Jobs

Facebook just snatched some talent to fuel its invasion of LinkedIn’s turf. A source tells TechCrunch that members of coding interview practice startup Refdash including at least some of its executives have been hired by Facebook. The social network confirmed to TechCrunch that members of Refdash’s leadership team are joining to work on Facebook’s Jobs feature that lets business promote employment openings that users can instantly apply for.

Facebook’s big opportunity here is that it’s a place people already browse naturally, so they can be exposed to Job listings even when they’re not actively looking for a company or career change. Since launching the feature in early 2017, Facebook has focused on blue-collar jobs like service and retail industry jobs that constantly need filling. But the Refdash team could give it more experience in recruiting for technical roles, connecting high-skilled workers like computer programmers to positions that need filling. These hirers might be willing to pay high prices to advertise their job listings on Facebook, siphoning revenue away from LinkedIn.

Facebook confirms that this is not an acquisition or technically a full acquihire, as there’s no overarching deal to buy assets or talent as a package. It’s so far unclear what exactly will happen to Refdash now that its team members are starting at Facebook this week, though it’s possible it will shut down now that its leaders have left for the tech giant’s cushy campuses and premium perks. Refdash’s website now says that “We’ve temporarily suspended interviews in order to make product changes that we believe will make your job search experience significantly better.”

Founded in 2016 in Mountain View with an undisclosed amount of funding from Founder Friendly Labs, Refdash gave programmers direct qualitative and scored feedback on their coding interviews. Users would do a mock interview, get graded, and then have their performance anonymously shared with potential employers to match them with the right companies and positions for their skills. This saved engineers from having to endure grueling interrogations with tons of different hirers. Refdash claimed to place users at startups like Coinbase, Cruise, Lyft, and Mixpanel.

A source tells us that Refdash focused on understanding people’s deep professional expertise and sending them to the perfect employer without having to judge by superficial resumes that can introduce bias to the process. It also touted allowing hirers to browse candidates without knowing their biographical details, which could also cut down on discrimination and helps ensure privacy in the job hunting process (especially if people are still working elsewhere and are trying to be discreet in their job hunt).

It’s easy to imagine Facebook building its own coding challenge and puzzles that programmers could take to then get paired with appropriate hirers through its Jobs product. Perhaps Facebook could even build a similar service to Refdash, though the one-on-one feedback sessions it’d conduct might not be scalable enough for Menlo Park’s liking. If Facebook can make it easier to not only apply for jobs but interview for them too, it could lure talent and advertisers away from LinkedIn to a product that’s already part of people’s daily lives.

The co-founders of Refdash have something of a track record in building companies that get acquihired to help add new features to existing services. Nicola Otasevic and Andrew Carnot were respectively the founder and tech lead for Room 77, which was picked up by Google in 2014 to help rebuild its travel search vertical. At the time it was described as a licensing deal although Refdash’s founders these days call it an acquisition.

Building tools to improve the basic process of hiring via remote testing could help Facebook get an edge on technical recruiting, but it’s not the only one building such features. LinkedIn’s stablemate Skype (like LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft) last year unveiled Interviews to let recruiters test developers and others applying for technical jobs with a real-time code editor. LinkedIn has not incorporated it into its platform.

LinkedIn steps into business intelligence with the launch of Talent Insights

LinkedIn may be best known as a place where people and organizations keep public pages of their professional profiles, using that as a starting point for networking, recruitment and more — a service that today that has racked up more than 575 million users, 20 million companies and 15 million active job listings. But now under the ownership of Microsoft, the company has increasingly started to build a number of other services; today sees the latest of these, the launch of a new feature called Talent Insights.

Talent Insights is significant in part because it is LinkedIn’s first foray into business intelligence, that branch of enterprise analytics aimed at helping execs and other corporate end users make more informed business decisions.

Talent Insights is also notable because it’s part of a trend, where LinkedIn has been launching a number of other services that take it beyond being a straight social network, and more of an IT productivity tool. They have included a way for users to look at and plan commutes to potential jobs (or other businesses); several integrations with Microsoft software including resume building in Word and Outlook integrations; and adding in more CRM tools to its Sales Navigator product.

Interestingly, it has been nearly a year between LinkedIn first announcing Talent Insights and actually launching it today. The company says part of the reason for the gap is because it has been tinkering with it to get the product right: it’s been testing it with a number of customers — there are now 100 using Talent Insights — with employees in departments like human resources, recruitment and marketing using it.

The product that’s launching today is largely similar to what the company previewed a year ago: there are two parts to it, one focused on people at a company, called “Talent Pool,” and another focused on data about a company, “Company Report.”

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The first of these will let businesses run searches across the LinkedIn database to discover talent with characteristics similar to those what a business might already be hiring, and figure out where they are at the moment (in terms of location and company affiliation), and where they are moving, what skills they might have in common, and how to better spot those who might be on the way up based on all of this.

The second set of data tools (Company Report) provides a similar analytics profile but about your organisation and those that you would like to compare against it in areas like relative education levels and schools of the respective workforces; which skills employees have or don’t have; and so on.

Dan Francis, a senior product manager running Talent Insights, said in an interview that for now the majority of the data that’s being used to power Talent Insights is primarily coming from LinkedIn itself, although there are other data sources also added into it, such as material from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (And indeed, even some of LinkedIn’s other data troves, for example in its recruitment listings, or even in its news/content play, the material that populates both comes from third parties.)

He also added that letting companies feed in their own data to use that in number crunching — either for their own reports or those of other companies — “is on our roadmap,” an indication that LinkedIn sees some mileage in this product.

Adding in more data sources could also help the company appear more impartial and accurate: although LinkedIn is huge and the biggest repository of information of its kind when it comes to professional profiles, it’s not always accurate and in some cases can be completely out of date or intentionally misleading.

(Related: LinkedIn has yet to launch any “verified”-style profiles for people, such as you get on Facebook or Twitter, to prove they are who they say they are, that they work where they claim to work, and that their backgrounds are what they claim them to be. My guess as to why that has not been rolled out is that it would be very hard, if not impossible, to verify everything in a clear way, and so LinkedIn relies on the power of public scrutiny to keep people mostly honest.)

“We’re pretty transparent about this,” said Francis. “We don’t position this as a product as comprehensive, but as a representative sample. Ensuring data quality is good is something that we are careful about. We know sometimes data is not perfect. In some cases it is directional.”

LinkedIn adds Microsoft-powered translations and QR codes to connect more of its users faster

LinkedIn — the social network with more than 560 million members who connect around work-related topics and job-seeking — continues to add more features, integrating technology from its new owner Microsoft, both to improve engagement on LinkedIn as well as to create deeper data ties between the two businesses.

Today, the company announced two more: users can now instantly view translations of content on the site when it appears in a language that is not the one set as a default; and they can now use QR codes to quickly swap contact details with other LinkedIn members.

In both cases, the features are likely overdue. The lingua franca of LinkedIn seems to be English, but the platform has a large global reach, and as it continues to try to expand to a wider range of later adopters and different categories of users, having a translation feature seems to be a no-brainer. It would also put it in closer line with the likes of Twitter and Facebook, which have had translation options for years.

The QR code generator, meanwhile, has become a key way for people to swap their details when they are not already connected on a network. And with LinkedIn this makes a lot of sense: there are so many people with the same name and it can be a challenge figuring out which “Mark Smith” you might want to connect with after coming across him at an event. And given that LinkedIn has been looking for more ways of making its app useful in in-person situations, this is an obvious way to enable that.

Translations are coming by way of the Microsoft Text Analytics API, the same Azure Cognitive Service  that powers translations on Bing, Skype and Office (as well as third-party services like Twitter). It will be available in more than 60 languages, with more coming soon, LinkedIn says, to a “majority” of members using either the desktop or mobile web versions of LinkedIn.

The company says that it will be coming to LinkedIn’s iOS and Android apps in due course, as well. Users will get the “see translation” link based on a number of signals you’re providing to LinkedIn that include your language setting on the platform, the country where you are accessing content and the language you have used in your profile.

Content covered by the option to translate will include the main feed, the activity section on a person’s profile and posts if you click on them in the feed or share it.

Meanwhile, with QR codes, you trigger the ability to capture one by clicking in the search box on the iOS or Android app. Through that window, you can also pick up your own code to share with others.

LinkedIn suggests that the QR code can effectively become the replacement for the business card for people when they are at in-person events. But another option is that you can use this now in any place where you might want to provide a shortcut to your profile.

Facebook moves to shrink its legal liabilities under GDPR

Facebook has another change in the works to respond to the European Union’s beefed up data protection framework — and this one looks intended to shrink its legal liabilities under GDPR, and at scale.

Late yesterday Reuters reported on a change incoming to Facebook’s T&Cs that it said will be pushed out next month — meaning all non-EU international are switched from having their data processed by Facebook Ireland to Facebook USA.

With this shift, Facebook will ensure that the privacy protections afforded by the EU’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which applies from May 25 — will not cover the ~1.5BN+ international Facebook users who aren’t EU citizens (but current have their data processed in the EU, by Facebook Ireland).

The U.S. does not have a comparable data protection framework to GDPR. While the incoming EU framework substantially strengthens penalties for data protection violations, making the move a pretty logical one for Facebook’s lawyers thinking about how it can shrink its GDPR liabilities.

Reuters says Facebook confirmed the change to it, though the company played down the significance — repeating its claim that it will be making the same privacy “controls and settings” available everywhere. (Though, as has been previously pointed out, this does not mean the same GDPR principles will be applied by Facebook everywhere.)

At the time of writing Facebook had not responded to a request for comment on the change.

Critics have couched the T&Cs shift as regressive — arguing it’s a reduction in the level of privacy protection that would otherwise have applied for international users, thanks to GDPR. Although whether these EU privacy rights would really have been enforceable for non-Europeans is questionable.

According to Reuters the T&Cs shift will affect more than 70 per cent of Facebook’s 2BN+ users. As of December, Facebook had 239M users in the US and Canada; 370M in Europe; and 1.52BN users elsewhere.

It also reports that Microsoft -owned LinkedIn is one of several other multinational companies planning to make the same data processing shift for international users — with LinkedIn’s new terms set to take effect on May 8, moving non-Europeans to contracts with the U.S.-based LinkedIn Corp.

In a statement to Reuters about the change LinkedIn also played it down, saying: “We’ve simply streamlined the contract location to ensure all members understand the LinkedIn entity responsible for their personal data.”

One interesting question is whether these sorts of data processing shifts could encourage regulators in international regions outside the EU to push for a similarly extraterritorial scope for their data protection laws — or face their citizens’ data falling between the jurisdiction cracks via processing arrangements designed to shrink companies’ legal liabilities.

Another interesting question is how Facebook (or any other multinationals making the same shift) can be entirely sure it’s not risking violating any of its EU users’ fundamental rights if it accidentally misclassifies an individual as an non-EU international users — and processes their data via Facebook USA.

Keeping data processing processes properly segmented can be difficult. As can definitively identifying a user’s legal jurisdiction based on their location (if that’s even available). So while Facebook’s T&C change here looks intended to shrink its legal liabilities under GDPR, it’s possible the change will open up another front for individuals to pursue strategic litigation in the coming months.

LinkedIn is introducing auto-playing video ads

In a move that was probably inevitable, LinkedIn is introducing video advertising as one its Sponsored Content formats.

Although my LinkedIn newsfeed already includes plenty of video, Abhishek Shrivastava, director of product for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, explained for advertisers, the only way to incorporate videos was to link to other websites. Now, the Microsoft -owned professional network is rolling out a native ad format, where video ads will appear as standalone posts in the feed.

The video ads will play automatically, though with the sound turned off initially.

Other social networks introduced video advertising years ago, but LinkedIn is a different environment — Shrivastava touted this as a way to bring “sight, sound and motion” to business marketers, while the company announcement declares that the company is going “all in on B2B video.”

Shrivastava added that while most videos are seen as ideal for “top of the funnel” marketing (i.e., building awareness, rather than sealing the deal), LinkedIn’s Video for Sponsored Content is designed to work “across the funnel.”

So yes, the videos can be designed to build brand awareness, but they can also point directly to the advertisers’ desktop or mobile website, or even be used to collect leads. And they can incorporate LinkedIn’s ad targeting and conversion tracking capabilities.

LinkedIn says it’s been testing the format with more than 700 advertisers since October, resulting in engagement times that are nearly three times longer than those for regular Sponsored Content.

In addition to the video ads, LinkedIn is also introducing the ability for businesses to include native video on their Company Pages — so a company that’s hiring might highlight a video about their culture and work environment.

LinkedIn says it will be rolling out these capabilities to all businesses over the next few weeks.

How Raya’s $8/month dating app turned exclusivity into trust

The swipe is where the similarity ends. Raya is less like Tinder and more like a secret society. You need a member’s recommendations or a lot of friends inside to join, and you have to apply with an essay question. It costs a flat $7.99 for everyone, women and celebrities included. You show yourself off with a video slideshow set to music of your choice. And it’s for professional networking as well as dating, with parallel profiles for each.

Launched in March 2015, Raya has purposefully flown under the radar. No interviews. Little info about the founders. Not even a profile on Crunchbase’s startup index. In fact, in late 2016 it quietly acquired video messaging startup Chime, led by early Facebooker Jared Morgenstern, without anyone noticing. He’d become Raya’s first investor a year earlier. But Chime was fizzling out after raising $1.2 million. “I learned that not everyone who leaves Facebook, their next thing turns to gold” Morgenstern laughs. So he sold it to Raya for equity and brought four of his employees to build new experiences for the app.

Now the startup’s COO, Morgenstern has agreed to give TechCrunch the deepest look yet at Raya, where the pretty, popular, and powerful meet each other.

Temptation Via Trust

Raya COO Jared Morgenstern

“Raya is a utility for introducing you to people who can change your life. Soho House uses physical space, we’re trying to use software” says Morgenstern, referencing the global network of members-only venues.

We’re chatting in a coffee shop in San Francisco. It’s an odd place to discuss Raya, given the company has largely shunned Silicon Valley in favor of building a less nerdy community in LA, New York, London, and Paris. The exclusivity might feel discriminatory for some, even if you’re chosen based on your connections rather than your wealth or race. Though people already self-segregate based on where they go to socialize. You could argue Raya just does the same digitally

Morgenstern refuses to tell me how much Raya has raised, how it started, or anything about its the founding team beyond that they’re a “Humble, focused group that prefers not to be part of the story.” But he did reveal some of the core tenets that have reportedly attracted celebrities like DJs Diplo and Skrillex, actors Elijah Wood and Amy Schumer, and musicians Demi Lovato and John Mayer, plus scores of Instagram models and tattooed creative directors.

Raya’s iOS-only app isn’t a swiping game for fun and personal validation. Its interface and curated community are designed to get you from discovering someone to texting if you’re both interested to actually meeting in person as soon as possible. Like at a top-tier university or night club, there’s supposed to be an in-group sense of camaraderie that makes people more open to each other.

Then there are the rules.

“This is an intimate community with zero-tolerance for disrespect or mean-spirited behavior. Be nice to each other. Say hello like adults” says an interstitial screen that blocks use until you confirm you understand and agree every time you open the app. That means no sleazy pick-up lines or objectifying language. You’re also not allowed to screenshot, and you’ll be chastized with a numbered and filed warning if you do.

It all makes Raya feel consequential. You’re not swiping through infinite anybodies and sorting through reams of annoying messages. People act right because they don’t want to lose access. Raya recreates the feel of dating or networking in a small town, where your reputation follows you. And that sense of trust has opened a big opportunity where competitors like Tinder or LinkedIn can’t follow.

Self-Expression To First Impression

Until now, Raya showed you people in your city as well as around the world — which is a bit weird since it would be hard to ever run into each other. But to achieve its mission of getting you offline to meet people in-person, it’s now letting you see nearby people on a map when GPS says they’re at hotspots like bars, dancehalls, and cafes. The idea is that if you both swipe right, you could skip the texting and just walk up to each other.

“I’m not sure why Tinder and the other big meeting people apps aren’t doing this” says Morgenstern. But the answer seems obvious. It would be creepy on a big public dating app. Even other exclusive dating apps like The League that induct people due to their resume more than their personality might feel too unsavory for a map, since having gone to an Ivy League college doesn’t mean you’re not a jerk. Hell, it might make that more likely.

But this startup is betting that its vetted, interconnected, “cool” community will be excited to pick fellow Raya members out of the crowd to see if they have a spark or business synergy.

That brings Raya closer to the holy grail of networking apps where you can discover who you’re compatible with in the same room without risking the crash-and-burn failed come-ons. You can filter by age and gender when browsing social connections, or by “Entertainment & Culture”, “Art & Design”, and “Business & Tech” buckets for work. And through their bio and extended slideshows of photos set to their favorite song, you get a better understanding of someone than from just a few profile pics on other apps.

Users can always report people they’ve connected with if they act sketchy, though with the new map feature I was dismayed to learn they can’t yet report people they haven’t seen or rejected in the app. That could lower the consequences for finding someone you want to meet, learning a bit about them, but then approaching without prior consent. However, Morgenstern insists.”The real risk is the density challenge”.

Finding Your Tribe

Raya’s map doesn’t help much if there are no other members for 100 miles. The company doesn’t restrict the app to certain cities, or schools like Facebook originally did to beat the density problem. Instead it relies on the fact that if you’re in the middle of nowhere you probably don’t have friends on it to pull you in. Still, that makes it tough for Raya to break into new locales.

But the beauty of the business is that since all users pay $7.99 per month, it doesn’t need that many to earn plenty of money. And at less than the price of a cocktail, the subscription deters trolls without being unaffordable. Morgenstern says “The most common reason to stop your subscription: I found somebody.” That ‘success = churn’ equation drags on most dating apps. Since Raya has professional networking as well though, he says some people still continue the subscription even after they find their sweetheart.

“I’m happily in a relationship and I’m excited to use maps” Morgenstern declares. In that sense, Raya wants to expand those moments in life when you’re eager and open to meet people, like the first days of college. “At Raya we don’t think that’s something that should only happen when you’re single or when you’re twenty or when you move to a new city.”

The bottomless pits of Tinder and LinkedIn can make meeting people online feel haphazard to the point of exhaustion. We’re tribal creatures who haven’t evolved ways to deal with the decision paralysis and the anxiety caused by the paradox of choice. When there’s infinite people to choose from, we freeze up, or always wonder if the next one would have been better than the one we picked. Maybe we need Raya-like apps for all sorts of different subcultures beyond the hipsters that dominate its community, as I wrote in my 2015’s piece “Rise Of The Micro-Tinders”. But if Raya’s price and exclusivity lets people be both vulnerable and accountable, it could forge a more civil way to make a connection.

Robinhood hires Josh Elman as VP of product, who’ll stay at Greylock

Zero-fee stock trading app Robinhood is getting some product firepower as it dives into cryptocurrency and weighs platform aspirations. Investor Josh Elman will join Robinhood as its VP of product while remaining a partner at Greylock.

With 4 million registered users, $176 million raised and a $1.3 billion valuation, the five-year-old fintech startup is shifting from a period of finding product-market fit to building a serious business. Elman’s experience with rapidly rising companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn could help guide Robinhood toward maturity.

“In January, I started talking with a few of my partners about how I want to spend the next decade of my professional life. What gets me the most energized is when I can dig in on product with a hyper-growth company. To that end, I’m joining Robinhood to lead product, where we will continue building powerful tools to give everyone broader access to our financial system,” Elman tells TechCrunch. “I am going to continue my role at Greylock as a venture partner, and will continue to represent Greylock on the boards in my portfolio. I am grateful to my partners for their support, and excited for what is next.”

Greylock has always been known as a fund run by veteran operators like Reid Hoffman, who joined as a partner while still the CEO of LinkedIn . A Greylock spokesperson tells me, “Josh is a sharp product-thinker who has backed excellent entrepreneurs and innovative companies that we are proud to have as part of the Greylock portfolio. We are supportive of Josh as he takes on this new operating role, and look forward to continuing our work with him as a venture partner.”

The new role could create some conflicts, though. Greylock recently invested in cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase’s August Series D. But Robinhood just launched its own cryptocurrency trading platform in December, undercutting Coinbase’s 1.5 percent to 4 percent fee on trades in the U.S. by charging zero commission. Coinbase might worry that plans it shares with Greylock could make it back to Robinhood.

Read our post on the roll-out of Robinhood Crypto

Elman has dealt with this before, having hyped text fiction app Hooked whose seed round Greylock funded before it backed competing app Yarn’s parent company Mammoth Media with Elman joining its board. Elman declined to comment about the matter.

Josh Elman at TechCrunch Disrupt SF

An eye for interfaces

Elman began his career after a bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems with a focus on human computer interaction at Stanford in 1997. Elman worked on product for music company RealNetworks, and growth and job boards for LinkedIn before joining custom merchandise startup Zazzle . His big break came working on the launch of the Facebook Connect platform. He was then a PM at Twitter until joining Greylock as a partner in 2011.

In my experience, Elman is one of the best investors at spotting emerging social trends and helping companies find winning product strategies. Despite being in his 40s, he’s quick to dive into teen-focused social apps, understanding and funding them before they blow up. He was on the boards of Musically (sold to Toutiao) and SmartThings (sold to Samsung), plus was one of the few investors in honest feedback app tbh, which sold to Facebook. He’s currently on the boards of Medium, Houseparty and Discord — which are redefining blogging, video chat and video game communities.

Robinhood’s Bay Area HQ

Robinhood could use Elman’s skills as it tries to unite the traditional stock and cryptocurrency worlds using free trades up front while monetizing with subscription bonus features. The way Facebook and Twitter turned friends and thought leaders into a feeds of content to consume, Elman could assist as Robinhood does the same to financial markets.

Robinhood founders Baiju Bhatt (left) and Vladamir Tenev (right)

“I’ve known Josh for a couple years now and he’s always struck me as one of the most thoughtful product builders,” says Robinhood co-founder and co-CEO Baiju Bhatt. (Disclosure: I know Bhatt and his co-founder Vlad Tenev from

college). “We’re lucky to have him lead our product initiatives and join our leadership team as we take Robinhood to the next level.” Robinhood now has 170 team members across the Bay Area and Orlando, Florida. It’s planning to hire a VP for engineering and for customer support while scaling those teams, as well as legal and biz dev.

Having jumped the regulatory and engineering hurdles to offer cost-efficient stock trading, Robinhood has a huge opportunity to become the backbone of a new generation of fintech apps. The company declined to comment, but the startup could one day build APIs so other products could interact with your Robinhood balance and bank account. Elman worked with Facebook to let partners piggyback on your identity, and he might have ideas for turning Robinhood into a fintech platform.