Technology for Change: Flockd

Singlebrook talks with Green Spaces’ Co-founder Marissa Feinberg about Flockd. In November, Feinberg aims to disrupt social hierarchies and scale the magic found in her Green Spaces coworking communities (and beyond) with Flockd, a collaboration and productivity tool.

Singlebrook: Please give a brief overview of what your organization does.

Marissa Feinberg 1   Credit Eddie ElmiMarissa Feinberg: The organization that we’re launching is Flockd, Inc. It was inspired by the need for such a collaboration and productivity tool in coworking spaces. My coworking space, Green Spaces, is a shared coworking space in New York City filled with environmental and social entrepreneurs. They’re all doing really great work to change the world! We encourage collaboration at Green Spaces, however, the majority of connections occur when there is quite a bit of facilitation on my part and that of our Community Manager.

We wanted to create a way for people to feel they can freely connect with each other without having a facilitator so more great serendipities can happen more often. For example, you’re new at the space and you walk into the room and open your laptop -- you don’t know anyone around you. You don’t know if they’re open to talking or if they’re really busy. You don’t know what they do. We wanted to create a tool that can be used by anyone, anywhere (in a networking environment, at a cafe, at a coworking space) to put out there and say, “I’m open to connection.”

Flockd is a real-world communication technology to share a space, ignite connections, start a conversation, engage in dialogue, create community and spark collective action among people everywhere. The tool is in the shape of a pyramid. It is used by writing on it: what you do, what you’re looking for, what you want to talk about--anything you want. The idea is to scale connection, and to basically open up these conversation zones, when they’re welcome, to break communications barriers and disrupt these social hierarchies of who can talk to who and when.

I think part of the problem with our society and culture is that so many people are living separately, and they don’t communicate with each other -- they don’t talk to each other. The political world tries to solve the problems of different socio-economic hierarchies, but do they really have access to that? People talk about creating communities and leveraging for social good. All of us every day already live and work in physical spaces. If we just had a way to open up dialogue where we already are, a lot of great change could happen.

Slide 19SB: How did you come up with the idea for Flockd?

MF: I was at a conference, the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit in Kansas City, and I met a super smart woman who’s been like a mentor to me, Janice Caillet. She was starting her new venture called iStartup, an innovative solutions and advisory firm. She was looking for a way for people in physical spaces to connect. We started talking about shared ideas, and the concept grew from there.

SB: Can you talk more about Green Spaces and how that connects with or has inspired Flockd?

Gs 1rMF: We’re coming into our 5th year at Green Spaces. Reflecting on our anniversary, I started thinking about, “How do you scale a community, how do you grow it?” The answer is, you either get more space, or you scale the magic of what you do. That’s the community development, really; that’s why people sign up for our space. They could have an office anywhere. We have a lot of entrepreneurs here from other countries who are working alone. Maybe their flagship is in the U.K., but they’re here. So, they come and they have a home, they make new friends and they are productive.

The tool we’re launching not only connects people, but it’s also a productivity tool because it signals when you’re free and when you’re busy, and helps in setting those clear, healthy boundaries. If you want a formula to make the world better, you need to encourage both collaboration and productivity.

SB: When you launch the product, will it be available for use by a broader market?

MF: We want it available for anyone who wants to try it or see its impact on their workplace, cafe, hotel or university. There are a lot of ways to use Flockd, and only when we start getting the product out there will we really see where it has the most value. We’re still finalizing the prototype, and it will soon be available to order at Flockd.com. We’re aiming to have it ready for distribution November 12, which kicks off Global Entrepreneurship Week.

SB: How did you go about selecting your team?

MF: The obvious choice was Janice (Caillet) and myself. We’ve had some other people help us. I brought a designer on board who I’ve worked with in the past from the Bondtoo design agency. Josee, who leads it, is a really brilliant designer, and she’s come up with a wonderful product design. I trusted her aesthetic. I’ve been friends with James Slezak, one of the Partners at the organization called Purpose. They’ve been advising on building movements online and doing strategy sessions under their Purpose Roundtable initiative. We do have a silent investor. And Janice’s organization is iStartup, so that’s another forum for the product. I’ve also been working with Megan Bullock from MESH, who has generously volunteered clever creative concept designs, and Shawn Lauzon, a talented software engineer who has helped flesh out whether we should also have an app, and what that would or would not look like. And I’m grateful to the members of Green Spaces, and to friends in our community, who have all been part of our alpha testing phase.

SB: What have been a few of the biggest challenges you’ve faced leading up to the launch of Flockd, and how did you handle them?

MF: The biggest challenge is coming up with your minimum viable product. We all have ideas--so, what is the best, simplest way to have something ready for market? And then sticking with your vision despite feedback from people. Anyone who’s doing something new will face a lot of people saying, “Do we really want this? Do we really need this? or Hey, what about adding this feature?” It’s up to you to start and excite a movement around your new concept. We had this idea for over a year, and I had to try not to get discouraged when hearing mixed feedback. I showed it to a friend who didn’t love it. Then I showed it to an investor and they fell in love with it and chased me to fund it. All of a sudden, I had a piece of paper and some seed capital, and that was probably the scariest part. Now I had to build something and I was starting from scratch.

SB: What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

MF: Believe, believe, believe. And just go for it!

Flockd is currently in alpha stage, and an app component to the product is currently under consideration. Anyone interested in a being a part of something really cool in this new movement should email Marissa (marissa at flockd dot com).

Starlings 10  Inspiration Photo

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