Like most good ideas, Dan Wolchonok’s venture came out a personal need. While on his way to a networking mixer for prospective students of Yale Business School, Dan thought, “I wish I could know about these people I’m going to meet. Who’s a Red Sox fan, who’s into tech, what did they just tweet about?”
Dan knew he was on to something bigger than just a networking solution. “I could see how this was applicable beyond the world of business school meetings. This could be really useful when applying for jobs, when trying to close a deal,” he told me. “Since so much of business is social, it’s really important to find out what makes the person you’re meeting with tick, that way you can personalize your approach and your conversation.”
A year later, PrepWork is a reality. The service, which is free to use, aims to “make you the most prepared person in the room,” said Dan of his mission. Sure, you could sit at your computer Googling your next contact to find out what they’ve been up to recently, you could scour their LinkedIn profile to see where they’ve worked, where you’re connected and where they studied. And then you could head over to their Twitter feed to try and garner what quirky topics they may be into for conversation starters. But what are the chances you’ll discover that your next prospect is a Manchester United fan just like you are?
PrepWork does all the, well, prep work, for you. Instead of hiring a personal assistant to spend hours of time verifying all this background info and compiling a dossier, simply forward an email to PrepWork with your prospect’s email address and you get a tidy, easy-to-read executive summary. Another way to use the service is to sync it with your Google calendar, Outlook or iCal, Twitter and LinkedIn. The data gathered is strictly garnered from those same sources: Google, Twitter and LinkedIn. “I wanted to make sure to only get information that people willingly put out there. I didn’t want to cross the line into Facebook or violate any privacy issues that would make people uncomfortable,” Dan said of his choice of participating platforms.
So how well does it actually work, outside of the sales pitch? Ahead of my chat with Dan, I signed up for PrepWork and allowed the site to sync with my Google Calendar, Twitter and LinkedIn. The next morning I found an email waiting in my inbox with detailed highlights of Dan’s latest blog posts, tweets and our shared professional contacts (I was surprised we had some beyond Yesware!). But what I found even cooler was when a week later an unexpected email landed in my mailbox with details about my next phone meeting. I was pleasantly surprised to find all the information there, and walked into my call more prepared than I had planned to be.
What’s truly an added value about PrepWork is that it allows you to connect with the person on the other side of the table or phone on a more human level—an interesting deliverable for an automated service. By providing an insight into what this person is about, what they find interesting on Twitter, what they blog about, it allows you to frame the conversation from the beginning in a more familiar way. And since sales, or moving people, is all about forging connections, PrepWork encourages you to do so with ease and confidence.
Which begs the question: is Dan ready to scale? For now, he’s focusing on perfecting his product and enjoying the mentorship and support of Yale’s Entrepreneurial Institute. As of now, has no exact competitors. Except for that efficient personal assistant that is. “People think that they’re walking into a meeting prepared, but they could be so much better prepared,” he said. To ensure that he’s delivering the best PrepWork that he can, Dan is looking at his customer acquisition channels and growing the staff at his company. Currently at 150 beta users, he’s experiencing high growth since launching in October and he needs some engineering help.
As with everything else about his startup, Dan is particular about how he grows and how he hires. “I haven’t found the right fit yet,” he told me of his search for more tech help. But he’s definitely looking to make PrepWork his full-time job once he graduates from business school this spring. “This has the potential to be massive. It’s going to go far beyond a calendar extension or a LinkedIn plugin. The core of PrepWork is what are the common interests that align any two people? The intelligence behind this is what I’m interested in—and I’m so excited to see where that leads me.” So are we.