Sales & Marketing Startups

Industry Specific Professional Networks Get Funding As New Startups Help Remote Workers ‘Find Their Tribe’

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When Bravado founder Sahil Mansuri moved into a sales career after working in politics, he was surprised at the lack of training and support for sales professionals.

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He observed that the vast majority of salespeople weren’t given adequate training, leading to a high turnover rate in companies. And for those who wanted to pursue a career in the field—which can be extremely lucrative in industries like tech—there wasn’t much guidance, or a community where they could connect.

“The concept of finding your tribe and the concept of finding like-minded people that you can kind of grow your career with is something that’s extremely compelling,” Mansuri said. “That’s something everybody would want to have access to.” 

So, he built Bravado, a professional community for salespeople who want to level up, find jobs and get career support. 

This week Bravado announced a $26 million Series B. It’s not alone in raising investor dollars for professional niche communities. Chief, a network for women leaders, announced a $100 million Series B in March, and Doximity, a digital platform for medical professionals, went public last year raising nearly $606 million. 

The companies are among several that formed and gained attention during a time when employees are increasingly scattered; this new remote-work world has impacted the professional development and mentorship opportunities that come with working in an office.

Overall, VC-backed companies in the professional networking space raised more than $308 million in 2021–nearly triple the amount raised in 2020, Crunchbase data shows.

Communities have always existed

The concept of a community for an industry group isn’t new. The National Labor Union formed in 1866, and since then unions have become commonplace across several industries: SAG-AFTRA for those in television and radio, Communications Workers of America for those in areas like media, and the National Football League Players Association for NFL players, to name a few.

Additionally, there are industry groups and associations that provide training, host conferences and represent professionals in certain fields. 

But the professional networking world changed when LinkedIn entered the picture in 2002 and took off. The company formed a digital professional network. LinkedIn also spans across industries.

“LinkedIn was here for finding a job,” Mansuri said. “It was basically: Build your digital profile, update it when you’re looking for a job, people reach out  to you and try to poach you. … it can help you find a job but it can’t help you be successful at your job.”

But more niche communities can help with that, whether they’re industry-specific like Bravado or focused on a group of people spanning industries, such as Chief’s focus on women leaders.

With the new specialized digital networks for professionals, there’s more of a niche whether you’re a designer (join Dribbble) or a developer (join Stack Overflow, which Prosus acquired for $1.8 billion last year).

The way Mansuri sees it, each profession will have a group, and there will only be one per industry. It’s a “winner takes all” kind of market, Mansuri said, which makes it an attractive investment.

And with how quickly work is done has changed because of the pandemic, more people are looking to lean on communities outside of the workplace for support. Bravado, for example, grew from 10,000 sales professionals on its platform in January 2021 to more than 200,000 currently.

The WFH effect

There’s a greater need for these specialized communities particularly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent many employees to work from home indefinitely. 

“The workplace used to be so much of your social sphere,” said Carolyn Childers, who serves as CEO of Chief.  “How you built relationships and connections. And now as more people are working from home, the workplaces continue to shift. I think people are tapping into this because there’s a broader need for community that was once solely filled by the office.”

Childers and co-founder Lindsay Kaplan founded Chief in 2019 after they noticed the number of women they could lean on for mentorship dwindled as the two grew in their own careers.

“There’s the old adage that it’s lonely at the top,” Childers said. “It’s lonely at the top for women earlier because they’re often the only women in the room.”

Chief’s community, comprised of women at the vice president level and above, now includes around 15,000 members. More than 60,000 women are on the waitlist. Chief charges a membership fee, and more than 70 percent of members are sponsored by companies. There are 5.5 million women in the U.S. who are at the VP-level and above, meaning a more than $30 billion market for Chief, per Childers.

“People are wanting professional communities they can tap into to help navigate these changes that are so rapidly happening,” Childers said.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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