Polywork: LinkedIn without the Suits


Updated 3 months ago

The future of networking is being built in the open

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by Polywork but all opinions are my own and not suggested, influenced or edited by anyone at Polywork.

What is Polywork

There’s a concept of polyamory in life, where people engage in consensual multi-person relationships. It’s not for everyone, but the idea that we don’t have to be tied to one person is an interesting concept to think about. Now, if you take that concept and apply it to your work and personal life then you start to see where Polywork is coming from.

In our professional lives, we often identify as a specific career or job role: the Product Designer (like me), the Frontend Developer, the Milkman, or the Beautician. The reality though, is we’re often a lot more than that, and even very often in our professional careers, we perform more roles than that title we hold.

If you’ve read my articles for a while, you’ll know that I sit in the land of “Product Designer who codes but also writes music”. At different points in my career I’ve been able to take advantage of all these facets but never once could I call myself that as a job title. It’d be weird.

What Polywork encourages is the idea that we can have many skills and do many things, and that we should celebrate that. Whether that be our achievements or our failures. There’s plenty of badges for things such as “College Dropout” or “Failed at a job interview”. Normalising this is critical to Polyworks differentiation and to its success.

But most important to Polywork’s future success is their approach to how they build the platform. And this is where I want to focus.

Why are they building in the open?

It’s become increasingly common for modern startups to build out in the open, willing to ship half-finished ideas and broken flows to gauge customer interest and determine what features to prioritise.

Most famously coined by Facebook’s early “Move fast and break things” methodology, young startups taking this approach are finding their strength in being vulnerable.

From when I joined near the beginning (which, in retrospect, wasn’t long ago at all so that goes to show how fast they’re iterating), the platform simply offered a timeline you could fill out. That timeline hasn’t changed much since those days, it’s had steady updates but because the team focused on this as the true MVP of the idea, they remained laser-focused on their initial mission of making it easy for people to showcase all that they do without it being confined to a particular job. It was at this point that I set up the custom domain option so I could set up my changelog (more about this later).

Since then, we saw the first glimpse of what would become the Multiverse, allowing you to see other people’s profiles on the platform and now the Space Station for finding people to collaborate with, and basic messaging. In a matter of months, the platform has evolved from a timeline to a pretty full-featured product. And it’s safe to say, so much of that has been down to building out in the open. Learning by shipping. Testing, iterating, improving and scrapping. Being okay with being vulnerable.

My personal changelog

I’ve focused on treating my Polywork profile as a personal, and professional changelog. Whilst my personal website is kept minimal, focused on very specific finished deliverables, there’s a host of things I do that live in and around those things and the last thing I want is for my personal site to become littered with it.

That’s where treating my Polywork as a changelog of achievements fits in perfectly. It allows me to personally track my successes and failures, but it also allows others to see those things in chronological order. What’s not to love!

It can be pretty daunting to go back through your experience and fill in all those key moments but I found that in some ways, it became cathartic. It acted as a reminder of all the things I’ve achieved over the years and how I’ve got to be where I am today. It’s humbling.

Depending on who you are, what you do, and where you are in your journey, Polywork will do different things for you. Start by adding some basic content like your job history to see the timeline fill out and then begin to add the nuances at whatever level of detail you want. Polywork is flexible enough that you can decide how granular you want your profile timeline to be. Make it an extension of who you are.

What you can learn from Polywork’s shipping strategy?

There are a few key things I think any business can take away from Polywork’s approach to shipping their MVP across the web and mobile.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ship a true MVP that offers one feature at the beginning — Whilst you’re validating your idea and your roadmap, don’t get bogged down in waiting to ship all of your features to customers from day one. You can never be 100% certain it will stick. Find your initial niche and ship that first. Then build on top of it.
  2. Start with a single platform and build from there — Don’t try to release a website, iOS app, Android app, and the kitchen sink too. Focus on a single platform first, validate the idea, then build out other platforms from there. Keeping focused reduces the resource you need upfront and allows you to focus on validation, not implementation.
  3. If you start with the web, wrap it into a mobile app before going native — Learning from Polywork’s approach here, the initial iOS beta was a wrapped web-app rather than native iOS and kept implementation simple. It was literally a webview (a PWA essentially) but wrapped to be servable via TestFlight. Since then, the app has evolved into being, even more native feeling (although still a wrapped webview) and provides a much nicer experience. This is the way to ship MVP. Bare minimum and then evolve.
  4. Free marketing is the best marketing — Being a startup, or even being a larger company, you need to be lean in how you think about shipping things. Whether you’re lean with your resource, with your features, or with your marketing strategy; keeping things simple and minimal will get you further for less. You could spend a lot of money on marketing to make a splash, or, you could follow Polywork’s approach and generate hype through word of mouth, exclusivity and ambiguity. Whilst they’ve built a lot of things out in the open, the early days were driven by ambiguity. This ambiguity generated intrigue and as people got brought into the fold, the excitement was shared and drove more waitlist signups. Pair that with exclusive personal codes to skip the queue and you’ve got a winning marketing strategy. Polywork weren’t the first to do this, but as a business, they’ve executed it perfectly. My Twitter timeline is a constant thread of “I’ve just joined Polywork, it’s amazing, use my code to sign up now”. As a company, what more could you ask for?

Sign yourself up

If you want to get on Polywork yourself (and I highly recommend you do!) then you can use my personal link to sign up, the first 25 people will skip the queue. Make sure you come and follow me once you get on there and say hi!

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This site, and all of my work, is dedicated to my hero, my inspiration, and the strongest man I've ever known. My father. I love you Dad ❤️.