US unicorn Nextdoor brings community-focused social media startup Down Under

Nextdoor Nirav Tolia

Nextdoor co-founder Nirav Tolia. Source: Supplied.

American local social network startup Nextdoor is heading Down Under, spreading its digital platform to get neighbours talking to each other.

Nextdoor is a social network dedicated to local communities, allowing people living in a certain neighbourhood to connect, communicate and arrange anything from street parties and barbecues to search parties for lost pets.

Founded in San Francisco in 2010, Nextdoor has since raised $US278 million ($393.95 million) in funding from the likes of Greylock Partners which counts LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as an investor  Benchmark and Google Ventures. It’s currently valued at $US1.56 billion ($2.21 billion).

Chief executive Nirav Tolia launched the company along with co-founder Sarah Leary, and while he won’t reveal exact figures he says they now have employees “in the hundreds”, and revenue that is “growing very nicely”.

However, it wasn’t until fairly recently that the startup began expanding on an international scale. It started with the Netherlands and the UK in 2016, and launched in Germany in June 2017.

This year, it has launched in France, Italy and Spain, before adding Australia to the list this month.

“Building connections in community is a global need,” Tolia says.

And Aussies are “a friendly lot”, he adds.

In fact, before the startup launched here, Nextdoor’s research found that 70% of Australians surveyed want to find ways to help their neighbours. Some 77% said they want to have deeper relationships with them.

While a lot of technology companies focus on scaling, Nextdoor is “a local company”, Tolia says.

“Local is something that does not scale easily,” he adds.

“For local to work it has to be authentic,” and to do that, the startup has to have “boots on the ground”, he says.

“It’s a huge challenge, but it’s also a very interesting challenge,” Tolia says.

While there will be similarities between neighbourhoods in the US and those in Australia, there will also be differences in terms of the ways people use the product.

“We have to make sure we give it a local flavour,” Tolia says.

That’s partly why it’s taken the startup so long to embark on a journey of international growth, he explains.

“We are the company that would rather do it high-quality than fast,” he says.

“We’re perfectly satisfied being the tortoise, not the hare,” he adds.

When asked if there’s a trick to raising so much capital, Tolia replies: “I wish there was”.

It comes down to hard work, he adds, but there is a three-pronged approach he suggests.

“As vividly as possible describe your vision,” he says.

For founders, the vision is their own creation, “it’s in your head, in many times it’s also in your heart”.

However “if you can’t articulate it [investors] are not going to understand it”.

But that’s just the first part, Tolia says.

“You need to backup that vision with a proof point,” he explains.

“It’s difficult to do, because sometimes you’re in a chick and egg situation in order to have the proof you have to raise the money.”

However, even without capital, founders have to be able to show some proof points.

“Even if you show them in very small ways, investors understand how to extrapolate that,” he says.

Finally, Tolia says “you have to have the right team”.

While how to do this is “a whole other conversation”, Tolia says there has to be more to it than hiring people you get along with, or hiring people who are talented.

Tolia hires “people I like, respect and trust”, he says.

For entrepreneurs, success is not a straight line, he says.

“You will absolutely experience adversity, it is completely a given,” he adds.

“But in order to do anything well you have to learn a lot … and learning is sometimes best when your failing.”

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