How Shapr Made Networking As Easy As Swiping Right
Elisabeth Brier, Vincent Bobin and Mandy Menaker

If you’ve ever gone through the strenuous process of seeking a new job or exploring a new career path, you know it’s no easy feat.

Connections are often the most significant (if not exclusive) means to a career boost, but unless you’re tight with Oprah or family friends with Mark Cuban, meaningful connections are not always the easiest to come by.

Shapr, however, is aiming to change this.

An app reminiscent to Tinder or Bumble, Shapr offers users the opportunity to connect with “inspiring people” with the swipe of a finger.

Vincent Bobin, Shapr’s CMO, and Mandy Menaker, Shapr’s Head of PR, sat down with TechDay to explain how the app has garnered such rapid success and what other startup founders can do to follow suit.

Shapr's platform is very reminiscent of other matchmaking sites like Tinder and Bumble. How does this familiar structure work in marketing Shapr and encouraging the target demographic to sign on?

In terms of user experience, modeling Shapr after existing swiping platforms has been an advantage. New users can quickly grasp how our app works – swipe right if you want to meet, swipe left if you prefer to skip an introduction. By tapping into existing trends, we make the onboarding experience seamless.

For most users who login with LinkedIn, the setup for Shapr is actually easier than Tinder – your job title, photo and basic information will already populate into the app! That’s a lot less time looking for good photos taken with Tigers.

The challenge for Shapr is to clarify that we are a networking app and not an app for romantic relationships. We have a team member who serves as your first match to help onboard new users and correct any confusion.

Which marketing strategies assist in conveying the legitimacy of Shapr's "inspiring people"? How can potential users feel confident they're matching with truly experienced individuals?

There is clear positioning of Shapr as a platform to exchange ideas and bring inspiration. To achieve this goal, our number one priority is making sure that the quality of users and matches is consistently high. We have a team of moderators who review every profile as new users join our app. This team ensures that every profile is real, complete and factual based on a web search and LinkedIn check for new users.

We also empower our users to regulate the community by reporting any misuse of the app. In addition to asking our users to report any inappropriate or spammy messages, we encourage people to report those with a “hard-selling attitude” who try to sell products or services through our platform. Our roadmap includes updates to our algorithm to continue to make the best matches possible and flag any misuse early on.

How did you go about solving the sort of "chicken and egg" dilemma that naturally incurs when forming a product that relies on people? How were you able to simultaneously onboard general users and professionals?

Shapr relies on our ability to connect individuals who are nearby. The app works best when we have a lot of users in the same city, so we launched with digital ads in two cities – New York and Paris. Focusing our marketing efforts helped us to quickly amass a few thousand users that could test the product during beta. Since the app is free, most users were patient with us as we grew. We now have thousands of users joining every day and market the product in the US, France and the UK.

The chicken and the egg dilemma is one we still face as word of mouth spreads to areas where we have not invested. Communities of early adopters have popped up in areas such as Austin, Texas and Stamford, Connecticut. One great thing about early adopters is that they are often the users most motivated by your app and mission, and therefore willing to wait it out as the user base grows. As a compromise, we often suggest these users meet over Skype!

Shapr utilized subway advertisements to spread the word. What was the thinking behind this type of promotion and were the returns successful?

Shapr needed to be recognized as a major player in the NYC startup scene. While subway campaigns are extremely pricey, a branded train is the single most effective way to get noticed by millions of New Yorkers outside of a video going viral (or a tweet by the current White House administration). In terms of brand recognition, the returns have been successful. We now have inbound requests from journalists at major publications who want to write about us, offers to partner with some well known brands on exciting opportunities, and recognition from millions of professionals who saw our ads.

What other targeted marketing efforts does Shapr employ and which have proven to be the most effective?

We have a lot of success with Facebook and Instagram ads, which are relatively inexpensive and allow great targeting. We are also diving into the world of advertorial or sponsored content, which tends to be more expensive than a basic ad, but can better explain our values and how we hope to make networking a lifestyle. The result is higher retention from the users who install the app, because they already get our value proposition.

What sort of advice could you offer early stage startup founders both in forming a unique brand voice and subsequently perpetuating it to their targeted audience?

There are three types of people – those who get your brand immediately, those who can be convinced, and those who will never fully comprehend your mission. Focus on the first two categories of potential users. The third category will never truly understand your goals, and that is okay because there is no product that is right for every person’s needs or personality.

What's next for Shapr in the upcoming months?

We are just getting started and have several new things coming your way over the year!

On product, we will continue to improve our app to ensure that users have the best possible experience networking on Shapr. We have recently brought on a terrific data scientist to help refine our algorithm. In addition, we will be launching a better Android version later this year.

For marketing, we will continue to invest in growing our US, UK and France user base of interesting and smart professionals actively interested in expanding their networks. We also have several super fans of the app and want to find the best way to work with them. We are considering an ambassador program and event strategy and will soon unveil new ways that users can engage with Shapr beyond the app.

Finally, we hope to start to monetize the app through pro features expected to launch in late 2017. You’ll have to join the app to find out what we have in store for pro features. We will always continue to offer our free version of the app, which is currently available for iOS and Android!