Irish challenger to LinkedIn attracts funding from Silicon Valley stars

Polywork social network allows users blend the personal and the professional

Polywork founder Peter Johnston, whose start-up has raised €11 million from a who’s who of Silicon Valley

Polywork founder Peter Johnston, whose start-up has raised €11 million from a who’s who of Silicon Valley

 

Irish-founded professional social network Polywork has raised $13 million (€11 million) from a who’s who of leading tech entrepreneurs and investors, including Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison.

The Series A funding round, which comes just three months after the company secured $3.5 million in seed investment, is to be used to boost staff numbers and invest in its highly touted platform.

Founded by Carrickfergus-born Peter Johnston just last year, Polywork is a professional social network that enables people to share important highlights more creatively. Essentially, it lets users share who they are, what they do, and what they want to collaborate on.

Polywork provides “badges” to highlight users’ personal and professional skills and interests rather than have them just outline their job title or educational achievements. They also have the option to add individual projects and accomplishments to career timelines.

Twitter meets LinkedIn

There has been huge interest in Polywork since it went live in invite-only beta in late April with some of the hype mirroring that seen with Clubhouse early last year. Some users have described the social network as” Twitter meets LinkedIn, given its ability to be both informal and professional.

Interestingly, Polywork has decided to do away with like buttons, visible follower counts and so on so as not to turn things into a popularity contest.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), the well-known US venture capital firm that has $18.8 billion in assets under management, led the funding round for Polywork with participation from among others, the founders of Stripe, Instagram and Reddit.

These join the founders of Paypal, YouTube, Twitch in backing the company. Other investors include Caffeinated Capital, which led the first fundraise for Clubhouse, and 20VC, a new $140 million fund founded by Harry Stebbings who previously co-founded StrideVC.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Johnston said Polywork is about bringing the resumé into the modern world.

“LinkedIn put the CV online but did it in an analogue way where they didn’t change the format of it. It was all still about what your job title was, where you went to school and so on. I think Polywork is the first actual digital resume that allows people to share more granular updates about their lives.

“It allows them to focus on what is important to them personally, be that staring up a new podcast, homeschooling their children or whatever else,” he said.

Personal

“Job titles have been the primary means by which people have been identified for the past 20 years or so but how relevant are they now when the way we live and work has changed so dramatically.

“Early users told us that LinkedIn has created this culture where they felt they couldn’t bring in the personal for fear of it being deemed unprofessional but what makes people interesting and good people to employ is all the quirky stuff about them,” Mr Johnston added.

It was a change in working patterns that led the entrepreneur to establish Polywork. Mr Johnstone previously founded Kalo, which raised about $30 million from backers such as Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures. That company, formerly known as Lystable, had developed a workflow management platform aimed at businesses needing to manage freelancers.

However, when the pandemic struck, the company struggled and from its ashes, Polywork has arisen.

“We took a lot of what people loved in Kalo, which was the ability of individuals to tell their story better, and have rolled that into Polywork and it is exciting how well it has been received,” said Mr Johnston. “We’re obviously aware of the hype surrounding Polywork and that helped attract users and investors but we’re laser- focused on building a long-term business.”