Building a meaningful, mutually beneficial network is super important but getting started can be the hardest sport. Pod is the social networking platform that connects professionals based on shared interests and location. Unlike networking apps like LinkedIn, Pod encourages users to meet in person and even has a strong userbase of realtors, allowing people to find listings or showcase their open house. With 5M users in over 200 countries, Pod plans to reach 10M users by the end of 2020 and roll out a premium version of its product.
LA TechWatch interviewed Dr. Jo Webber to learn more about the idea behind Pod.
Tell us about the product or service that Pod offers.
We have created a product designed to help professionals find and meet each other based on proximity and interests. Pod is the first social networking platform that utilizes location data and artificial intelligence to help users to connect with people who share similar interests, all within close proximity. After signing up for Pod, users can create avatars and profiles, list their professional and personal interests and skills, then connect with people nearby who share their interests.
How is Pod different?
Networking is the most important source of business growth for small businesses but there didn’t seem to be a platform that perfectly fits the networking needs of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Current networking apps, like Facebook, are focused on consumers, while LinkedIn caters to the recruiting needs of larger businesses. We launched Pod after high demand from our community of 5M professionals looking for a better way to network. Pod fosters real-world connections for professionals and small business owners by providing a safe and fun environment where people can meet based on shared interests and proximity in order to help people create more genuine connections.
99% of America’s 28.7M firms are small businesses according to JP Morgan and there are over 6.5M new businesses launched per year according to Yahoo. We have 5M members in over 200 countries so far and are on track to hit 10M users by the end of 2020.
Who do you consider to be your primary competitors?
This is a new area, so we don’t see ourselves as competitive with platforms such as Facebook and Linkedin but complementary. However, it is likely in the future that we will be competitive with these and other services for the ad spends towards small and medium businesses.
What is Pod’s business model?
Pod is a freemium product and we will introduce premium paid features in 2020. In the app, people can create meetings or ‘Pods’. For example, if I’m a tax professional looking for more clients, I could host an hour-long meeting at a local Starbucks and offer free advice on a topic such as GDPR. There could be 15K+ Pod members in that area, so this meeting would help me meet people who I could potentially help. In the future, users will be able to boost their Pods to drive more attention to them.
Tell us a little about your background and what inspired the business?
I’m a serial entrepreneur and I’ve been a CEO 5 times. I’ve served on private and public boards for 12 years and have led multiple exits leading to good investor returns. I have 7 patents in payment technology, a Ph.D. Quantum Physics Nottingham Trent University and am a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Over the years, I’ve watched as we have changed as a world. We are spending increasingly more time on our phones and less time building real, in-person connections. Technology holds the promise of a great future for us but our disconnection from others is not a good thing. I believe we can help people start lifting their heads again and meeting and making new friends and colleagues.
Tell us what building your company in LA has been like?
Oh, I love LA. I’m from London, I’ve lived in Boston and Philadelphia – all great cities and LA is special. There is something magical about Los Angeles. The people here are happy most of the time because the sun is shining most of the time. Commuting is a nightmare though – everything I had heard about the 405 is true! So, you need to make sure that you and your employees don’t have a long commute each day – it’s too wearing.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We plan to bring onboard another 4M users mostly in English speaking regions. We are onboarding individuals and groups of users at the same time. Then we will start our translation work in about 6 months time to cover most of the major languages.
If you could be put in touch with one person in the LA Tech tech community who would it be and why?
Elon Musk, we are both from the world of science. I admire the way he thinks and also what he has achieved. I love rattling around LA in my Tesla. I’m a lifelong car lover – from my early MG when I was in university to various Jeeps, BMWs, Porsches, Landrovers, a Maserati, etc. But now – I just want to drive my Tesla!
What does being “Made in LA” mean to you and your company?
LA is just a great place to live. It is a vibrant and welcoming city. It is more well known for celebrities as Hollywood is clearly the top place in the world for actors, but more recently, LA has embraced technology.
If you go to Palo Alto, the place is dominated by major tech firms. When I first moved west from Philadelphia, I was considering setting up my then company in either Palo Alto, San Francisco, or LA. I ended up choosing LA partly because I thought ‘if I chose Palo Alto or San Francisco, I will just get my team built and up to speed then Google or Facebook will poach them’. In LA, I’ve been able to build and maintain strong teams.
If you go to Palo Alto, the place is dominated by the major tech firms. When I first moved west from Philadelphia, I was considering setting up my then company in either Palo Alto, San Francisco, or LA. I ended up choosing LA partly because I thought ‘if I chose Palo Alto or San Francisco, I will just get my team built and up to speed then Google or Facebook will poach them’. In LA, I’ve been able to build and maintain strong teams.
What else can be done to promote early-stage entrepreneurship in Los Angeles?
Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park has become the Hollywood of the VC community. Whenever startups are looking to raise money, they inevitably turn to Silicon Valley and the VC’s up there. There are VC’s in LA – but not the strength of community that exists in the San Francisco area.
One of the LA-based VC firms that I spoke to a few years ago told me they didn’t invest in LA firms because the cost of living was so high here; they would rather invest in Midwest firms where resources are cheaper. So, that’s not good!
What is your favorite restaurant in LA?
LA has some fantastic restaurants but there is one little place in Hermosa Beach that has captured my heart – Fritto Misto. The staff there are wonderful – like a family, and the food and wine never disappoint.