fantasy founder - relationship management is engagement management

Continuing an occasional series about products and companies that I’d like to build or see built someday.

There’s a natural cadence to communication. We meet or talk or email or txt or whatever. And we do it over some topic, even if it’s just catching up. The mixture of who we are to each other, the last time we connected, how often we connect, and what we connect over plus our personal contexts (and some other stuff) make up how much of an impression is left and for how long. At least for a moment, you get to front of mind. 

Nothing new there. We can maintain different sizes of connections in our brains. Social butterflies are great at wide swaths of shallow relationships. Most people are good at small numbers of deep relationships, bigger number of casual or business relationships, etc. See Dunbar.

But social networking and freelancing blow all the numbers away. How do you both organize the people you want to keep in touch with and maintain the connection? How do you deal with the fact that relationships wax and wane and change?


  • Personal social networks let you organize people and give you the updates about them that are prompts to connect
  • Professional CRM systems let you organize people and track communication for the purpose of getting someone through the funnel and keeping the money flowing
  • Professional social networks (taking LinkedIn as the only example that matters) don’t really do either
  • Contact managers let you organize people
  • Communications apps let you connect
  • We need to keep track of who matters to us and why
  • We need to keep track of when we talked to them
  • We need to remember to talk to them again
  • We need to be true and authentic to actually have real relationships (nothing’s going to do that part for us!)
  • We forget to stay in touch with people we want to
  • We want some relationships to grow
  • We don’t care if others drift off
  • Some relationships change without us even noticing


So what do you do? Actively manage relationships? There’s prior art here: NimbleMingly, Contactually, fellowup, Promptivate, CRUMBtrail, Highrise, Google Plus, ICQ (way ahead of it’s time). And I pitched the idea a few years ago to ___, which didn’t work out. But the idea of personal relationship management hasn’t really taken off. Everyone either charges too much, doesn’t have a functional enough (or any) free tier, or is just a poor man’s CRM.


The things I want:


  • Integration with email, messaging, contact lists, social networking for both comms recording and metadata acquisition
  • Inferring relationship tiers in terms of depth and frequency of communication, but not assigning any meaning—example: you talk to someone infrequently but consistently, which might mean a great old friend or a casual connection you see at a conference every year
  • Arbitrary tagging or categorization, because real life is full of Venn diagrams
  • Indicators that say, “hey, you’re normally in touch with this person every week and now you’ve dropped off to every month.. is that what you want?”
  • Reminders that say “hey, you’ve said you want to be in touch with this person every week, so go talk to them”
  • Unobtrusivity
  • Refusal to turn into a CRM replacement, integrate with SFDC, Marketo, etc.. if it gets to that point, make another product**
  • Freemium, with either a contact number limit or some feature based limitation


**And now it gets interesting. There’s a generalized application here, that for some reason is missing. In a world of SaaS, social networks, and mobile apps—the same relationship persists between the app and the user. Any user has some attentional budget and the same cadence of communication applies with the app. We call this “engagement”. The same ideas and algorithms that are needed for a good PRM would work well for a kind of engagement management (EM). You could set engagement targets (this many high value touches a month, that many low value touches a week), infer engagement quality and relationships status, prompt the user to engage, prompt the app to engage, prompt sales/marketing/account/whatever to engage, etc.

Added Feb 12th: P.S. The CEO of Nimble got in touch after reading the post. Check it out. Although it is targeted at professional use without a fremium model, it does go a long way towards what I'm talking about here.