Last week Mixtent, a social skill ranking website, went viral on my Facebook stream and we covered the story. Today is the official launch of Mixtent and I had a chance to do a more in depth interview with one of the founders, Jonathan Gheller.
How was the idea conceived?
Gheller: Mixtent uses Facebook to find your social graph, and then it uses Linkedin to list your skills so that people can vote for the best person in that skill. Those people are then listed on a central leader board.
Mixtent is similar to my last company, Fashmatch. Fashmatch was a Fashion website that told you what item matched with what other item, based on user recommendation. Fashmatch sold to Like.com who was then acquired by Google.
One way I think about problems is that there are some problems that can be solved with tons of data, math’s and algorithms. In that area of problems, you will find Google and Amazon. When Amazon recommends a book to you, behind that is tons of math’s and data. There are other problems where you need constant human input.
The types of problems where you are constantly thinking about collective intelligence, algorithms and usability are where I have most expertise. I thought to myself, where do I want to apply my expertise and have the most impact? and the recruitment and talent management industry was the place where I could do that. These guys [recruitment industry] are in trouble. It is so difficult to hire and get hired.
The real problem is to qualify talent, who is good at what? If you ask around you can get recommendations, so that actually works offline. Online it currently just doesn’t work like that. So I thought this is the type of problem I can do. This is where I can have the maximum impact. People need jobs. And some people in jobs are unhappy and this is due to asymmetry and lack of information. I felt I could do something about this.
Will you be helping people get jobs?
Gheller: Where we are headed is where we will be able to help everyone find the right people to work with. We will work with recruiters and individuals. If you participate on the site enough, and you tell me you are looking for a web designer not only will I have data about web designers I will have data about who the best web designers are, and I will know your likes and your dislikes.
We will be able to do this on an individual level, a recruiter level or at a company HR level. We will be able to go to companies and tell them “we’ve learnt a lot about your employees. We can help you either find or corroborate who your top talent is.” We are in the business of qualifying people and using that data to help match people.
So you’re gathering a lot of important information, how will you ensure that the top talent in a company is really the top talent and not just a popular person who everyone votes for?
Gheller: We have built a really sophisticated system to make sure that this does not happen. How do we do that? We do that in several ways. When someone is voting we weight that vote by the relevancy of that person. Similar to page ranks where getting a link from New York Times is worth a thousand links from a random blog. Here [on Mixtent] getting a vote from Mark Zuckerberg as a good entrepreneur is worth a thousand times more than my vote. The other thing we take into account is who was in the comparison. Being compared to Bill Gates as a good CEO means more than if I was being compared to a high school kid. We consider the relevancy of the question, the voter and who is involved in the question. So the ranking system is anonymous, but it is pretty smart and hard to tamper with.
Why doesn’t Mixtent have transparent voting?
Gheller: Privacy, anonymity and respect for people’s data is absolutely crucial to us. We want to make sure people are comfortable voting and comparing. I don’t know if there is going to be an option later in the future to make things public. However, if that does happen, then it will be done on a different format. We will never revert what is private, or reveal people’s votes.
It would be great to have two people ranking systems for comparison, is there anyone else doing something like Mixtent?
Gheller: There is a company that came out called Cubeduel, who is doing an experience which is similar to ours. However, they are more of a game. They have a fun experience, comparing who is the better co-worker, your boss or your office manager, which is interesting. Our system is really sophisticated, and we are trying to build significant value on top of Linkedin. We are not building a game that is fun. We are actually qualifying talent at a massive scale to help everyone get the right jobs.
Your building on top of Linkedin, doing something that would seem like the next step for them. Have you had any feedback from them?
Gheller: I haven’t had any feedback, and I can’t talk on their behalf. However, the app is live, and we are doing well. I am excited to be building something on top of their platform.
We know that you are funded by some of the top anglels in the Valley, so who are they?
Gheller: I want to tell your readers about the product today and not lose their focus on who is funding us. Talking about product is the top priority. [Prolific angel investor, Ariel Poler is on Mixtent’s board and presumably an investor].
Mixtent works very closely with Facebook and Linkedin, which has the better network of people? Linkedin or Facebook?
Gheller: They are two totally different types of websites. It wouldn’t be possible to compare the two. Both are brilliant at what they do.
Is there anything else you wanted to tell us about Mixtent?
Gheller: We are not trying to build the best professional network. We are trying to discover talented people and make sure they are happy where they are working.
My Closing Thoughts
Many startup founders I meet tell me that their biggest problem is hiring the right people. They complain about the time wasted on recruiters and miss-matched hires. This seems like a market that needs innovation and perfect for a new company to enter. There has not been a new hot startup in recruitment in recent years, which shows this is a tough market to break. However, with news of Linkedin’s IPO and positive change in the economic climate, things are looking up for recruitment.
Mixtent’s social approach to discovering talent will ensure that the app continues to be viral. However, no one likes to be at the bottom of the pile, and many people may opt out. It will be interesting to see how they deal with this problem and to watch them grow.