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Making networking like speed dating

Monday, November 29, 2010; 22

The Entrepreneur

You've probably been to one of those networking events where you meet people, strike up conversations, collect a handful of business cards, then never actually follow up and connect with those people again. For 20-something young professionals just starting out, the art of networking can be especially mystifying. Enter Brazen Careerist, the company bringing networking to turf the Generation Y set knows quite well: the Web.

As a longtime angel investor, Edward Barrientos was looking for a new company to get involved with in 2008 when he learned about Brazen Careerist, then located in Madison, Wis. He loved the concept and invested, and when they asked him to come on as chief executive, he agreed.

Barrientos and the Brazen Careerist team made the decision to move the company to McLean to be near Washington, D.C. , one of the nation's largest concentrations of educated young professionals.

The Pitch Barrientos

"Brazen Careerist has reinvented professional networking by bringing it online and making it fun, effective and less intimidating. We give users a whole ecosystem for creating contacts and turning those into real business relationships. Our focus is on younger people, those just starting out in their careers who may not have a lot of business contacts. Building a network is crucial to success and we're providing young people with the right tools to do it well.

"We have something called Network Roulette, which offers a range of virtual events. It's like an online version of speed dating for professional networking. You enter an organized 'event,' have three-minute text-based chats with other professionals, and at the end of the hour you have several new contacts in your network. We also give you the tools to follow up with your new contacts. Our site includes a full-fledged social network and working groups related to careers and specific industries.

"A lot of people describe us as the LinkedIn for Generation Y, but we actually do a whole lot more. We're different in that we're focused on the up-stream part of the networking process -- the part where you actually meet new contacts.

"In the last 12 months, we have seen our membership base explode, as we are approaching 100,000 members. We have seen a parallel increase in user engagement as traffic has increased 40 percent in the past four months alone, with little to no marketing budget.

"The key goal for Brazen Careerist is to grow the user base. To make this even more challenging, we must attract new users without spending too much on each one to do so. What are some interesting ways we may be able to spread the Brazen Careerist word and meet our goal of reaching 1 million members by the end of 2011?"

The Feedback

Elana Fine, Director of Venture Investments, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

"You have developed an ideal product for your target market -- 20-somethings are digital natives who spend a majority of their free time online. Brazen Careerist's user adoption model could model Facebook's early growth and introduce the service to college students who will spread the word to their recently graduated friends who, given the economy, are likely to be in the job market.

"You can find a ready market for your Network Roulette product at any campus student union. To grow virally, you need to create a unique buzz on campuses that will likely spill over to recent graduates. For example, you could inexpensively plan flash mobs at several local schools for the same day, same time. You can recruit 15 students from a student business association or other student group to sit with laptops at a popular, Internet-accessible location on campus. At the scheduled time, the group will announce a Brazen Careerist Network Roulette flash mob to the crowd, encouraging all nearby students with laptops to log onto Brazen Careerist and start the company's signature three-minute networking sessions.

"By inviting campus reporters and other local media ahead of time you can get some free press and word of mouth advertising. Hopefully each person who sees the mob will tell five of their friends, and so on.

"This type of event is extremely scalable and inexpensive. Once you have worked out the kinks at a few schools, you can expand across the D.C. area and beyond."

Entrepreneur's Reaction

Barrientos

"I will be contacting student groups, including some entrepreneurship clubs and organizations as well the campus career center, to move forward with some of her great recommendations. Our goal is to raise our awareness first in the D.C. area. If we can conquer this city and this region, we've got it made."

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.

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