Tired of joining social networks based on flimsy connections? Well, Nextdoor.com invites you to become a member where you already belong, to inhabit a space that already matters a great deal to you – your neighborhood! But you probably don’t know people around you nearly as well as you’d like or should. Nextdoor looks to bring a sense of community back to your stomping grounds.
Nextdoor establishes free, private social networks online for neighborhoods. Meet your neighbors, share information, build stronger communities, and more. This may sound obvious, but getting it right has proven tremendously difficult. Chances are, you’ll want Nextdoor to thrive where you live.
Co-founder and CEO, Nirav Tolia, started out as an early employee at Yahoo!. Since then, the entrepreneurial path has kept him moving. He’s worked as the COO of shopping.com, he’s advised and consulted numerous startups; he founded Fanbase and served as the entrepreneur in residence at Benchmark Capital. Yet he’s quick to leave the spotlight, preferring to credit his teams – and displays the timeless, good manners of thanking his mom and dad. KillerStartups is delighted to share his visit to our neck of the woods.
How did the idea for Nextdoor arrive – out of the blue? A spin off from another project? Developed over many years?
Prior to starting Nextdoor.com, I was running a startup called Fanbase.com along with my fellow co-founders. Even though the company grew quickly to 10 million users, we felt the need to work on something that would make a bigger, real world impact. After months of brainstorming company ideas for everything from e-commerce websites to social networks, we eventually had a light bulb moment and realized that there was no social network for one of the most important communities in our lives – our neighborhood. As you get older, the community that is most valuable to you is the one in which you live. The neighborhood is where you buy a home, where your kids go to school, where you spend the majority of your physical life. With that idea, Nextdoor.com – a private social network for neighborhoods – was born.
How did you first go about building the company?
We were really lucky to have such a motivated and ambitious team already in place from Fanbase.com. Our team was, and continues to be, our greatest asset. At the beginning, the most important thing was building a test product and immediately getting member feedback to figure out how to best solve their neighborhood’s needs. We tested Nextdoor in over 100 neighborhoods for a year before launching nationwide. To this day, we continue to develop Nextdoor based on member feedback.
What distinguishes Nextdoor from the competition?
There are many people who have tried to build neighborhood or local social networks, but few have succeeded. Replicating the social, real-world interactions that take place at the neighborhood level requires careful social engineering to get it right. We believe that we have found the right solution.
For example, unlike other social networks, Nextdoor emphasizes privacy because it was designed and created with the neighborhood in mind. We created a platform that mimics real world, neighborhood interactions and we know privacy is a big factor in that. One of the elements of our business that makes us truly unique is our ability to use an online platform to create stronger relationships and communities in the real world. We get to see this every day when neighbors use Nextdoor to organize a block party, book club group, or neighborhood watch.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to realize yours?
I’ve been involved in a few companies and have learned some important lessons that I was able to apply at Nextdoor. I feel confident because I believe I have surrounded myself with the right team of co-founders, investors, and employees. It is never just me. With the right group of people and by always putting our members first, I believe we will ensure our success.
When do your best ideas come to you? As you’re falling asleep? Stuck in traffic? After working 16 hours? Bird watching?
My best ideas come when I’m brainstorming with other people. My favorite moments at Nextdoor are when the team gets together to discuss problems that we’ve encountered and we tackle ways to fix it as a group. Open forums, where we build on each other’s ideas, are the kinds of brainstorms that usually lead to the most interesting ideas.
Maybe you can share an anecdote that describes the struggles or frustrations you’ve had to work through while starting out?
Building local communities is very difficult and very time consuming – it’s difficult to get traction quickly. In our first year of Nextdoor, when we were still in beta, we were able to launch 176 neighborhoods – that’s about one neighborhood every other day. Now in year two, we have launched over 6,500 neighborhoods – just around 24 neighborhoods every day.
While that first year was filled with struggles and frustrations, with hard work and dedication to getting it right, we have become 40 times more efficient at getting neighbors to adopt and use Nextdoor.
How has work on Nextdoor been different from work on previous projects?
At Nextdoor, we not only enjoy the work we do, but think what we are doing is important. I have never worked on something that so deeply affects people’s everyday lives. When Nextdoor helps a neighbor find a lost pet – that’s a big deal. When Nextdoor helps neighbors come together to prevent crime – that’s a big deal. I strongly believe Nextdoor is giving people opportunities to create happier, safer places to call home.
What drew you to startup entrepreneurship?
I was lucky enough that my first job was as an early employee at Yahoo!. I was very fortunate to be able to observe how passionate, hard working and talented people create a company – it was an incredible inspiration for me. After three years of watching and learning, and really respecting everything I saw around me at Yahoo!, I wanted to try and do it myself.
How would you describe the office environment?
Everyone who works at Nextdoor has an entrepreneurial spirit. We’re all focused on our mission and work together to create an inclusive, transparent and collaborative environment where everyone can feel open to contributing ideas and opinions. Even our physical environment is set up to foster collaboration, teamwork and the ability to easily bounce ideas off of each other with several communal areas and no cubes or offices.
Who or what inspires YOU?
I’m inspired most by my parents. They’re both Indian immigrants and physicians who have created an incredible life for themselves through hard work, sincerity and passion. I hope to approach my life with the same values – whether that’s at work or home. I’m also inspired by people in our industry, any of the famous or non-famous CEOs that have built companies with a mission of solving important problems.
Jeff Bezos is a good example. I have an incredible amount of admiration for him – he is an inspiring innovator and a great leader. Bill Campbell is likely one of the most influential people in our industry – he is truly the coach of Silicon Valley. He represents – in my opinion – everything that a CEO should be.
What’s your greatest satisfaction in business life?
Creating something that makes an actual impact in someone’s life. Seeing a neighborhood’s Nextdoor site grow – and then seeing those neighbors come together as a community. Our users are real people who care and watch out for one another. The best way to share that impact is through the stories of our members. For example, in Woodside, California, one of our first neighborhoods, a teenager named Miles came down with a deadly and contagious case of meningitis. Miles’ mother used Nextdoor to notify the other families in the area with information about treatment for those who had come in contact with Miles. A year later, that young man with meningitis is doing great and even interned at Nextdoor last summer. We have hundreds of stories like these, which is what gives me the greatest satisfaction.
We also love to know the facts and figures: revenue, number of users, investments, year of funding / amount of funding, number of employees, etc. Are there any such details you’re comfortable sharing with us?
Nextdoor launched in October 2011 and has more than 6,500 neighborhoods in 49 states. More than 55 city governments have adopted Nextdoor to foster civic engagements, including Anaheim, Atlanta, Dallas, Long Beach, Menlo Park, San Jose and Ventura – with dozens of other cities currently in the pipeline. Nextdoor is headquartered in San Francisco. In July, we announced $18.6MM in funding by Benchmark Capital, Greylock Partners, Shasta Ventures and DAG Ventures. We currently have 40 employees.
Who’s been your biggest supporter?
My parents. They have always sacrificed everything they have for their children and given us the support they need – whether financially or emotionally. They live their lives in a way that is very inspiring, and I feel unbelievably fortunate to call them family.
How do you picture Nextdoor in 5 years?
In five years, we hope that every neighborhood across the world will have its own Nextdoor website. I know that sounds ambitious, but we really believe that the benefit of bringing back a sense of community to the neighborhood is a universal one. It spans country lines, socio-demographic lines, cultures, etc. We want to be the ones that use the power of technology to build better local communities.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get their business off the ground?
I can’t say it enough – you need to focus on creating something that really solves a problem, something that really makes a deep impact. You have to find a pain point that matters to people and solve it – essentially make something people can’t imagine living without.
Here are three tips I often give to other entrepreneurs:
- Surround yourself with great people
- Build something that people really want
- Let the journey be the reward