Meet the Startup That’s ‘Like LinkedIn InMail, Except You Get Paid’

“It’s like LinkedIn InMail, except you get paid!” reads the top of 21.co‘s web page.

If you’re looking for a way to monetize the incoming email messages you receive from people outside your network, it’s worth investigating. Backed by Andreessen Horowitz, the company is on the radar with Silicon Valley’s early adopters, but remains mostly unknown two years after its founding.

The lack of awareness is twofold. First, the product’s initial iteration, embedding bitcoin mining chips in everyday electronic appliances, failed. Second, the product relies on Bitcoin as its currency and transactional backbone as opposed to traditional currencies.

However, its latest product and anti-LinkedIn message of being “better than LinkedIn, because you get paid” could help it gain steam, particularly within employment circles, if the hardest-to-reach job candidates start adopting it.

Recruiters often complain the best developers are not on LinkedIn, which has driven recruiting to a wide variety of solutions in order to find programmers. Why aren’t the best developers on LinkedIn? A common answer is they’re tired of getting LinkedIn InMails from recruiters.

21.co flips the script by putting the money in the hands of the recipients instead of it going to LinkedIn, which makes money being the middleman between sender and recipient. In short, an employer would still have to pay in order to contact someone, but the money goes to the recipient instead of LinkedIn. Pricing is determined by the recipient.

How It Works

Users sign-up with a Facebook account or an email address. Joining is free, and there’s even a financial incentive to complete the various steps of creating a profile. The first phase, for instance, earns you a reward of 50 cents. Fifty cents isn’t a big incentive, but paying a new user, even a little bit, probably saves a lot on traditional acquisition fees like Google, Facebook, or traditional methods like television.

After verifying your account, the next step is completing a short bio and current occupational title. Then you upload a photo or just use your Facebook profile picture if that’s how you initially joined.

Then you’re asked to add an institutional email address, such as a school or company address. “Don’t worry,” the site informs a new user. “You will only receive notifications at your primary email, and this email will never be shared.”

Then you have the option to link your social accounts, which currently include Facebook, LinkedIn, and GitHub. For completing this, new users earn an extra 10 cents in the sign-up process. They don’t say why, but I assume this is a financial incentive to keep going. Then you preview your profile page and click Submit.

After that, users are asked to set a price to charge for others to contact you. This goes all the way to a max of $100. As another option, you can give your money to three charities, including CoinCenter, Black Girls Code, or Folding At Home. Another 25 cents is earned after you finish this step too. That’s makes 85 cents or .0007 BTC just for joining. One bitcoin is worth $1,142.29 as of this writing.

The site offers a community section that takes users to a Slack account where members can discuss the company and bitcoin among other topics. There’s also a marketplace where developers can provide a wide variety of services in exchange for bitcoin payment. For example, one app will give you an ordered list of Twitter usernames by Klout score for a fee of $0.0571 per query or call.

21.co Adoption

“Recruiters, salespeople, and companies can now send paid messages to compensate you for your time,” says the company’s website. It’s an appealing message and business model on paper. Senders should feel more confident in getting a response and recipients can get paid accordingly for their time and expertise. From a recruiting standpoint, paying $100 to actually connect to, and communicate with top talent is a no brainer.

It’s not without headwind though. Aside form the standard challenges a new business faces, bitcoin adoption will be a key driver in the company’s success or failure. In order to put dollars and cents in a personal bank account, a user has to use a bitcoin exchange service. This is a big hurdle, especially today where bitcoin is largely misunderstood and mistrusted.

The height of that hurdle is underscored by the fact that users featured on the company’s website are primarily CEOs, tech founders, and venture capitalists. Mark Andreessen, for example, charges $100 in order to send him a message. Senders, again, are only charged if there is a reply. Groups can also be targeted based on things like company or title.

The company also lets users earn bitcoins by doing tasks, like surveys, saying “Businesses will pay to hear your thoughts on their products and services.” It also provides both Android and iOS mobile apps.

Joel Cheesman has over 20 years experience in the online recruitment space. He worked for both international and local job boards in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. In 2005, Cheesman founded HRSEO, a search engine marketing company for HR, as well as launching an award-winning industry blog called Cheezhead. He has been featured in Fast Company and US News and World Report. He sold his company in 2009 to Jobing.com. He was employed by EmployeeScreenIQ, a background check company. He is the founder of Ratedly, an app that monitors anonymous employee reviews. He is married and the father of three children. He lives in Indianapolis.

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