How Upstream Is Evolving Professional Networking And The Future Of Work

The importance of networking in business cannot be overstated — some studies have estimated that upwards of 85% of job openings are eventually filled through networking — but the systems that facilitate these processes today simply are not working in the way many people would like them too.

COVID-19 has meant that just about everyone in the business world has spent the last year stumbling. It seemed they were stumbling in and out of Zoom conferences, or trying to connect with people on LinkedIn. No matter the case, it’s been a struggle for connection. These media will work just fine for some people. However, the fact of the matter is that it’s next to impossible to form a meaningful relationship with someone through the sanitized, haphazard platforms of modern business communication. 

This is the problem that Michael Schonfeld and Alex Taub were seeing when they decided to found Upstream, an app they hoped could cut through the noise of modern networking and allow people to connect with one another in real, tangible ways. Here’s how they’re making that happen:

Bringing Engagement to Virtual Conferencing

The fundamental problem at the heart of virtual communication is the apparent opposition between connecting and time. It’s difficult to really get to know someone in just a short period of time. But, anyone who has ever spent hours on a Zoom call knows that too much time in a certain medium just promotes further disengagement. There are platforms that are disrupting the system. However, their exclusivity and lack of effective curation has made them slow to transform the business world at large.

Upstream gets around this by encouraging people to network and form meaningful connections in relatively succinct periods of time. The core of Upstream is the Upstream event. This event can be best described as a miniature virtual conference headlined by a keynote speaker at the forefront of her field. Speakers have included such faces as ESPN’s Pablo Torre, Senator Cory Booker, Forerunner’s Kirsten Green, and just about everyone in between. This lineup is so diverse. Consequently, the only common thread linking all Upstream event speakers is dynamism. In other words, no event ever kicked off without an insightful bang.

Making Digital Connections Possible

It’s in that invigorating kickoff that the power of the Upstream connectivity model starts to rear its head. Following the event’s presentation, attendees break up into one-on-one video breakout rooms for 5 minutes. Taub and Schonfeld believe this is the ideal amount of time to lay the groundwork for a great business relationship. It’s too short to contain any forced filler talk or unnecessary pleasantries. However, it’s just long enough for each participant to really show their true selves to the other. Of course, 5 minutes will indeed not be long enough for some connections to fully blossom. In that case, the opportunity to schedule a longer meeting after the event is always available. 

Each event attendee will be in 2 or 3 of these one-on-one meetings. This ensures that no one mixes up names or blurs details because of too many forced encounters. Just a handful of 5-minute meetups may not sound like a solid foundation for a relationship, but the idea of Upstream is that it serves as the ideal starting-off point for something bigger. By bringing together a group of people interested in what a certain speaker has to say, the event has already created possibilities for connection — it’s up to the participants to make them happen.

Upstream and The Future of Work

Daylong Zoom conferences and an endless stream of LinkedIn notifications are no way to manage your personal network. 2020 forced the future of work upon just about everyone, and while digital infrastructure has kept up fairly well, it’s been far from perfect. You may have more tools than ever you can use to communicate with other people, but how many of those tools help you genuinely connect with them?

The Upstream model isn’t just something that conceptually checks out: it’s already performing in big ways. Hot off a $3.25 million dollar seed round led by Ibex investors, Upstream is ready to expand its usership in such a way that can no longer be ignored. Some 75% of first-time Upstream event attendees come back for more — with engagement figures that large, it’s just a matter of time before Upstream starts to become a crucial node in the connectivity network. 

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