EXPLORATORY RESEARCH // SURVEY DESIGN // PRODUCT DESIGN
Team None—independent study
Partners Unaffiliated with LinkedIn
Timeline 2 Weeks
Location New York
Enhancing the way we connect and build together
With over 645 million users in 200+ countries worldwide, there’s truly no bigger professional network than LinkedIn. As a LinkedIn power user, I’ve used it for getting career advice from industry experts and finding job postings—no doubt, it’s a tool that has provided many growth opportunities not only for myself, but for millions others.
But, of course, LinkedIn has room for improvement. Most people seem to use LinkedIn as a virtual Rolodex, updating their relatively static resume every now and then, occasionally scrolling through their feed to read about some distant acquaintance’s new internship. Interestingly enough, LinkedIn’s mission is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” While LinkedIn does an excellent job of bringing people together, I began to wonder how it could help professionals become more successful in the entrepreneurial sphere in particular.
Inspired by my personal experiences in entrepreneurship, I saw an opportunity of creating a team-building component of LinkedIn that fits into the current web and mobile app architecture. As a place to find potential cofounders or team members for future projects, a LinkedIn “incubator” can foster risk-taking and innovation among users who are in need of talent they can trust and build with. I decided to embark on a two-week, personal project to further explore this concept.
Within a timeframe of two weeks, I collected and analyzed data from 22 participants from around the world. I uncovered key barriers and needs as well as built a roadmap for concrete improvements and research efforts.
When it comes to developing and launching entrepreneurial projects, two heads are better than one. In the last two decades, most major start-ups have been a team effort, which puts the entrepreneurial team at the heart of any new venture.
However, building a team is a challenging and stressful task in and of itself, as the vast majority of new ventures fail due to people-related obstacles. Scientists have been able to identify several predictors of maintaining effective teams—e.g., diversity, having industry-specific experience, good communication skills, a sense of shared purpose and vision. Still, I knew there was more to discover regarding this team formation process. I always see my peers and colleagues compete in teamwork events, such as hackathons, new venture challenges, and case competitions. And so, I wanted to conduct foundational research on how individuals go about finding and choosing cofounders and teammates for such risky endeavors.
Reflecting on secondary research and my personal experiences, I gathered a series of big questions:
How and where do people look for team members?
What questions do people ask to build trust with a potential team member?
How can LinkedIn provide a foundation for people to comfortably and reliably find team members?
I hypothesized that adding an entrepreneurial space on a platform like LinkedIn will be a useful feature for passionate individuals who are interested in finding teammates in their professional network as it will save them time and energy. This will also increase LinkedIn’s user engagement rate overall by creating an exciting environment for collaboration.
I sought to better understand entrepreneurship-minded users’ habits, likes and dislikes, challenges, goals, and motivations with respect to finding teammates. To do this, I outlined the following tasks for myself:
Collect data on user goals, needs, and pain points
Develop concept solutions
Before thinking about possible solutions, I designed a brief survey on Google Forms to gather data on people’s past experiences with finding teammates and/or cofounders for their entrepreneurial projects. I chose to use an electronic survey as a means of gathering a mix of quantitative and qualitative data because I wanted to reach a relatively large sample size from diverse realms (e.g., professionals on LinkedIn, hackathon participants, university students). To see a live version of my survey, please click here.
I focused my questions on two core issues:
People’s journey in finding new teammates for entrepreneurial projects — Do they usually reach out to friends and family? Strangers? What’s their current approach? How can it be improved?
People’s experiences with LinkedIn’s Career Advice feature — Have they tried it? What did they like/dislike? Do users have similar thought processes when looking for career advice as opposed to finding a teammate?
For recruitment, I reached out to individuals involved in entrepreneurship on university campuses and to those on Reddit (e.g., subreddits dedicated to entrepreneurship, LinkedIn, etc.). Instead of asking people a general question about their feelings toward entrepreneurship, I narrowed it down to one particular experience they could recall from recent memory so that people could share more concrete details. Based on responses from 22 people, I synthesized the following core patterns:
Goals & Needs
Over 70% of respondents have been involved in the formation of their teams (either directly or indirectly). Whether they were competing in a hackathon or launching a new venture, the vast majority of people gravitated toward their classmates and close/mutual friends for collaboration. People are forgiving if a potential teammate has limited industry-level experience or if they don’t have shared history working together. Ultimately, their primary goal is to find those who demonstrate shared passions and personality compatibility.
I also discovered patterns in the barriers individuals faced to building their teams, mainly having limited sources to find people, being able to build trust, and immediately knowing people’s skillsets and expectations. For instance, many respondents had problems related to getting in touch with committed and passionate people, which made team-building feel almost impossible. Informed by these findings, I created an affinity diagram of commonly received feedback.
Nearly 80% of my respondents said that they are active LinkedIn users. However, most people rely on LinkedIn for maintaining a virtual resume and building a professional network. Rarely do they post images or statuses about their professional growth — users hesitate to share their thoughts with their network, suggesting that people currently don’t feel comfortable with directly engaging with others on LinkedIn. Finally, despite the fact that my sample consisted of mostly students, only approximately 18% of people knew about LinkedIn Career Advice. And even if they had heard of it before, no one has tried using it for mentorship.
This is an interesting finding. According to LinkedIn’s official blog, they discovered that “more than 80% of LinkedIn members want to have a mentor or be one to others.” But, taken together, there may be a mismatch between what users say they want vs. what users actually do.
Based on secondary research and from my survey responses, many individuals are interested in pursuing entrepreneurial projects, but they have trouble finding the right people with whom they can build. Utilizing one’s personal networks is common. People want to limit the uncertainty and risk they will take, and searching among familiar faces increases a sense of safety and control. However, by limiting one’s search to known people, one also limits the opportunity for finding other potential partners from larger circles.
This is where LinkedIn can serve the needs of such users. One of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face is having the ability to identify contacts who share the same interests and passions. Similar to how LinkedIn Career Advice is set up, a LinkedIn “incubator” can help people find and connect with potential teammates for new projects and ventures.
A specific list of recommendations may include the following:
Build not just for short-term connection, but also for long-term engagement — Lead entrepreneurs look for people who demonstrate shared passions and personality compatibility. Whether it’s through brief video introductions, images, or GIFs, users should be able to access a more anthropomorphized profile page with helpful information and content about their interests, past work, teamwork style, and personality—after all, self-disclosure breeds trust. Plus, former teammates can publicly review one another after finished projects, so that future teammates can see those reviews and take them into consideration before making any decisions regarding collaboration.
Close the physical gap when possible — Through an Events function, organizations can host entrepreneurial events (e.g., networking meetups, venture competitions, hackathons) for users to quickly register and mingle with other attendees beforehand. Users can also specify whether they want to team up with those in their close degree networks or colleagues/alumni from their school. By meeting people at such events via LinkedIn, users can experience the platform both digitally and physically, improving retention, trust, and loyalty.
Share stories that inspire — People want to be featured and get attention; there are audience members who are curious about ideas and teams that help make a difference in the world. By producing blog posts and social media content that promote success stories, users can learn concrete ways in which they can explore the LinkedIn community, accessing a wide range of knowledge, skills, and resources to reach their goals.
Lead research efforts to add a more human touch overall — Why do users currently hesitate to actively engage with their professional networks on LinkedIn? UX researchers should investigate the social, aesthetic, and information interface factors that can boost cognitive and affective trust between users and the platform.
Special thanks to everyone who were willing to share and take my survey.