An ex-trader who couldn’t resist the lure of entrepreneurship has created an app to help serial networkers gain a competitive advantage, and to try to address the 25% of business traveller’s time that is spent idle.
turnleft, currently available for iOS, is an app that helps its users “build strong relationships at home and away by connecting with others around the world, identifying and creating business opportunities and expanding their visibility to a global audience”, according to its founder Oliver J Stevens.
Stevens graduated from the University of Warwick in 2008 with a degree in Computer and Business Studies, becoming a financial markets trader, but after 7 years in the City, gave in to his entrepreneurial instincts, and decided to act upon an idea that had been nagging at him for the best part of 2 years.
The desire to network with investors and discuss his ideas played a key role in the development of turnleft; Stevens realised that he needed a better way to discover the business contacts that were relevant to his needs, and having discovered them, a better way to find convenient ways to connect with them at mutually convenient times and locations – in June 2015, he successfully raised the funds he needed to launch the business, and in October he left the city to concentrate full-time on turnleft.
Stevens says turnleft has 2 main aims; firstly, its “nearby” function enables users of the app to identify and connect with people around them, either locally or during free time when on overseas business trips.
Secondly, the app allows users to make better use of their time when they are travelling, by letting fellow users know beforehand where they will be, meaning they can connect and arrange to meet with potential business contacts who are relevant to their professional needs ahead of time, and perhaps crucially, ahead of any potential business rivals.
Before turnleft, says Stevens, “people would have chance encounters at airports, in hotel lobbies or at conferences who they would connect with afterwards.” turnleft, he says, “eliminates coincidence and empowers them to forge new connections with people that matter, well ahead of their journeys”.
The app allows users to upload their LinkedIn profiles and browse through the profiles of other users – once the details of an upcoming trip have been added, turnleft will show the user other people who will be in the same place at the same time, and enable them to connect and exchange messages, which Stevens believes “will heighten individual productivity and deliver wider business gains.”
“there was once some kind of cachet attached to spontaneously meeting someone whilst travelling who subsequently becomes a valuable business contact – ideas are shared and deals get done”, he explains, “but that was a time of yesteryear – people now have to take the chance to take chance and coincidence out of the equation – and seize the opportunity of tomorrow, today!”
It’s certainly true that the digital age and the ubiquity of smartphone or similar devices means that there is no longer any excuse for not being better prepared, or indeed for being idle.
According to an old adage, “there’s the quick and the disappointed”; meetings planned days, weeks or even months in advance will surely take precedence over clumsy attempts to corner somebody at a conference, the thinking goes, scarcely even knowing whether the person is a valuable business contact or not. Those doing so will run the risk of appearing old-fashioned – a social crime that becomes more heinous by the day, it seems.
Succeeding in business, Stevens quotes Richard Branson, “is all about making connections”. Twas ever thus, but what has changed are the tools at our disposal to make said connections.
What stands turnleft in good stead is an attractive, intuitive and simple to use UX and UI, which makes minimal demands on busy professional’s time, but is still capable of delivering valuable, unexpected, convenient opportunities to engage and connect with other professionals, with whom one instantly has something in common; the ability to leverage a disruptive new piece of tech to stay ahead of the curve and gain that all-important competitive advantage.
Intriguingly, although there are a plethora of social apps which attempt to provide similar services, essentially displaying one’s social connections on a kind of geo-location dependent radar, with London based Sup, founded by ex-Googler Rich Pleeth, amongst those leading the charge, there appear to be far fewer business facing apps providing a similar service.
Granted, nearly all global conferences of sufficient size are likely to develop their own apps to allow attendees to search and discover potentially useful contacts, however, it is often the case that superior contacts are made after hours, at the hotel, or during interminable periods of downtime.
By replacing the serendipitous with the pre-planned, Stevens and his team, Joseph Piret, the design lead, and Ewelina Mako, i/c marketing, plan to digitally disrupt the chance encounter, making it work in an age that is terminally time-poor.
Much will depend on traction – the app won’t work if there is nobody signed up to the platform, but like any good entrepreneur, Stevens has built it, believing they will come.
And why wouldn’t they? turnleft has the potential to add another layer of intrigue and excitement to the modern business trip – and gives the compulsive networker an opportunity to tap-tap-swipe their way to the top.