I interviewed Nextdoor.com founder Nirav Tolia on the program this morning:
HH: When one of your favorite people in media leaves one of your favorite organizations, as Jenny Mayfield left the Hoover Institute, you say to yourself why? And it’s because she went to join NextDoor.com. So I immediately began to investigate what is NextDoor that took Jenny away from Hoover. And NextDoor is a fascinating idea. Nirav Tolia is the co-founder and CEO of NextDoor.com, and he joins me this morning, because my curiosity is peaked. Why did you take Jenny away from Hoover, Nirav?
NT: Well, it’s a great question, and I feel about as lucky as you describe that I should feel, and I’ll tell you, it was not a quick courtship. It took a couple of years. But Jenny is an amazing person. She is a great executive for us at NextDoor, and we feel very fortunate to have her.
HH: I’ve got to say, I have very few people that I love in this business after 25 years, and she’s one of them, because she is always upbeat and happy. So when she picked NextDoor, that said to me okay, this must be socially significant and wonderful. Then I began to dig in, and I love the concept. I have some questions, but I want you to tell people about what it is first. By the way, Nirav is extremely successful in the world of StartUp.com and various social media ventures. I’m not going to run through his resume. You can go look it up. He’s been on with my pal, Charlie Rose. He’s been profiled by everybody in Politico and PR and all that different thing. Trust me on this, the guy’s a hitter. Tell us about NextDoor, Nirav?
NT: NextDoor’s a private social network for your neighborhood. It’s sort of a quaint concept, but married with a common trend today, which is technology, the adoption of social media. So we are a website or a mobile app. You can download us on the Apple App Store or the Android Play Store, and it’s the easiest and fastest way for neighbors to get together in a trusted setting, a private setting, and talk about the things that matter, whether it’s talking about straightforward things like recommending a babysitter or a plumber, more personal things like asking for help to find a lost pet, or really critical things like coming together in times of natural disaster, or banding together to create a kind of virtual neighborhood watch so that everyone in the neighborhood is safer.
HH: So I’ve got, you know, 144,000 people who I follow on Twitter, and I hope no one, none of them live next door to me. But I also know my neighbors on my left and my right in both D.C. and in California. And I hope to know more of them in the surrounding community. But it gets harder, right? You know, people’s garage doors come down quicker, people’s shutters get closed faster in this day and age for a variety of reasons, from security to just exhaustion and privacy. How does NextDoor.com reopen those garage doors and open the shutters?
NT: Well, there’s no doubt that the trend over the last few decades is for us to lose touch with our neighbors. And we thought that was a tragedy. I grew up in a small town in West Texas, and I loved my neighborhood. I mean, I looked back at Odessa, Texas, where my parents still live and where I grew up, and you know, there’s not a lot of great scenery, there’s not a lot of great culture, but there is community. And community is the thing that made me love where I grew up. And it’s where my parents still feel the most at home. And yet when we started the company in the summer of 2010, almost 30% of Americans could not name a single neighbor by name.
NT: That as the statistic from the Pew Institute. And so we felt like boy, how has this country gone from a place where if we think about Norman Rockwell and we think about Americana, we relied on our neighbors. We connected with them, and we relied on them in a way that would make all of our lives better. How has that really eroded? And we didn’t know all the reasons why, but we did feel like technology could play a role as an icebreaker. We’re not a Facebook-type entity where we want you to be friends with your neighbors. If that happens, that’s phenomenal. But we do know that there are so many ways our neighbors can help us. There just wasn’t an easy way for us to connect with them. It seems a little strange today if you get up out of your house and you walk across the street, and you ring your neighbor’s doorbell and you say hey, how are you doing, I’m your neighbor. And it’s too bad that it feels that way, but with this app NextDoor, you can break the ice in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re invading someone’s privacy, is focused on getting things done versus just socializing. And little by little, you get to know the people around you. And you can build that sense of community that’s been missing.
HH: I think this is a great project if it comes with safety attached, and I want to talk to you about that now, because I would love to do a poll of Americans, when was the last time you borrowed something from your neighbor, because in Warren, Ohio from 1956-1974 when I lived there, in three different houses, I knew neighbors on both sides, my parents did, and it was not uncommon to get, whether it’s a sugar or a lawnmower or a bolt screw, well you know, a bolt cutter. Whatever you needed, you went next door to the Jaycons, and that was my first house, or you went next door and talked to, you know, Richard next door, or you went next door and talk to the Guinary’s. Whatever it was, you knew everybody and you went and got what you needed, and you kept an eye on people’s kids. You got babysitters that set…nowadays, in my neighborhoods on both coasts, when crime happens, I get a note from the police. The crimes happen nearby, but no details. How does NextDoor make you safer?
NT: Well, there’s this funny term that we use in Silicon Valley, and it’s crowdsourcing. And the idea is that if you engage the crowd, or if you get a group of people focused on something, you can all help each other versus sort of individually be focused on a task. And NextDoor is a great crowdsourcing app when it comes to crime, because if you think about the old days and this notion of neighborhood watch, we would get together with our neighbors, and because one neighbor was looking out for the neighborhood, or two neighbors or three neighbors or four neighbors, all the neighbors would feel safe. And now you add technology to that where we can spread information with a few taps of a button, and it really starts to accelerate. So whether you see something suspicious happening in your neighborhood, or an actual crime has occurred and you want to alert your neighbors, before, you might need to know their phone numbers, you might need to put up some posting that you actually nailed to the telephone poll. You might have to walk around the neighborhood knocking on doors, telling people. Now, you just tap out the message, you hit send, and the entire neighborhood knows about it. There was an interesting article that came out a couple of months ago where they went into prisons, and they interviewed criminals on what are the things homeowners should do to prevent themselves from having break-ins. And one of the things that the criminals said was you should join this thing called NextDoor, because we know to avoid neighborhoods that have strong NextDoor communities, because we know that all the people in that neighborhood will be able to quickly communicate. I mean, we’re talking about an app that’s now used by over 70% of the neighborhoods in the U.S., 137,000 neighborhoods. And so this is the way to get everyone on the same page really quickly. And when it comes to crime, that’s critical.
HH: Now Nirav, and I’m talking with Nirav Tolia, co-founder and CEO of NextDoor.com, I’m looking at NextDoor.com right now, and it says discover your neighborhood, over 137,000 neighborhoods across the country use NextDoor. Enter your street address, apartment number, enter your email address, find your neighborhood. When you do that, you know, if you get people to do that, they will get connected. But people look at that and in this day and age, they worry about identity theft, they worry about what is Nirav going to do with my information, how does this make me vulnerable, or does it make me stronger. And you know that that’s the greatest impediment to people signing into this. And if Jenny is involved, I can’t tell you how much I trust you because Jenny’s involved. What do you do to get people to trust that this is a good thing for their life?
NT: You know, it’s a great question. And we do live in a world where people are increasingly guarding their personal information. So it’s not, it’s not something that we ask for lightly. But the premise of NextDoor is that it’s private and it’s secure. And what that means is none of the discussions are available online. They’re only available to people who actually live in the neighborhood. And the way that we ensure that is when you come to the service, you have to put in your address so that we know what neighborhood you’re in. And once we know what neighborhood you’re in, you actually have to verify that you live there. There are a number of ways that we can help you verify. The simplest is we can send you a postcard. I mean, again, it seems like a very quaint concept, getting together with your neighbors. And some of the things we do to ensure that it’s safe and private and secure also seems quaint, like sending you a postcard to make sure that you are who you say you are. But we take these steps, because ultimately, we want to create a foundation of trust. We want to create a foundation where you feel safe sharing the sorts of things online that you would feel safe sharing offline if you’re sitting on your front porch. So we absolutely will never ever, ever do anything with your personal information. We won’t sell it to advertisers. We won’t look at it ourselves. Those are sort of the key factors that we have to really embrace as a company to be successful, but I think the more important thing is by creating that barrier to entry, by invoking a little bit of friction in the signup process, which is so counterintuitive for internet services, we…
HH: We lost you there, Nirav. You’re coming back to me? Okay, we’ll wait for him to call back in, because I’m fascinated by this. I was, I’ve been fascinated about it since Jenny told me about it, and I have been waiting to go back to D.C. I didn’t want to enter into it in California when I was just about to go back to D.C. and do it, so I want to go back to D.C. and enroll in it in my new neighborhood, because I know my current neighborhood in California. I’ve been there for 20-plus years. I know everybody up and down the street throughout the neighborhood. But when I go to a new neighborhood, I’m going to look very much forward to finding out how it is that it operates. And so do we have Nirav back? Okay. Nirav, welcome back. I was just telling people I’m moving into a new neighborhood, and I’m really going to try this out when I go back to Virginia next week. But I was telling folks last night as I was describing NextDoor.com, it sounds like an invitation to the Wonder Years neighborhood that I used to watch the television show about the Wonder Years, the 60s, when people actually did do this. In 136,000 neighborhoods, why can’t Facebook just come in and take you out and do the same thing?
NT: You know, it’s a great idea, and Facebook is a giant. They’re a juggernaut, and it’s a company that we think about all the time, and frankly admire as well as fear. But we’re not in 136 neighborhoods, we’re in 136,000.
NT: So at this point, over 70% of the neighborhoods in the country, we’ve made enough progress, and we are a different enough product that you don’t go to Facebook to do the sorts of things that you come to NextDoor to do. Facebook is about people you know. It’s about your friends. Facebook is about self-expression, sharing photos, putting up status updates. NextDoor is about getting things done. It’s about staying in the know. It’s about being a good neighbor. So while the two apps may look similar because of the interface, they both have news feeds, they both feel like a social media service, they’re actually for very different things. It’s a little bit like Facebook and Linked In being social media platforms, but being very different. Even Facebook and Twitter are pretty different. The most different are Facebook and NextDoor, because again, NextDoor is about your neighbors, not your friends.
HH: Well, I’ll tell you, Nirav, I’m going to be back in D.C. a week from today, and I’m going to be your test case. I’m going to immediately enroll, and we’ve been there since April of last year, but we aren’t really connected in the neighborhood, because we’ve been mostly in California. And I will keep you posted on this. Congratulations. NextDoor sounds like it could actually be a terrific thing for communities across the United States. My hat’s off to you. Thank you, my friend.
End of interview.