Have you ever wanted to talk to someone for career advice but didn’t know to whom you should reach out?
Treatings, a New York City-based startup, allows you to get professional advice from total strangers over a cup of coffee. Two years after its launch, the service has acquired users in five major cities in the U.S. and is now looking for investment to develop its mobile app.
Here’s how it works: Say you are a startup founder who’s looking to meet with an Android app developer. You sign up for the service by logging in with your LinkedIn profile, selecting the topics that interest you (in this case probably startups, programming, etc.), and choosing your favorite coffee shops. And just like how you update your Facebook status, you can write, “I’m looking to meet with an Android app developer.” The message will go public, and anyone on the site can respond to you.
Or, if you do not have a specific kind of person in mind, you can simply let Treatings choose the a match for you. The algorithm matches up people by their interests, their skills, and their favorite coffee shops.
The idea is that LinkedIn or other social networks only create interactions among professionals online, and it’s rare for people to meet in person. In contrast, Treatings creates a platform where people have the common knowledge that it’s perfectly okay to reach out to anyone on the site and treat them to a cup of coffee.
“There’s trust you established offline that you couldn’t establish online,” said Paul Osetinsky, co-founder and chief technology officer of Treatings, in an interview with VentureBeat.
“We think that’s super important.”
If the online-to-offline idea sounds familiar, you might be one of the millions that have experienced the modern way of romance — the dating apps. In fact, many features of Treatings were borrowed from these sites.
For instance, one can express interest in someone else by clicking “let’s meet” on his or her profile. The message will be sent to the other person through Treatings and also via email. If that person happens to be interested in you, congratulations! You are matched up with someone who’s happy to go on a coffee “date” with you.
But one question that bothers many users of dating apps is how to get the most attractive person to respond to their likes, pokes, winks, etc. Similarly, why would any senior company executives on Treatings spend their valuable time talking to inexperienced students seeking career advice?
“The most attractive person gets a lot of messages, but they are still on the dating sites,” said Osetinsky.
“All we are trying to do is to lower the barriers of reaching out so that mutual interests can surface.”
The lower barrier has certainly attracted some open-minded professionals. David Namdar, a trader at a New York City-based hedge fund and an angel investor, has successfully met around seven people through Treatings. For him, the level of experience does not impact his willingness to meet people.
“There are tons of values that you can learn in every single meeting,” said Namdar. “Even if it’s someone like a student who doesn’t have much experience, and they want to have a quick conversation, there’re still other things that are interesting to me to know their experiences.”
Since signing up, Namdar had met a student who reached out to him for advice in the finance industry, a person working in real estate who’s interested in learning his international experience, and a banking professional who wanted to know more about the hedge fund world.
As an investor interested in startups, Namdar also successfully reached out to an expert who was able to explain the differences among various programming languages, a like-minded professional working in the financial industry, and Hayden Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Treatings.
“I don’t actually talk to people on LinkedIn or try to interact with them or set up meetings,” said Namdar.
“Treatings gets you access to people you don’t know, but [you then] have an easy way to communicate with people offline.”
Founded in 2012 by two young professionals that got bored of their finance jobs, Treatings now has about 3,000 registered users around the country. Based in New York City and now open for people in other four major cities (San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C.), the company mainly aims at young professionals who are seeking career advice or collaborative opportunities.
But wait — what kind of company it is if it has no office and the only staff are the two co-founders? Instead of renting an expensive office space in Manhattan, Williams and Osetinsky became “friends of the library” of New York University and, as such, only pay “a couple hundred dollars” for a year’s access to printing machines, group discussion rooms, and Wi-Fi at the library.
To save more money, Williams and Osetinsky, who were roommates in Vanderbilt University, now share a bunk bed in their apartment in Chelsea and walk to work every day.
Things may change as the two founders are finally considering raising money from investors. For two years, the team has been cautiously focusing on testing the idea and developing the website without asking any money from investors.
Now, trying to present a larger number of users to investors, the team is reaching out to college alumni groups to promote Treatings among students and new graduates.
“Whatever has been driving the spikes so far is not a part of our long-term strategy for user growth,” said Williams. “We are waiting to see what will happen to those alumni groups.”
Unlike social network giant Facebook that is almost designed for everyone, Treatings’ targeted users are a small subset of LinkedIn users who are open-minded and feel comfortable enough to be approached by strangers. Compared with Facebook’s more than 1 billion active users and LinkedIn’s 259 million, Treatings’ user base, though yet to be developed, seems not as competitive.
That’s when the importance of user engagement comes into play. A new feature of the site, which allows users to click on the “let’s meet” button on another person’s profile, has successfully got 20 percent of the users logging back to the site and expressing interests in other people, Osetinsky said.
One of the other questions that every investor would ask is how Treatings makes money. While LinkedIn has the premium offerings model that charges a portion of its users, Treatings has no intention to do that.
The current plan is to charge companies for sponsored pages that feature all their employees on Treatings. The presumption is that companies can save the money of hiring expensive recruiters when their employees can bring in new hires they’ve met on Treating. Employees who choose to do so usually will receive a bonus from their companies.
“If you have met someone, you would be more comfortable to recommend him to someone else,” Osetinsky said.
The startup hopes to raise about $500,000 to $1 million in the next six months. The founders intend to spend part of the capital on hiring an iPhone app developer and a designer for the site.
What about the rest of the money? Two separate bedrooms and a real office just sound right for the two founders.