How An In-Person Networking App Tripled Its Users During the Pandemic

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6 min read

In 2019, the networking app, Plain Sight, raised $1M in pre-seed funding. Plain Sight is a social networking platform that takes an unbiased approach to connecting like-minded people together virtually and in-person, and the app was instantly gaining traction.

The app officially launched in October of 2020 and in February, Plain Sight scored its first major partnership with Delta. Every Delta Sky Lounge would be listed on the app — a huge win for a new app.  But March, air travel would be cut in half due to COVID-19.

“We started a social networking platform to improve in-person networking five months before the pandemic,” founder James Chapman explained. “We got some momentum and then had all the momentum taken away. But now we have that momentum again.“

To regain momentum, James and his team had to pivot their entire business strategy. “We had to start thinking about how we can help people get connected virtually, as well as how can we still provide at least some kind of value to physical spaces.”

“We started a social networking platform to improve in-person networking five months before the pandemic. We got some momentum and then had all the momentum taken away. But now we have that momentum again.“ - @iWroteTheHustle Click To Tweet

For physical spaces, they began to list the safety precautions they were taking: cleaning procedures, availability of PPE, etc. You can also see the number of people who are allowed in the space and how many people are checked in at a given time. In some cases, you can see floor plan, as well.

“On the virtual side, we started to list spaces for organizations who were wanting to find ways to keep their community connected, but maybe they’ve been either doing nothing or hijacking tools like Slack that is not built for networking. We started to pick up clients who wanted to build virtual communities and use our platform for that. So those are the two things that we’ve been able to do to add value during this time.”

As a result of these pivots, the app has been able to continue to gain new members and partnerships. In fact, the number of users and activity on the platform has increased by 250%.

Just like James has had to pivot the direction of his startup, individuals and businesses who rely on networking have had to change their strategies in order to find success in this new environment.

During the Founders Network event, James will offer insights and advice about what to expect for the future of networking.

Register at Founders Network and check if you qualify for full membership and get actionable advice on:

  • Strategies for individuals and folks who operate shared spaces and networking events about how to thrive in a hybrid physical/digital environment
  • Stories about how spaces have pivoted and continued to be innovative during COVID and are preparing for the future
  • Insights into how he has grown his own network and business during the pandemic

James’ experience with professional networking started long before he founded Plain Sight. He’s been an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and the founder of an evening workspace for side-hustlers in Chattanooga, Tennessee and, and the founder of Detroit Demo Day which has provided over $4 million in funding to small businesses throughout the city of Detroit.

James believes that shared spaces will continue to be important in the near future, but that networking will look different than it did pre-COVID.

“You can expect for at least the next 18 months, maybe even much longer than that, for the world to look like a hybrid of virtual and physical. There’s no getting around that. It’s going to take a long time to get to herd immunity and even with herd immunity, people are still going to be a little cautious and try to do things that are preventative.”

“If you're an event organizer or somebody who operates a shared space, you really want to focus on how can you tailor your experiences to niches and to your specific audience?” - @iWroteTheHustle Click To Tweet

Here are some of his takeaways for individuals and networking organizations about how to network in a digital sphere and prepare for this hybrid future.

Advice for individuals

  1. Think outside the box to find your communities. 

According to James, people are asking, “How can I find a community to join that speaks to me and that’s going to benefit me?” His advice is to consider niche communities, and you’ll probably need to belong to more than one to get the full benefit that communities have to offer.

  1. Don’t be transactional.

In order to build authentic connections with others, when building out digital profiles or networking online, James recommends focusing on what you need help with and how you can help others.One of the things that we encourage our community to do is to let your first post be an introduction of yourself and what you need help with and how you can help someone else.” This could be things like an “Ask me anything” post about a subject you know well. 

“Communities are really having a moment right now, so you can't even really think about it as digital networking or digital marketing anymore — this is just digital communities turning social capital into financial capital.” -… Click To Tweet

Advice for space and event owners and managers

  1. Invest in Influencer Marketing

“It’s very noisy right now, so while you might’ve been able to get away with just running paid ads in the past, can’t do it now because everybody’s trying to do that,” James said. He believes more and more, we’ll see businesses start to invest in influencer marketing (so get in on the trend now). “It goes back to communities — whoever the influencers are in these communities, that’s where they’re likely going to spend a lot of their marketing dollars as opposed to transactional advertisements or things of that nature.”

  1. Tailored experiences trump convenience

“We often tell people who operate co-working spaces, coffee shops, conferences and networking events that tailored experiences are going to trump convenience moving forward. I’m no longer going to go somewhere just because it’s closest to me. You’re going to have to tailor that experience to me because I’ve realized that I could also just stay at home and get things done. So if you’re an event organizer or somebody who operates a shared space, you really want to focus on how can you tailor your experiences to niches and to your specific audience?”

James also encourages everyone to stop thinking about networking as networking:

“Communities are really having a moment right now, so you can’t even really think about it as digital networking or digital marketing anymore — this is just digital communities turning social capital into financial capital.”

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Read more by Founders Network

Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally. Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions and long-term professional relationships. Additional benefits include over $1M in startup discounts and mentorship from 50+ Institutional Investors. Members are located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, London and other tech hubs. Each month our Membership Committee admits a new cohort of full-time tech founders who are nominated by an existing member.