Nirav Tolia talks to use this week about Nextdoor, the online social network for local neighbourhoods, that he co-founded. He tells us how he found a niche in the crowded world of social networking and how its future business model won’t effect the user experience.
How would you describe your business?
Nextdoor is a free online platform that enables neighbours to create private social networks for their neighbourhood. Using Nextdoor, neighbours can communicate with one another to build stronger and safer neighbourhoods. We believe that the neighbourhood is one of the most important and useful communities in a person’s life. We believe that when neighbours start talking, good things happen. Our mission is to bring back a sense of community to the neighbourhood.
Neighbours use Nextdoor to: track down trustworthy babysitters, plumbers, and dentists; get the word out about break-ins and other safety concerns; organize neighbourhood garage sales, BBQs, and block parties; ask for assistance in finding lost pets and missing packages; create emergency response plans to prepare for crisis situations
How did you come up with the idea?
Nextdoor was founded by a group of experienced technology executives whose careers have been focused on building strong online communities. These days, almost everyone uses social networks. There are social networks specifically designed for our friends and family (Facebook), for our business contacts (LinkedIn), and for those with similar interests (Twitter). But there is no social network specifically designed for the neighbourhood, one of the most important communities in each of our lives. There are so many ways our neighbours can help us, but many of us don’t know our neighbours, or how to contact them. Nextdoor was created to change that.
How long did it take you to get Nextdoor.com off the ground?
Nextdoor was created and conceived of in the summer of 2010 and our first pilot neighbourhood was created in October 2010 in Menlo Park, CA. We now have over 440 neighbourhoods in 40 states.
What applications or tools do you find most useful for your business?
We work almost entirely with open-source tools such as Python, Django, and PostgreSQL. Our production service runs entirely in the cloud using Amazon Web Services. For day-to-day productivity, we use the full suite of Google Apps because they are fast, easy-to-use, and make it possible for our team to work from any computer anywhere in the world. We are big believers in user-driven software design and use Usertesting.com and Survey Monkey to understand our user base and collect feedback from people across the country.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your business model?
Nextdoor will always be free for users and neighbourhoods. We will never sell personal information or bombard users with banners or pop-ups. Our business model will focus on working with local businesses to provide special offers to neighbours. This will enable neighbours to both support their local businesses and save money. Like most successful consumer internet companies (Google, Facebook, Twitter), we will not begin revenue efforts until we have perfected our user experience.
What is your growth strategy?
We have experienced a tremendous response to our nationwide launch and expect to continue to grow by word-of-mouth and member referral.
What’s been the most difficult aspect of setting up your business?
The most difficult aspect of any business is building a great team. Specific to Nextdoor, one of our biggest challenges is the “chicken-and-egg” problem: how do we convince neighbours to adopt Nextdoor for their neighborhoods without being able to use it first. Creating an introduction video and descriptive product tour have helped us overcome this obstacle.
What have you learned along the way?
Our greatest learning is to always stay focused on the user. We spent over a year working closely with hundreds of neighbourhoods across the country to create a platform specifically designed to make neighbours feel comfortable sharing information with one another. As we learned from our launch, when you create a product that people find useful in their everyday lives, the demand and positive response comes organically.
What piece of advice would you give to someone setting up their own startup?
Surround yourself with great people. Build something that people really want. Enjoy the journey – entrepreneurship is all about experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – and learning and improving all along.