Startup Helps You Connect with Those You Don't Yet Know

Bangalore-based Hachi connects the dots between your social-network contacts and recommends the best “people path” to someone new.

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn make it easy to keep in touch with people you already know, but what if you want to connect with someone you haven’t met?

You can always ask a mutual acquaintance to introduce you. On LinkedIn, you can see several degrees of connections between yourself and others to facilitate this process. But some introductions are bound to be better than others, simply because of the relationships between the people making them.

At least, that’s the supposition behind a Bangalore, India-based startup called Hachi. The company was created by Rachna Singh, a former Silicon Valley resident who spent a decade working in sales and business development. Singh was constantly searching for ways to get good introductions to new folks by working contacts peppered across different social networks, and via contacts in her Gmail and Outlook e-mail accounts, as well as on her smart phone.

“With connections spread all over, my network had become a maze, and I was looking for ways to navigate this maze whenever I had to reach out to someone new,” she says.

Singh built Hachi to be a sort of social networking GPS—a service that shows the best path for reaching out to a new contact.

The site, now in a private beta test, does this by measuring the strength of relationships in the path from you to your desired contact. If you search for a person or company on Hachi, the site will comb your connected networks (currently limited to LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) and return a number of possible “people paths” you could follow to get from point A to point B. Each path comes with a score of 1 to 10 based on how well each person in the chain knows the people they’re connected to along the chain—the higher the number, the more confident Hachi is that you’ll be able to follow that path to reach the person you’re after.

For example, if I search for Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Hachi yields seven paths that I could use to connect with her. The highest score among those paths is 5.5.

Hachi shows me a tiny profile for each person along these paths, and if I click on little arrows at the bottom of each person’s profile, I can see a bit more information. Clicking “know more” reveals a more extensive rundown of their background.

And unlike LinkedIn, which will show you second- and third-degree connections (that is, your friends’ friends and your friends’ friends’ friends), Hachi will show you fourth-degree connections as well.

In the near future, Hachi plans to sync with more networks, and with the contacts on users’ phones. Farther out, Singh hopes to make Hachi’s determinations even more realistic, perhaps by having it consider how comfortable contacts feel about making introductions.

Early adopters are mainly taking to Hachi for business purposes—networking, sales, and recruiting are among the popular uses—but Singh hopes users will find other purposes for it, such as finding dates.

Hachi is currently free, and Singh is funding it herself. She’s working on raising seed funding and says the site may eventually charge companies to use it within their organizations to help people forge new connections with colleagues.

Jake Wengroff, Frost & Sullivan’s global director of social media strategy and research, says Hachi will have to work with existing business software like Salesforce.com if it wants to be seen as enterprise-friendly. And while he doesn’t think Hachi is unique in its attempts to seek insights from connecting numerous social profiles—something that several startups are seeking to do for various reasons—he says efforts to show relationship strength are “on the right track.”

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