The COVID-19 pandemic has already triggered a number of layoffs across industries, from travel companies to scooter startups. But, as a gray footnote to all tragedies, we’re starting to see innovation pop through the cracks -- and hopefully help some people, as well.
Back in November, Alexander Taub and Michael Schonfeld launched Upstream, a social media platform for professionals, to a small group of roughly 800 beta testers. The goal was to give folks a place to network and ask for introductions in a more digitally friendly, mobile-first platform than LinkedIn groups. The company counts Hunter Walk of Homebrew, Olivia Benjamin of Bain Capital Ventures and D'Arcy Coolican of Andreessen Horowitz as beta users. The plan was to launch publicly this summer.
However, as companies have cut staff, the co-founders are launching Upstream to the public earlier than expected, with a specific goal to discuss layoffs from COVID-19.
“When the coronavirus hit, we were like, oh my god we're gonna have crazy unemployment,” Taub tells me. “It’s one thing to have a recession depression, but there’s also going to be a zero demand curve because like, we can’t go outside. So this is going to be bad.”
As a result, Taub decided to double down on something he was already seeing happen organically on the platform: job hiring and role recommendations.
Once a user signs up to the platform, they can join the COVID-19 group. They can then choose what they want to post: looking to hire; looking for a job; or looking to help. Being able to only originate these three types of posts, noted Taub, is part of the reason Upstream is different from a Slack group or LinkedIn.
Once a note is posted, users can directly message other users in the group to follow up on a job posting or warm intro. When I asked Taub how he’s preparing for a potential uptick in usage, he said that “if this blows up…we will put up a gate” to limit the amount of posts that go live each minute.
Other groups on the platform that are not yet open to the public include Jews in Tech, Business Development and Earlybirds.
Taub said he and Schonfeld launched Upstream with a view to focus on individuals in tech. But in recent months, Taub says he's noticed group members outside of tech have used it, including small business owners and teachers.
There has been little innovation in support for layoffs. Most layoff solutions exist in the form of job searching groups on Facebook, communities on Slack and even a plain-old spreadsheet that includes a list of people to hire. Taub is betting that “people want a dedicated place to be more vulnerable...because it’s a little uncomfortable asking for help on Facebook.”