Microblogging has become a part of our daily conversation. Although you cannot express much in 140 characters there is a great wealth of information available in sites like Twitter. Sarah Prevette is the founder of Sprouter a social network exclusively for entrepreneurs. Sprouter provides a platform for users to connect with other innovators, entrepreneurs can expand their networks to include fellow entrepreneurs and startups with similar interests and goals. YourStory caught up with Sarah to about this unique network and her plans for India.How did the idea of Sprouter come about?
Some time back I started a company called Upinion. I was a young entrepreneur and did not have the right contacts. It was very frustrating and overwhelming when I could not find people in my area who share similar interests. I started cold calling business owners to get mentors which was a very unsuccessful endeavor. So I decided to build a platform where entrepreneurs can connect, network and share resources with one another. This is how Sprouter started and now we have a platform which not only connects entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs but with investors, mentors and people from other fields. People who are starting up can ask questions about various aspects of starting their own business.
Why did you decide to build a platform of your own rather than using other social networks?
The other social networks were not that popular when we launched Sprouter. Facebook was gaining popularity but we felt while Facebook was a great way to connect with friends and family it was not suitable for asking direct questions about your business. While building my first startup I experienced offline that friends and family are usually supportive when it comes to startup and they might not be the best people to get advice about your business. Twitter is a great tool for building your brand and connect but it is too general and you may not be able to ask specific questions about your business and get answers from experts.
Do you spend a lot of time on Sprouter answering questions?
Actually I don’t answer questions as there is a conflict of interest. I am still a learner and I am more of an asker. We have many experts answering questions from entrepreneurs.
How did you get the word out on Sprouter?
We leveraged other social media sites and media outlets to spread the word about Sprouter initially. We also have celebrity entrepreneur sessions where entrepreneurs and experts chat live with other members and answer questions.How do entrepreneurs connect with the experts?
When you login to Sprouter you can post your question for free and our system will direct to the most relevant expert based on your questions. When the expert replies to that question you get an email about it. This will also be saved in our database for the use of other people. Typically questions are answered within a day.
Are these answers anonymous?
No You can go see who has answered your question, see their profile and credibility to be able to answer the question. We have many active experts and celebrity experts take part quite often.
Do the experts get paid for their help?
No. It is a global community initiative. People are volunteering to answer questions. This is the most incredible thing about Sprouter, people are willing to take time out to pass it on to younger entrepreneurs.
How did you monetize such a platform?
It has been a challenge. We wanted to maintain the openness of the platform and help entrepreneurs connect. We have launched an introduction service where entrepreneurs can go through a process to register with us and they will be introduced to investors. Investors pay for this service as they connect with some of the hottest startups around.
Do you have an offline component as well?
We do offline events globally called sproutups. We bring in experts from our community who will talk about one of the topics discussed online, some of the startups will be selected to give a demo to their peers and then there is networking at these events. Every person gets a name tag and each person has to connect with at least three people whom we recommend going through the profiles. This helps break the ice and you connect with people who are relevant to your business.
What are your plans for India?
We have a community starting in India and we see this growing. We would like to connect startups in India with startups and experts in North America through our initiative. I invite your readers to use our platform and connect with us.