Two startups take on social media meeting tools

There are plenty of social media services to develop existing relationships, but a pair of Canadian startups are creating tools to help meet new people both personally and professionally.

4Click.Networking and Popular Us were among the very early-stage ventures who pitched their ideas to fellow entrepreneurs Wednesday night at the Toronto Tech Meetup, a monthly gathering that allows opportunities for product demos, constructive criticism and in-person networking.

The problem with such events, said 4Click.Networking founder Ed Peciulis, is that the chances of getting to know the kind of person that could help grow your business are totally random. In some cases you might find a potential co-founder or investor. In other cases it might be someone you’d rather avoid.

That’s the premise behind the 4Click service, which attempts to create an ordered list of people at an event with whom a user might want to connect. The software scans the names of attendee lists, scours the Internet for information such as LinkedIn profiles that describe them in more detail, and then sorts them according to business roles such as “computer tech guy” or “business dev/marketing guy.” Users choose which category they fit in, then the kind of category of people they’d like to meet, and 4Click gives them the best candidates. The end result is a person worth meeting within four clicks of a mouse.

Although designed for desktop use at the moment, Peciulis said the next step would be developing a mobile version so users could draw up people to meet while on site at an event. He also foresees allowing more detailed profile information or a larger profile picture to help find specific people in a crowd.

“I didn’t want to build something fully-featured yet. I wanted something I could test a bit,” he said. “I want to see if this scratches an inch, or will people wonder, ‘Do I really need that?’”

Monetization strategies for 4Click would include payment from event producers themselves, selling data on users gathered through use of the system and perhaps selling promotional spots similar to a featured tweet on Twitter, Peciulis added.

For Gareth Marland, founder of Popular Us, the challenge is not too much creating relationships for work but finding friends after hours. Having lived in several countries, Marland said he often found himself in new cities knowing virtually no one.

“There are a lot of dating sites but not sites for making new friends,” he said. “Social networks aren’t really aimed towards meeting people. The big ones like Facebook and Google are only about securing data – protecting what you’re sharing with your existing friends.”

Popular Us takes a different approach, acting as “a dating site for making friends instead of dates,” according to Marland. Users create a profile with their interests and then seek out like-minded people to see a new film or try out a new restaurant.

Although few such services seem to exist in North America, Marland noted that City Socializing has been successful in the U.K., as has in Switzerland.

Besides standard Web advertising models, Marland said he sees potential for partnerships with group buying sites to offer more targeted deals to Popular Us users. In the meantime, he said he will be focusing on getting people interested in the site and developing profiles.

The Toronto Tech Meetup is organized by Steven Blinn, a PR executive who relocated to the city from New York almost a year ago. He likens the group to the fabled California Homebrew Computer Users’ Group, which helped launch a number of successful startups and firms, including Apple. While 4Click.Networking and Popular Us are promising new ways to connect, he said he continues to see huge value in a live setting.

“We’re looking for ideas here. I don’t care if it’s a startup from a student working out of a dorm room,” he said. “I want this to be as open a group as possible.”

The next Toronto Tech Meetup will be held on Oct. 12.

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