BUILDING COMMUNITY - Nirav Tolia
Nirav Tolia, the Co-Founder and Chairman of Nextdoor.com was the keynote speaker at the USICOC DFW Annual Technology Conference ‘Billion Dollar Exit’ held on April 17th, 2019.
He walked us through his journey to inception of Nextdoor.
Welcome to the Neighborhood | Nirav Tolia
Nextdoor is a private social network for your neighborhood. Nirav elaborated that the genesis of Nextdoor is focused around one of the most important communities, which is the one we live in - our Neighborhood! The mission of Nextdoor is to use technology to strengthen real world neighborhood.
Friday Night Lights | Odessa, West Texas
The serial entrepreneur is a proud Texan at heart. He claims it is his Texan roots that planted the seed to Nextdoor. The Tolia family moved to Odessa, Texas when Nirav was two years old. Yes, the famed book ‘Friday Nigh Lights’ town where he and his brother were raised. The book is about Odessa Permian High School, also the same high school he attended. Tolia shares that the sense of community & neighborhood in Odessa & Texas is really powerful. Nirav continues to teach people of the community he experienced in Texas and concludes that Nextdoor wouldn’t have been created if not for growing up in Odessa. He went on to secure his undergrad from the prestigious Stanford University! He humbly jokes about being the least educated in his family. Nirav comes from a family of physicians, his parents immigrated from India and continue to practice medicine in Odessa and his brother is also a physician.
Startups | Dot.com era
Tolia shares “Silicon Valley encourages you to take Big Risks but reality is most risks don’t turn into success”. Nirav joined Yahoo in 1996 at its infancy and witnessed its boom first hand. Simultaneously, he started a non-profit organization Round Zero; the premise was based around encouraging entrepreneurs who aspired to start their own companies. Round Zero is the stage prior to funding/financing, the brainstorming level. He left Yahoo in 1999 and started ‘Epinions’ – electronic opinions, the power of technology to help people make better buying decisions, which eventually was acquired by eBay. After achieving success in these ventures, he started his next venture in 2007 with 12 others called ‘Fanbase’, a site for fans of different sports to congregate and share information over a network, unfortunately didn’t take flight and shut it down in 2009. Now with only 7 employees left they decided to pursue another big idea. Every Tuesday morning the team conducted ‘Billion Dollar Idea’ meeting. 100+ ideas were generated and narrowed to a couple of dozen such as 80%off to celebrity stage. Then in the summer of 2010 they zeroed in on a social network geared towards bringing together neighbors, they called it ‘neighborly’, sort of a code name before landing on Nextdoor. Tolia reveals, “Technology had not yet played a role in strengthening our communities although Facebook had played a huge role in making us better friends”. They ultimately built the prototype and showed it to one small neighborhood in Menlo Park, California and almost immediately knew they had created something special, of course, they had no idea that specialness would translate to over 200,000 or close to 100% of neighborhoods in US!
April fool’s | Not
Never know what you will find on Nextdoor, it’s long since been just for finding lost dogs. An original Picasso painting was sold on Nextdoor.com, which even caught buzz in the ‘Texas Monthly’ and people assumed it was April fool’s! But in reality somebody did advertise Picasso painting on Nextdoor and a neighbor purchased it. The specialness of Nextdoor grows from helping a teenager find a babysitting job to getting a great service and provider recommendation r the most important of them all, in times of natural disaster to literally save lives. Nirav Tolia admits “This has been the ultimate reward of creating Nextdoor and building stronger communities!”
Borders | Beyond
Nextdoor at 1.5 billion valuation is expanding internationally and is in seven countries - Netherlands to New Zealand and they are just getting started! Nextdoor is a local service so not devoid of challenges as they extend globally since each has its own culture, traditions and customs. At the same time, Nirav explains that the concept of being a good neighbor is not just a US notion, it is age old adage to work together to help each other create a better community and a better future. So Nextdoor’s vision has always been to be global and every neighbor in every neighborhood around the world would be using Nextdoor.
Diversity | Advocacy
Nirav is huge advocate of diversity and woman power. He attributes it to his upbringing, he saw equity and equality growing up as both his parents worked, practiced medicine. He gets emotional speaking about his beautiful wife Megha and mother of their 3 boys. He admires her tenacity for juggling a full time job and raising their sons. He also shares with great pride that the cofounders of Nextdoor are not only diverse but has a female cofounder- Sarah Leary which is rarity for tech startups. In 2018, he hired his replacement for CEO of Nextdoor- Sarah Friar an exceptional female leader. His hope is that one day ultimately will not make it unusual for a woman to be a CEO!
Rising from the Ashes | Phoenix
Tolia repeated several times that Nextdoor is a company created out of Failure! He reminisces that the 7 cofounders were working at a dire time, desperate for results, grasping at straws and finally “an idea that was born out of failure not success and it has been anything but an overnight success”. Though they launched Nextdoor in summer of 2010, it didn’t grow wings till much later, in fact one neighborhood at a time. Today about 220,000 neighborhoods in the US use Nextdoor and Tolia believes it will be 100% by the end of 2019 in the United States. Nextdoor’s story is truly a powerful testimony of purpose, persistence, and patience.