11 questions for Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia

Nextdoor's CEO tells Sean Czarnecki why his app, found in about 75% of U.S. neighborhoods, is the one for all neighborly needs

Nirav Tolia
Nirav Tolia

What is Nextdoor?
Nextdoor is the private social network for your neighborhood. It’s a free and easy way to connect and communicate with your neighbors and make the neighborhood better for everyone.

How did you go from launching Epinions.com to Nextdoor?
The common thread has been working on user-generated content and online community. Epinions was about bringing together enthusiasts that could provide product reviews, and create communities around the products. Now, we’re talking about neighbors coming together.

Tech can be isolating. What mechanism brings people together through Nextdoor?
This notion of tech making us more distant in some ways is one of the driving inspirations behind Nextdoor. Nextdoor is an icebreaker. You can get to know your neighbors in a low-stress, easy-to-use way so you can be comfortable meeting them. If someone is selling a couch, they post it. But if you want to buy it, you have to pick it up. You’re resolving that online communication with a real-world encounter, where the real resolution happens. The app is simply the facilitator.

Twitter and Facebook are facing scrutiny over whether they divide people. Does that add to or change Nextdoor’s value proposition?
While both have tremendous benefit, Facebook can create an echo chamber and the mood on Twitter can be antagonistic. Nextdoor brings together people who are similar in that they live in your neighborhood. But they’re not people you handpicked. That dynamic creates an open-mindedness and willingness to listen. Conversations can be diverse in terms of points of view and constructive. That’s a responsibility — and opportunity — for us to create software that can bring people together and do so in a way that welcomes conversations around differences.

Have there ever been ways that people use your website that surprise you?
Missing children and adults have been found on Nextdoor. Local political candidates have conducted their entire campaign on Nextdoor and won office. We wouldn’t have seen that in a million years.

How do fake news, accounts, and bots on other social media benefit Nextdoor as a private and localized network?
A lot of companies have been forced to react to those trends. We haven’t had to, because Nextdoor was constructed to ensure the conversations were between real neighbors and were made private.

Why open offices in New York and Chicago?
Over the last year, we’ve started to focus on monetization using an advertising model. We needed a physical presence where there are ad and PR agencies. The tech industry likes to think everything can be virtual. But, more commonly, you have to do the hard part of putting people in markets where your constituents are.

Why did you make the StreetLife deal?
When StreetLife decided to shut down, we created a marketing relationship where we encouraged their members to come to Nextdoor, and we’d compensate them. In nine months, that got us to 40% of the neighborhoods in the U.K.

Did you buy them out of the market?
It wasn’t an acquisition, but it’s absolutely the case that, when we entered the U.K. market, StreetLife saw a competitor that was well-funded and pioneered this concept with hundreds working on it in Silicon Valley. They needed to decide if they were going to compete or exit the market. They chose to exit the market and capture some value through this arrangement.

Why should PR pros get an account? How can they use the network?
Authentic recommendations are the best kind of PR. When it comes to folks in your community talking about your product or service, there’s no better place than Nextdoor. We have more reach and distribution than anyone else in these neighborhoods. We now enable any business to claim their business, and it starts showing up in neighborhoods where they have positive recommendations. We don’t allow businesses to show up in a neighborhood where they don’t get positive recommendations.

Considering the troubles around Silicon Valley, I wanted to ask about your past controversies, such as your business practices at Epinions. Why can you be relied upon?
I can’t speak about other companies, but all we can do as individuals is control the future. We can’t do anything about the past. We need to do things that build trust and show our character. Then people may be willing to give you second chances. If you don’t, it’s a different story. I focus on applying learnings from mistakes to decisions I make today. I’ve been lucky people have given me the chance to do that.

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