Riding the hardware wave, FounderDating partners up and launches new platform for the category

By Michael Carney , written on August 21, 2013

From The News Desk

When Jessica Alter launched FounderDating in 2009, the idea was simply to connect aspiring entrepreneurs in her hometown of San Francisco who were looking to start a company or side project. Since then, the company has grown to more than 24 cities in four countries (US, UK, Canada, and Israel). The mission has expanded as well, with her company now focused on connecting entrepreneurs with the right people and with the right information, regardless of where they are located.

Alter and her team have become fond of saying, “We help entrepreneurs get unstuck.”

With that mission in mind, the company recently launched its members-only, Quora-like forum called FD:Discuss. Alter describes herself as, “blown away with the response and level of engagement” since expanding and the focus of her platform to knowledge sharing.

Today, the company is again expanding its reach in recognition of the current “hardware revolution” sweeping the startup ecosystem. FounderDating has expanded its online platform, with the addition of The goal is to better serve hardware entrepreneurs, including through offering more granular searchable areas of interest, skill sets and targeted types of people.

This expansion is a recognition of the fact that hardware requires an entirely different skill set, and thus a different talent pool than software or Web startups. Individuals like industrial designers, mechanical engineers, and manufacturing and fulfillment experts are often difficult to come by. By the same token, individuals with these backgrounds are often not deeply ingrained in the traditional startup ecosystem and, thus, can have trouble connecting with more traditionally-skilled developers, designers, and business-persons.

Alter says:

What’s often overlooked [amid the hardware revolution] is how many pieces have to come together for a hardware company’s founding team – industrial design, mechanical, electrical and often software engineering plus a hustler who can make manufacturing and distribution a reality. It’s tremendously difficult and rarely do these people just happen upon each other day-to-day. We give them a platform to connect with right people together to get hardware companies started the right way.
FounderDating is also launching a series of dedicated New Member Kickoff events focused on hardware entrepreneurs. These events will be hosted in partnership with TechShop, and will allow attendees to “tinker” together, in the company’s words, in TechShop’s its make spaces.

“FounderDating and TechShop both help entrepreneurs get together and get started, although in different ways, so this was a natural partnership for us,” says Techshop Founder and Chairman Jim Newton.

In an effort to support its hardware-focused membership, FounderDating has partnered with PCH International’s Highway1 hardware accelerator and consultancy. Through a combination of office hours and digital panels, the company will advise hardware entrepreneurs on avoiding the common production and manufacturing pitfalls in the category. PCH has decades of experience and an extensive on the ground infrastructure in China and hopes to share this supply-chain wisdom with aspiring hardware teams.

Hardware marks the second vertical-specific expansion of the FounderDating platform, following the company’s recent emphasis on edtech and subsequent partnership with Teach for America. In both cases, the initiative were spurred by an organic increase in category-specific applicants to the primary FounderDating site. Recently, that surge has been around hardware.

“I’m embarrassed to say it, but we almost ignored hardware,” Alter admits. “But we still had so much organic interest that it was obvious we had to launch this initiative.”

FounderDating screens all of its members and still turns away the majority of applicants, Alter says. The company aims to maintain a balance of 50 percent engineering members and 50 percent non-engineering, and prohibits recruiting, fundraising, and pitching on its platform. Once accepted, members pay a one time $50 fee to join the platform, which includes attendance at one of its New Member Kickoff events.

Signup fees are currently the only monetization mechanism for FounderDating, but Alter coyly hints at additional plans beyond this in the near future. While the founder shies away from sharing specifics, she hints that knowledge-sharing will likely play a significant role in the company’s future.

Like AngelList, Quora, StackOverflow, and GitHub, among other entrepreneur-centric online communities, FounderDating is providing a truly valuable service to its members and the startup ecosystem at large. With this in mind, it would seem that there should be several ways by which to monetize this influence.

FounderDating raised its first outside capital in January of this year, an amount that Alter simply described as a “good sized seed round,” from investors including Crosslink Capital, 500 Startups,  Greylock Discovery Fund, and SoftTech VC among others. (Disclosure: Greylock Discovery Fund is an investor in PandoDaily.) The company has five full time engineers and a network of volunteer managing directors in major cities across the globe who overseeing its communities and aid in recruiting.

Hardware is just one area of focus within the FounderDating platform, and it’s likely that others still will be added in the future. But regardless of what the hot area of company-building is at any given moment, FounderDating appears well positioned to serve as a town square for aspiring entrepreneurs.