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Santa Barbara Startup: Talentwire Connect To Mentors Who Do What You Do INTERVIEW

Do you like what you do? Are you looking for like minded people? Do you feel like you could offer someone who does what you do advice? Would you like to learn more about the profession you’re in? These are just some of the questions that will be answered when you join the new talentwire.me platform.

Talentwire is a platform that connects professionals to each other and allows mentorship, sharing and more. Users can share via simply writing about what they do, asking and answering questions and even doing how to videos. Talentwire integrates with Facebook for quick logins.

Once you’re in the Talentwire site at talentwire.me you can select your profession, or “what you do” and then drill down even more. For instance I found a category for news media after clicking through media and arts.  There’s categories for every profession under the sun from healthcare to actors, computer coders to fashion, and the platform is still building.

Talentwire founder Sam Sperling has been hard at work promoting his new startup. They debuted at South By Southwest in Austin Texas this past March and then went on to TheNextWeb conference in Amsterdam. At SXSW Sperling was flanked by scouts from other social networks in the professional space like LinkedIn, BraveNewTalent and Dice.

We got a chance to speak with Sperling.

Interview after the break


What is talentwire.me?
Talentwire is a place for professional sharing and mentorship where you plug-in with people who do what you do while building a portfolio that sends you work.
Professional sharing focuses on sharing tidbits on a regular basis of what you are working, posting questions for mentoring, and spotting trends in your area of focus.  By plugging-in we mean you are surrounded by only those in your same chosen profession.  We find that whether you are or aspire to be a developer, designer, marketer, engineer, doctor, or any profession the conversation you have when surrounded by only those in your chosen profession is a lot richer and is more rewarding.   The end result of plugging-in and sharing is you build these great connections with top professionals and companies in your area, learn a lot from them, can give back as a mentor, and instead of a rather boring resume you have this alive and dynamic profile that is a far better example of who you are professionally.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
Talentwire was founded in 2011 by tech veteran and UCLA alum Sam Sperling in collaboration with University of California Santa Barbara students in math and computer science departments. Sam previously founded Continuiti, a consultancy based in London that assisted FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies with eCommerce and enterprise application needs. Before Continuiti, Sam worked in a variety of consulting and product roles with Quest Software and PeopleSoft (now Oracle) in London, New York, and San Francisco.
Shayan Yassami, Co-founder, was 1st on the team  in 2011 and has contributed greatly to both Talentwire’s strategy and feature set. As a student at UCSB’s Computer Science department, Shayan, is in charge of making Talentwire a great product for students who are need both a great profile and mentorship to help launch their careers.
Who is your target user?
Students and younger professionals who are building their careers and experienced professionals who want to give back with their time and advice.
Although you are in California do you face any challenges not being based in the Valley?
Yes and no.  Santa Barbara has been a great place for me to build a company in the early stages for a few reasons. Compared to say London or SF it’s very quiet here so fewer distractions as long as you are disciplined enough to not head to the amazing beach here.  The UCSB Computer Science department is superb, they are consistently ranked as a top program in the nation and with people who are more well rounded than other top schools.   We’ve been blessed with talent from UCSB and since our product designed to bring students and professionals together we needed to get the partnership with students right from the beginning. The downside of being down here, even a few clicks away from the Valley, is that we are completely off the radar for both the Valley press and venture capital so we have to work extra hard to get noticed.
So you’re developing a mobile app to go along with talentwire.me what are some of the components to the app?
We are near to releasing both Android and IOS apps later this Spring.  As a platform for professional sharing and mentorship our app is geared towards encouraging the most important aspect, professional sharing.  The app encourages you to post and tag what you are working on to a professional feed.  We want you to open up and talk about what you are working on regularly whether you are a student or professional.  That means posting things like work samples, issues you are dealing with, asking questions, trends you’ve discovered, even small things as you go about your day can be interesting.  Other aspects of the app allow you to create this incredible profile that blends your work samples into a portfolio, messaging, and finding people and companies.
How do you plan to keep mentors engaged, or is that all on the end user?
Mentors love the concept and want to be engaged, they look forward to seeing how they can help others.  The motivation can be purely to give back but also people from companies are looking to spot talent early on and build relationships with those students and younger professionals.  Another motivation is as you offer mentoring you are also building your own portfolio which will help your own career.   As Talentwire rolls out this year we have local events at Universities with panel discussions where students can engage top professionals and learn about their career experiences and how to prepare for their careers.  These events are going to be one of several online-offline ways that we plan to engage both professionals and students to increase mentoring and professional sharing.
On the mentoring side, what’s your plan when higher profile mentors start using the service, how do you keep the noise down and everyone from flocking to one particular mentor. For example, say a Ron Conway, Mike Arrington or Michael Dell were to become part of the service as mentors they would obviously, and almost instantly attract the bulk of the “students”. How does the platform work to keep everyone engaged?
This is a great question.  We already have top engineers at Facebook, Quest Software, Citrix, Etsy, AudioVroom, TokBox, Daniel Burka the designer behind Oink and Digg, and others logging in and waiting for our student community to grow, and if Ron, Mike, or Michael are reading we have the perfect solution for you that enables you to help a lot of people and avoid the flooding.  Our online aspect of mentoring starts with a mentor board.  Students and younger professionals can post questions to it in a Q&A fashion and tag it with the right topics.  Professionals whether they are like me or famous can join and select questions to answer and comment.  Those answers go to public topic feeds and to their profile which everyone can see.  So you can answer once and share that knowledge with everyone.  Private 1-1 mentorship is something we aim to encourage and enable later this year with more online-offline events.
You said that LinkedIn, BravenewTalent and Dice sent out scouts to see your baby beta launch, what did the come away with, what are the key differentiators from talentwire.me and other similar sites?
Yes they did.  We were out of the press radar at SXSW but 100% on focus in the industry.  Linkedin is amazing for a number of reasons but their competitive intel ability is unsurpassed.  I think the biggest differentiator for us our mission and focus.  Our mission is to increase professional sharing and mentorship.  We want the world to open up and be more engaged in what you, I, others are doing today at work.  Most of us think that is boring or to sensitive to share, but the details are often the most interesting part and most details can be made public.  The other aspect, mentoring, is something we are working hard to increase both in an online format and offline.  We know these companies have teams of people watching us, studying our user experience and what they walk away with is perhaps a bit of fear because our mission and goal is really powerful and we are approaching the professional networking and talent community space from a very different direction that will be hard to emulate with out a major business model & mission adjustment.
Are you bootstrapping or funded?
100% bootstrapped, and I say this proudly as we have not even started the process of fundraising.  Last May I made the decision to not waste a moment of time fundraising and to focus on building a great product.  I think the time and patience required to make something right can often be lost on 3 month high pressure summer camp style start-up cycles that you are increasingly finding out there.  We’ve had tons of feedback along the way and have started speaking with venture funds such as Khosla that we feel have the right priorities and who are interested in the educational and professional networking space.
FUN QUESTION: What do your parents think you do?
Actually this one is so easily to explain as most everyone understands the power and benefits of mentoring and professional sharing.  My mother got this one instantly.  I found that question a lot tougher as a consultant and other nebulous product roles at larger software companies.
Linkage:
You can sign up for Talentwire today at talentwire.me
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