In a period of social distancing, making new professional connections feels harder than ever. So Amsterdam-based Cooper is building a network that's all about making and receiving introductions.
"Everything that happens in the network is based on the foundation of introductions," CEO Robert Gaal told me. "You should never get an unwanted message, and there's no such thing as a connection request, because it's not necessary if you have an introduction."
The startup is launching internationally today and announcing that it has raised $2 million in seed funding.
Gaal (who co-founded the company with CTO Emiel van Liere) described Cooper as "a private professional network that's not about how many connections do I have, it's about bringing the people that you already trust into a circle."
That's in contrast with existing professional networking sites, which are most useful as "directories" of online résumés, and usually emphasize the quantity of connections, rather than the quality. (I'll admit that on LinkedIn, I'm connected to a bunch of people I barely know.)
So Cooper tries to take the opposite approach, limiting users' connections to people they really know. To do this, it can pull data from a user's online calendar, and it also provides them with a personal invite code that they can share with their professional contacts.
Image Credits: Cooper
Users then post requests or opportunities, which are viewable by their connections and by friends of friends, who can offer to make useful introductions via email or in Cooper itself.
In fact, Gaal said that during the initial beta test, multiple people have successfully used Cooper to find new jobs — sometimes after pandemic-related layoffs, which they're comfortable sharing with their inner circle but don't want to broadcast to the world at large.
"There's more discovery, more trust and you can reinvent other things on top of that — what the résumé is, what mentorship is — if you get trust right first," he said.
Of course, simply sharing a calendar invite with someone doesn't really mean you trust them or know them well. Cooper could eventually start looking at other measures that indicate your "connectivity" with someone, like how often you email with them, Gaal said — but the first step is simply recreating the professional circle in which you feel comfortable saying, "Oh, you're looking for a job? My friend is hiring."
Yes, those kinds of conversations are already happening offline, but he noted that most of us can only remember "a handful of people" at once. Cooper is making that "marketplace" much more visible and easy to track.
The startup doesn't sell ads or user data. Instead, Gaal hopes to make money by charging membership fees for features like customizing your profile or promoting your request more broadly.
The startup's seed funding was led by Comcast Ventures, with participation from LocalGlobe and 468 Capital.
"At a time when the ability to connect is limited, Cooper is building a professional network fostering meaningful and substantive connections," said Daniel Gulati, founding partner at Forecast Fund and former managing director at Comcast Ventures, in a statement. "We are excited to support the team on their journey ahead."