For the longest time, Linkedin has maintained its hegemony in professional networking by doing the absolutely the bare minimum. I would argue the Linkedin of 2018 is the same as the Linkedin of 2021 with barely any innovation to show for. Ofcourse they try to copy Fleets/Spaces/ or whatever Snapchat/Instagram/Clubhouse come up with. With the possible exception of #opentowork and now #hiring skins in profile picture, I can’t think of any recall-worthy update to Linkedin.
Their landing page is a chaotic mess - an untidy amalgamation of ads, news, courses and a feed of braggy posts by ‘thought leaders’. (Incase you are looking to become a thought leader - this is an absolute goldmine!) And then is the steady non-sensical inbound that you get, day-to-day, with someone trying to sell something irrelevant (the number of congratulatory messages I have received as the ‘founder of EY’ and how I can benefit from a leads generating software is ridiculous)
Build an alternative to Linkedin! – has been the resounding cry across tech Twitter with Linkedin essentially has reduced to a public resume database. It forces you to breakdown your experience into job titles and bullet points for recruiters to apprehend as proxies for potential. As most online courses on optimizing your Linkedin profile will tell you – Linkedin profiles are all about keyword stuffing into the highly rigid categories - Company, Tenure, Short Blurb - wherein you hope and pray to fall into the purview of some recruiter.
It also makes people virtually indistinguishable – for two people from the same school and same job title – how do you assess who has better presentation skills, who is a hustler, who is doing what in their own time, what their real interests are?
Which makes you wonder – Who exactly is Linkedin serving? For a company that makes 75% of its revenue through corporate recruiters, it is incentivized to just be a database with the bare minimum candidate information - essentially serve as a large spreadsheet of candidate profiles with disparate values under various column headers.
Thankfully the last few years have seen an emergence of alternatives with a gradual unbundling of Linkedin.
Challenger networks building a better Linkedin
Polywork HQ: Polywork is a challenger professional social network that provides a clean, easily-customizable way to demonstrate your experience and career. Designed for multifaceted people who have multiple interests, divergent projects and want to really reflect their personalities, ‘Poly’ work aims to provide a 360 view of people. Now funded by a16z, Polywork is getting some early Twitter love.
Similarly, Indian startup Peerlist (currently in Beta) offers a clean way to share your credentials, achievement and complete life story in a single way with a very neat UI.
What distinguishes these challenger networks is that it is built for the new world of work – a world where people are embracing freelancing, nurturing diverse interests, building passive income sources and really questioning the traditional 9-to-5 jobs ecosystem.
Further verticalization of talent marketplaces
Niche marketplaces are networks that are designed around the needs of a narrow set of professionals and have successfully positioned themselves as a worthy alternative to Linkedin for its sub-set.
Behance (now acquired by Adobe) and Dribble serves as a platform for creative professionals and design studios to connect and show their portfolios. There are no online CVs, just a display of sheer creative talent through product design shots, website designs, Ad mugshots etc.
Incredible Health is a specially designed portal for Nurses in US to get hired. Infact the company reverses the recruitment process – Employers (Hospital Operators) apply to nurses and are able to onboard a nurse within 30 days. Interestingly Nurse shortage in US is higher than Engineers!
Workrise connects infrastructure and energy companies with highly trained contract workers. Staffing for field work, largely performed by a workforce of independent contractors has always been challenging, typically done through a fragmented network of smaller agencies.
Why do these labour marketplaces work? Simple, they fill the gaps where Linkedin has faltered. Offering highly specific features such as access to training, relevant job boards, payroll management etc. - relevant to both job seekers and employers and reduce friction in the recruitment process.
In India, we recently have had a spate of professional platforms for primarily on-demand blue-collar labour such as Apna and GoJobs. A while ago there were marketplaces for househelp but none of them were able to stick. Would we see an emergence of newer marketplaces – A platform for finance professionals and enthusiasts, a platform for consultants only..
Many have tried and many will try..one of the main challenges for these niche marketplaces is the awareness outside their specific communities. Would a first-time founder immediately look to Dribble/Behance to find a designer? Unlikely.
Curated community-driven marketplaces
Curated marketplaces are a network of pre-screened high-quality talent to ensure the right kind of engagement and eliminate the spammyness of Linkedin.
Ondeck is created a network of startup enthusiasts with founders, investors and operators looking to transition into startups all co-matched onto the platform. Through a series of fellowships - Founder Fellowships, Edtech/Fintech/Biotech fellowships, the company brings together highly motivated and engaged set of talent in cohorts together. For gatekeeping purposes, the platform charges a (steep) $3k fee, but in exchange provides ton of networking opportunity, demo days with early-stage startups looking to recruit talent, one-on-one sessions.
Similarly, Shift is focused on the career advancement of the military community as they transition into private sector post service – upskilling the community, navigating the job hunt and assisting companies understand non-traditional experiences.
Lunchclub capitalized on the pandemic and served as a new way to network professionally by setting up curated 1-to-1 matches determined on interests, goals and achievments.
As someone who was an early adopter on the platform, I see the match quality denigrating due to the sheer volume of people on the platform now.
This will be the challenge..Once the novelty wear out, would there emerge a true competitor to Linkedin? Or would Linkedin just acquire anyone who scales up in the next couple of years…
Go here if you would like to read about challengers to Goodreads