The social media site LinkedIn stopped being useful the day I logged on to find someone I knew who could introduce me to a consultant I wanted to reach. The problem wasn't that no one I knew was connected to him, but that
LinkedIn said I was.
We were strangers.
For those who have never signed up — and most Americans have — LinkedIn is a professional social networking service now part of Microsoft Corp. It has sometimes been called Facebook for work.
Entrepreneur Kris Eul of Minnetonka had LinkedIn's limitations in mind when he and his co-founder created a new networking business called Kinetic.
He is not a particularly harsh critic of LinkedIn and still has a LinkedIn profile. He just knows there remains a really big business opportunity in meeting the needs of people who can't get what they want from LinkedIn, Facebook and other tech giants.
Given that LinkedIn has more than 174 million U.S. users while Kinetic has more like 430, it's obviously too early to say much about his odds of success. Yet it is a hopeful sign that entrepreneurs such as Eul are trying to create social networking tools that really work.
Kinetic resembles some of the established networking sites in that it has members who have filled out detailed profiles of what they do and what they might be interested in. Once online in the system, other members can find them and contact them — if other members have agreed to be open to an invitation.
Kinetic will also, every Tuesday, carefully handpick a member to introduce to another member, a task now being handled by Eul, the CEO.
Once that introduction is made, Kinetic's members take it from there. It is hoped that a video call quickly follows that maybe leads to a job referral, investment or just the first day of a new friendship.
Eul and his co-founder, Andrew Verboncouer and his Wisconsin-based design and consulting firm Headway LLC, just formally launched Kinetic after running a version in test mode for a while. Visitors to the site this week will find a box to click called "Join the waitlist." Eul said he doesn't want to let in too many new people at once.
That alone should tell us a lot about what is different from what Facebook and LinkedIn do.
Eul's story that led to Kinetic can maybe best be told through three meaningful days of his life. One was last spring after the pandemic erupted, when he was furloughed as vice president of partnerships at Minneapolis-based Kipsu, a provider of customer-service software and services primarily to hospitality operators.
Suddenly with a lot of time, Eul decided to pursue the business he had been thinking of at least since the last day of November 2015. That is when he posted a short essay on LinkedIn that argued it could become more valuable than Facebook if users could really focus on finding help to reach their goals.
LinkedIn needed to be a far better tool for new college graduates, he suggested, who need to meet older people in their chosen field. But how? It is the same for people hoping to switch careers. Can't LinkedIn make an introduction to other LinkedIn members clearly in a position to really help?
The last date that popped up in his story is Dec. 2, 2004, and even he can't explain why he remembers it so clearly. That is when, as a college student in Milwaukee, he first logged on to Facebook.
To his frustration, he learned what millions of others have, that Facebook only really works to connect to people you already know. It mostly seemed like a great way to kill a lot of time.
In a conversation early this week, Eul brought up what is called Dunbar's number, named for a British professor who observed that a human brain can't maintain more than about 150 stable personal relationships.
While the average is much lower, some users on LinkedIn have more than 10,000 contacts.
Social media is also awash in articles, posts, likes, comments and so on, Eul explained, and for users the point seems to be mostly "accumulating vanity metrics" such as likes, comments and retweets. As for thoughtfulness, he said, consider that in most cases Twitter users won't bother to even read the article or news item they just blasted out to their followers.
"One of the things we hear is that there's not a whole lot to do on our site," Eul said. "That's by design."
Tech executive and consultant Neal Wozniak, an early Kinetic user, has been dissatisfied with existing networking tools, too. As a newcomer to the Twin Cities, he explained this week, he was interested in ways to meet people in this region's technology community.
"I really didn't understand what the hell it was," he said, upon running across Kinetic last year, then still in test mode. "I was really confused, and slightly concerned, but I went ahead."
The first person Wozniak was introduced to by Kinetic — and chosen by Kinetic — was an impressively smart tech executive who even raised the possibility of a full-time job.
"And I realized, wow, I get to do this once a week," Wozniak said. "And all it really costs me is my time."
Handpicking weekly introductions won't be easy to scale up if Kinetic takes off as hoped, of course. Eul explained that while more experience on what has worked best will make that job easier, the firm intends to remain what he called "human centric."
There will also be other ways to connect, like members sorting and then contacting other members directly as well as online "office hours" to discuss any topic the Kinetic member willing to host has chosen.
Kinetic's business model is membership, starting at $14.99 per month for individuals and a sort of wholesale rate for organizations. Eul plans to keep offering a free level of membership, too.
"Some of this stuff, and it sounds corny, but it is kind of priceless," Wozniak said, explaining why he'll happily pay. "One of these days I'm going to find the right thing."