The idea of sorting out your contacts, and discovering new ones that are really helpful, has always been a complete nightmare. It's distributed across platforms, and each one has their own use case: LinkedIn might be best for getting a warm introduction to a company, while NextDoor would help you find a new plumber.
But there's a good chance you might not be connected to the right person from your alma mater that could make that warm introduction, and a recommendation for a plumber is probably always best from one of your friends. So there's a new startup called Trimian, backed by Spark Capital and including another laundry list of investors that we'll have at the bottom of the post, with an app called mia Contacts that's raised $3 million in order to create a smart contacts app that figures out just how to get to the right person you need to contact.
"What we initially thought was, it's a network," CEO Amit Kumar said. "It's yet another version, it's a graph — people are connected — why not think of it as the next Facebook. But the more we talked to people about it, it turned out that was not something people wanted. I already have networks, so we stepped back and said, 'is that what we're after? Is the notion here people have to join another network?'"
That's why Kumar calls mia Contacts more of a utility rather than a social network. When you start up the app, mia Contacts will pick up your contacts and then start divvying them into categories like your university, your previous jobs, or other categories like cities. Over time those categories will get more and more specific as a function of the way you tag your contacts, and also the way other people with the same contacts tag them. It's kind of designed to be a game, with the tagging function showing up prominently in the app once it's up and running — right under the search bar to figure out who you need to contact.
The whole graph starts to show up as a series of bubbles that wobble around in a kind way where a designer clearly got excited about the idea of a more playful experience when it comes to contacts. Rather than trying to dig up someone you know from a larger array of social networks or flipping through your contacts on your phone (which you probably haven't cleaned up since your first smartphone circa 2010), mia Contacts aims to get you the right person right away.
"We're converting some minutes being spent inefficiently and making them more efficient," Kumar said. "If you're looking for a plumber, you're on Yelp and it's inefficient. We're taking all these wasted minutes because the needs and wants aren't matching up. Same thing with LinkedIn, if I'm looking for someone at Stitch Fix, I can find them on LinkedIn, but the real person I would have wanted to contact doesn't exist. Are you looking for a mentor, or would you like to mentor."
The idea came from trying to tap Kumar's alumni group, who came from Yahoo running Yahoo Small Business, and clearly knew how to make his pitch for the app in a very person-running-Yahoo-Small-Business way. He came to Yahoo through the acquisition of his previous company Lexity, which Yahoo bought in 2013. Kumar and his team have been working on Trimian for almost three years.
Of course, it remains to be seen if mia Contacts will end up being the right way — and tap the right user behavior and psychology — to build a smart contacts app. It's going to require some participation from the whole network. That means it has to have people that have the contacts, to begin with, and people who are willing to play that game where they tag potential contacts. And there's a graveyard and a lot of examples of the huge challenges players in this space face, like Tinder acquiring Humin in 2016 (and clearly nothing huge panning out since then). To clear those hurdles, Kumar once again went back to the utility argument and some of the steps the startup has taken to make sure people know that it isn't another social network.
"Our primary category in the app store used to be social networking, now it's utilities," he said. "Messaging, for example, became much less important. Initially we had a lot of focus on chatting with people within the context of Mia. You can still do that but we don't push it. That's where messaging for Mia makes sense. We muted all that functionality. And this should work without an internet connection and have all the data locally. If I search for people who might have some connections in DC I should be able to call that. A lot of work has been done here to take care of the use case."
Here's the rest of the list of investors, for those who are curious: Josh Elman of Greylock, GGV capital's Jeff Richards, Esther Dyson, Square product engineering lead Gokul Rajaram, Vishal Makhijani, Jeff Bonforte, Tapan Bhat, Tuoc Luong, Greg Badros, BD Goel, Bharat Vemuri, and Gordon Chaffee (Google). (Again, a bit of a laundry list there.)
This article originally appeared on TechCrunch.