When I first heard about Refresh, I kind of rolled my eyes. I love CRM and contact management applications, and many of them sound better in practice than they deliver in practice. I figured that Refresh would fall short as many other well-intentioned products in the space had in the past. But Refresh is now part of my daily routine and I wanted to write a short blog post as to why. I have to disclose that I am not an investor in Refresh, but I am an avid user of the product.
For those of you who are not familiar with the product, it’s fairly straightforward. You give Refresh access to your calendar and a few other data stores and it provides you with insights about the people you are about to meet and encourages you to write notes about the outcome of those meetings. That’s the product in a nutshell.
For background, I’ve long wanted a lightweight product that would deliver intelligence about the people I am about to meet. To be a more complete CRM system, the product would also have to deliver a meaningful and easy-to-act-upon post meeting nudge to augment the record about that person based on what we discussed. In the web-only world, it was hard to make that process feel low friction. But with mobile and push notifications, there is a new opportunity to rethink products in this category. Refresh is by no means the first product to tackle this problem, but it’s one of the few I’ve seen that justifies its existence by solving a few of the core problems I’ve seen with other products. I’ll list the challenges below:
1. If I can get all of the relevant information about a pending meeting from a single source, there’s no need for an aggregator. Simply put, if all your product does is show me the last 5 tweets that a given person has sent, I can get that from Twitter. To be truly useful and informative, a product in this space has to show me information that is somewhat costly for me to acquire as a lazy person and relevant to a first or follow-up meeting. Refresh has a broad reach and consistently delivers interesting and useful information to me.
2. If the aggregator shows me useless or extraneous information, it’s just noise. As someone who meets a lot of people, I’m looking for a service that delivers useful information. Showing me Facebook photos of a new contact and his or her kids is not actionable – you sound like a stalker bringing that stuff up in a first meeting. However, showing shared interests, past employers, and other elements of common ground is useful – and the product presents it in such a way that I can pick and choose which elements to discuss and which are better left unsaid.
3. In order to get me to contribute and augment records, I need to see both public and private benefits to doing so. The hardest thing of all for any system like Refresh is to get the user to contribute net new data – important notes or reminders from a meeting that will live with that contact record. I think Refresh does this well – they ping you after the meeting with a simple reminder / ask to augment a record with anything you want to remember for a next meeting. They do it in a very low pressure way – the product encourages you to augment records but doesn’t make you feel like a loser or bad person if you choose not to do so. I haven’t yet gotten comfortable with posting public notes (feedback or info that’s visible to others), but maybe I will once I figure out the social contract around that.
I have, though, been using Refresh to make private notes about people. Mostly I’m using Refresh to keep track of people who are considering job changes, looking to hire, or considering hiring people. A few seconds of notes gives me a good gist of what we discussed and Refresh is great for that.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of product could disrupt LinkedIn given their massive data advantage over any upstart. I’m not saying that Refresh will topple LinkedIn, but if there is a company or product that could ultimately chip away at LinkedIn’s dominant data advantage on professional information, I believe it will be something that intelligently reads your calendar and understands who you meet and gets you, as a user, to give the system some information on the quality of that interaction.
If you use products like Refresh and have thoughts, I welcome you to leave a comment below or send me your thoughts on Twitter @chudson.