NATIVE 2016: "Do Unscalable Things Early," and Other Brand Building Insights From Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia

on NATIVE 2016

Five hundred people crammed into the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco last Tuesday for another successful NATIVE Summit, hearing from everyone from Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, to Politico and Coca-Cola about where they see the next chapter in the native advertising story going and its implications on the modern media business.

Nextdoor, founded in 2011, were part of this varied and always interesting lineup at NATIVE this year. The company has laid out a new, more intimate, twist on the social network, allowing people to join up to smaller social networks with the people who live in their actual community.

As our CEO Dan Greenberg shared early in the day at NATIVE 2016, native advertising is ushering in a new era of straightforwardness, turning advertising from an art of war, into an art of syndicating the truth.

Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia's story fit in with this overarching theme for the day closely, as he talked about creating a community-driven brand that thrives on authenticity and the considerations this brings about as they look to monetize and consider native advertising efforts of their own. We spoke to him ahead of his afternoon keynote about how to build a meaningful brand today.

What would be your advice for a new company starting out with its own brand building efforts?

Do unscalable things early: When you’re first getting started, it’s the right time to try things that you know won’t scale long term. For example, we met many of our founding members in person and walked them through the onboarding process. We presented at community meetings and hand drew all of the neighborhood boundaries. We knew we couldn’t do this forever, but if things started to work, the plan was to automate this process.

Set a clear mission and goals: Defining the company’s mission from the start provides focus to the founding team – it can act as the North Star when you’re making key decisions about the brand and the product. Further, it is also really important to set clear goals that you will measure success against. For us, that was neighborhood adoption. As long as more neighborhoods continued to adopt Nextdoor each day, we knew we were making progress towards our goal of bringing Nextdoor to every neighborhood.

Ruthlessly prioritize: You’re going to be flooded with new ideas from everywhere – your team, friends, mentors, customers – and many of them may be enticing. It’s important, though, to prioritize and focus on the changes that you need to make, or the feature you need to build, that will have the greatest impact in the near term. At the beginning, focus on what you need to achieve in the next three months. Once the company is better established, you can then start to be more forward-thinking.

What are some of the things that you feel like you've done well, and how has the company benefited?

One thing that’s been critical to Nextdoor is our focus on quality over quantity. Privacy and trust are core to the Nextdoor experience – we require every member to verify their address before they can join their neighborhood. This is actually a barrier to join, which is counterintuitive to most social platforms, but for Nextdoor it helps ensure that you know you are interacting with your actual neighbors. This increases the quality of the conversations that take place and elevates the experience for everyone.

In that same vein, we didn't want to rush our international expansion. We wanted to fully understand the intricacies of neighborhood interaction and business here in the United States before moving into new markets just for growth. Our learnings from 100,000 neighborhoods in the U.S. were the foundation for how we developed the platform for the Netherlands and gave us confidence as we launched internationally. In five months, Nextdoor is already being used by 20 percent of the neighborhoods in the Netherlands.

You’re going to be flooded with new ideas from everywhere – your team, friends, mentors, customers – and many of them may be enticing. It’s important, though, to prioritize and focus on the changes that you need to make, or the feature you need to build, that will have the greatest impact in the near term.

How do you view Nextdoor as a content platform in and of itself? How will this grow in time?

All of the content that neighbors see on Nextdoor is user-generated, meaning that Nextdoor doesn’t influence any of the conversations. Nextdoor was initially a place for conversations between neighbors in the same community, and has expanded to include conversations from nearby neighborhoods and local public agencies, like police departments. Now we are entering into a new phase – integrating businesses into the neighborhood conversations, as they play a large role in our local communities and daily lives.