WHY YOU SHOULD EXPLORE THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY AROUND YOU
People network for a lot of reasons. To keep up with the latest trends in an industry, connect with professional mentors, and make contacts with people who can assist with problem-solving. For instance, meeting the right people might lead to a graphic designer who can help you create a logo or a copywriter who can help with content creation for your website or blog.
James Chapman knows all about the power of networking. He is the founder and CEO of Plain Sight, a localized social networking platform that connects small business owners, entrepreneurs, and creatives with people who can provide potential resources for any project or endeavor, both online and in physical spaces.
Before James started Plain Sight, he spent more than ten years in workforce development and entrepreneurship training. He was also a trainer for a program called CoStarters that helps budding entrepreneurs go from idea to action. In Detroit, he started a $1.2M pitch competition for businesses to compete for cash. James’ entire life, as he says, has been “geared around helping people succeed.”
We talked with James about why he created Plain Sight, the challenges he faced in starting and sustaining the company, and why he’s so passionate about helping others succeed.
What was your inspiration for starting Plain Sight?
The experiences we have and the people we meet are left mostly up to chance and privilege, which prevents us from reaching our highest potential. I used to run an evening hours coworking space for side-hustlers. The people that would come appreciated the physical space but enjoyed the human connections even more. They would always ask me for introductions to people in the space and around town. I knew then that being able to make real-time local connections was a barrier.
Why is networking so important when running your own business? How has it helped you? Can you give specific examples?
C.J. Heck has a quote that I love: “We are all products of our environment. Every person we meet and every new experience touches and changes us, making us the unique beings we are.” That’s why networking is so important. Meeting the right people and having the right experiences will drastically change your path in both life and business. It has meant everything to me. From the investors in my company to the cofounders building this with me and the partnerships we have secured to succeed, it all points back to relationship building and networking.
What were some of the challenges you came across when starting your company, and how did you overcome them?
I’m a non-technical founder of a tech company. As you can imagine, that can present all sorts of hurdles from learning the tech stacks and languages, finding the right devs to hire, and putting together a product roadmap. I have had to learn very quickly and surround myself with people who can help me understand the right direction and avoid pitfalls.
Explain how Plain Sight works in helping people have success with their own companies.
It’s harder than ever to make new, meaningful connections. Plus, local places could use our support. Plain Sight allows you to meet unique talent in your area and see the type of connections they’re looking to make. You can also find places to go based on proximity, amenities, and profiles of people who visit. No names and no profile pictures are included to maintain privacy and to combat unconscious bias. But you can insert your Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and website into your profile.
How has COVID affected your business? And how have you been able to pivot during these difficult times?
Last October, we created a platform so that people with common goals, needs, and interests could capture the opportunity to connect if they happened to be in the same city or the same space. Events and travel spaces indicated demand and a path to scale. Once COVID-19 hit, those verticals were eliminated. We responded quickly and broadened our focus to connecting people in local business communities at large in a time when it’s needed most. When the initial verticals make a return, our business and business model will be more comprehensive and well-positioned to seize the moment, as if we planned it that way all along.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs looking to start their businesses?
Test your assumptions. Talk to as many people as you possibly can about your business to make it successful. The feedback that you get will help shape the way your product shows up in the world. It will also help you speak to their needs. You are doing yourself a disservice by not talking with as many people as possible to get critiques.
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