Blind: Building and Scaling Anonymous Community

“Anonymous community for the workplace.”
– Kyum Kim, Head of US operations and co-founder of TeamBlind

“Most of our U.S. users are tech employees and there are tons of topics on Blind. Many of them talk about compensation, salary, company environment and issues like sexual harassment. They also talk about trending issues like cryptocurrencies or investments.”
– Sunguk Moon, CEO and co-founder of TeamBlind

In 2017, former Uber site reliability engineer Susan Fowler accused the company of rampant sexual harassment and human resources negligence in a blog post. After Fowler’s blog posting, which eventually led the resignation of founder Travis Kalanick from CEO role, Uber blocked employee access to an anonymous workplace app called Blind, where employees talked about the issue, on the company WiFi. The post and Uber’s unsuccessful attempt to block the app fueled Uber employees as well as other US tech workers to flock to the Blind app, tripling user number of the app. [1]

Blind app, the South Korea-founded anonymous professional network, became the most trusted platform for more than a million tech workers in Silicon Valley. The platform’s quick success attributed to anonymity and security which provide a safe way to reveal malfeasance, wrongdoing and improper conduct at users’ companies.

 

Background

In 2015, TeamBlind launched its app called Blind in South Korea and quickly gained attraction from employees around the country. A year later, TeamBlind decided to expand to the US, and initially focused its effort to attract Korean workers in Microsoft and Amazon. After the Uber issue, Blind took off to become a popular workplace community app for tech employees in the US. Now, TeamBlind boasts more than 3.2 million of total number of users (approximately 2M in Korea, 1M in the US).

The Blind offers employees who verify they work at specific companies a place to talk with each other. By requiring users to provide a company email, the Blind app can keep out trolls and serve up relevant posts on topics ranging from salary data to layoff rumors. After verifying where they work, employees choose anonymous usernames and can talk to others at the same company. They can also interact with other employees in the same industry in a forum called the “lounge.” Employees discuss company news, ask about open jobs, post polls or even request tips for interviews.

 

Key Success Factors

Unmet (secret) needs

Although many US tech firms claimed that they had robust open communication and candid feedback system within the organization, the CEO Sunguk Moon saw the discrepancy between the firms’ view and the employees’. Moon, through researches and interviews, realized that non-US citizens had very little voice in the firms when it came to discrimination and harassment because of visa issues. Contrarily, some of the dominant population (white male engineers, for example) of the firms struggled to communicate openly with others because they feared being seen as racists or sexists.

The Blind provided a safe space for all employees to talk about anything, leading “truly open communication”. It is evident that users trusted the platform enough to blow the whistles about the wrong practices of their companies. The whistleblowing in Blind happened to Uber, Lyft in the US as well as Korean Air in South Korea.

Secured Anonymity

TeamBlind claims that work email, which a user used for verification, is completely disconnected from the user account. It claims, by using patented infrastructure, that Blind itself cannot trace back users’ activity on Blind to email addresses. It is not certain how well the app stands for the company’s claim, but the users seem to trust its services. The Blind has expanded the user base rapidly, including employees of Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Uber. [2]

< Fig 1. User base growth (thousand users)>

 

Challenges

Security

For an anonymous platform, securing user data and information, including identity, is the most important task which could be the biggest risk. Two years ago, TechCrunch raised a question about data security and the disconnection of email to the user ID. [3] As trust is the main source of acquiring and retaining users, even one mistake or error can devastate the trust and the platform.

Online Harassment

Anonymity encourages users to be candid and open, but may also encourage them to behave poorly. To mitigate the risks of online harassing and abusing, Blind encourages users to report inappropriate content. Users actively participate in this filtering effort to maintain the integrity of their community.

Monetization

The biggest concern of growth and sustainability for Blind is its plan for monetization. Although TeamBlind doesn’t provide any revenue data, it says the advertising is the main source of revenue now. Because Blind has very specific customer profile, target marketing works for many companies, which targets mid to high-income tech workers. However, the ads might hamper user experience, diminishing trust of users.

 

Future Ahead

TeamBlind has successfully scaled the platform in the US. It has collected massive data of tech employees, and now has opportunities to leverage the data to provide services to the companies, including risk management, employee retention, and talent acquisition. Yet it is also facing various challenges. In addition to the challenges mentioned above, going global imposes a great challenge because each country has unique work culture and norms.

 

 


 

[1] Uber employees are chatting with each other about Uber’s leadership on anonymous workplace app Blind, TechCrunch, https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/25/ubersecret/

[2] Is verifying with my work email safe?, TeamBlind, https://www.teamblind.com/faqs

[3] At Blind, a security lapse revealed private complaints from Silicon Valley employees, TechCrunch, https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/20/blind-anonymous-app-data-exposure/

[etc]

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