My blog ends up often being a place for me to rant about issues, sometimes I find time to be informative and thoughtful, sometimes I just share my stories.
Today’s story is about a web site named FounderDating.com. The concept is pretty cool, lots of founders and engineers are out there looking for opportunities but they aren’t well served by job boards. Most entrepreneurs and founders are introduced to each other through happenstance or social networks.
So Jessica Alter of 500 Startups thought this was a great opportunity to connect entrepreneurs with co-founders. Great idea!!!
The concept of FounderDating.com is that if you can generate enough interest in your city (the number appears to be 40 interested parties per city) that they will put the time and effort into verifying all applicants. Once they verify all applicants they will then put together an event for founders to meet each other.
It all sounds pretty logical. I’m relatively new to Dallas, sold my last company and am looking for a new opportunity so this really seemed like a fun opportunity.
Is FounderDating as honest as it appears though? My opinion is No. I signed up and went through the process of filling out the Q&A of who I am and what my opportunity was. The last part of the process (after they ask you what your current business idea is… scary) involves social proof. I had to provide four references. These could be friends, employees, investors… my choice.
So I provided these references with the understanding per the FounderDating.com mantra that they would verify my references at some point (apparently by a human since they talk about being so busy in their twitter feed that they cant verify everybody… thus I assume “verify” means something serious.)
I share my references names, e-mail, LinkedIn profile and a few other details. In short I burned a bit of social capital to get in. It might be worth it, it might even generate social capital if it’s the real deal.
Boy oh boy was I ever surprised when a friend of mine shared an e-mail they received. Their suspicion was that it was phishing because it clearly wasn’t from me even though it claimed to be.
The e-mail was as follows:
From: “Arlo Gilbert” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Feb 12, 2013 4:04 PM
Subject: Can you vouch for me?
I’m applying to join FounderDating (http://www.founderdating.com), a premiere online network for talented and aspiring entrepreneurs looking for co-founders. They keep the network invite-only and balanced (50% engineers) so they require people to Vouch (aka act as a reference) for new members and I’m hoping you can do this for me. All you have to do is click this link:
This is really important to me, so thank you for your help,
This isn’t the usual “join me” type of invitation where social networks take advantage of an e-mail database to invite people. No, those e-mails generally come from the social network itself and make it clear that I did not send it. While they may not be the most ethical e-mails in the world, at least they are technically honest.
Unfortunately FounderDating.com felt it was appropriate to abuse my e-mail network by sending e-mail that pretended to be from me. They used my name in the from address and even said things like “This is really important to me”. Better yet, they even used my e-mail address as the Reply-To e-mail so that anybody replying would think it was me sending it.
At no point in time did I express to FounderDating.com that their fledgling system was “really important to me”. That bit of commentary I thought was particularly interesting.
So where is the harm? The harm comes from the fact that I carefully curated friends, VC’s, advisors and former employees who I thought would be carefully contacted to confirm my character. These people then all received very obvious spam that was clearly originated by my submission. Thanks for burning my relationships FounderDating.com
Here is just one more response from a friend:
Is this from you? Glad to help….wanted to make sure it is not a phishing email….
Bottom line? Forging “from” e-mails is a big deal, especially if you’re pretending to use their social information only to “verify” who a person is.
Does FounderDating.com genuinely believe that automated e-mail verifications are enough to prove I’m a serial entrepreneur? If so then I question their investors due diligence.