Sidebar believes the key to career development is small peer groups


Sidebar believes the key to career development is small peer groups -Gudstory

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Sidebar, a company developing a group coaching program focused on fostering individual career development, today announced it has raised $13.3 million in a seed round from investors including Foundation Capital, Scribble Ventures, and Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp. Have collected.

Former Facebook product manager Lexi Franklin founded Sidebar after facing challenges finding supportive peer groups while at Meta.

“I was leading a product manager at Facebook and was surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world and my goal was to learn as much as I could from them,” Franklin told TechCrunch via email. “There was plenty of room to collaborate, but no easy platform to continuously learn from the experience of my peers. I thought, if it was challenging on Facebook… then maybe it was a problem everywhere.

Peer group or not, career development is not a settled science – it’s true.

In a 2022 survey conducted by HR research firm Oracle and Workplace Intelligence, 76% of workers said they feel trapped in their personal lives, 31% are apprehensive about their future, 27% are stuck in the same routine and – Thanks to the pandemic—and the isolation caused by working from home—they are lonelier than ever (26%). Oh.

Sidebar, like other upskilling platforms on the market (see: Growthspace, Workera, LearnSoft, etc.), offers a tool suite designed to support employees’ career advancement. But Different Unlike some of its competitors, Sidebar takes advantage of small coworker groups in an effort to foster better guidance — and greater accountability — in workers’ journeys.

An algorithm matches people into these peer groups based on their level and role, such as “CEO” or “senior leader,” as well as their background and interests. It also takes into account whether a person is in “transition,” such as whether they want to stay in their current role or transition to a new role inside or outside their company.

Franklin claims that Sidebar’s algorithm emphasizes “diversity and inclusion” with the goal of “balancing demographics” of each peer group. “We want to ensure a diversity of viewpoints and we take care to make sure no one feels like the ‘only’ member of any demographic group,” he said.

Given the well-established history of bias of matching algorithms, I am skeptical. But Franklin says Sidebar “calibrates” groups from time to time – and sometimes upon request – to prevent biases from taking root. And fortunately, most of the sidebar features are not algorithm-dependent.

Once Sidebar sets up the peer group, which ranges in size from 8 to 10 people and a group “leader,” the platform facilitates twice-a-month, 90-minute group meetings over proprietary videoconferencing software. For these meetings, the sidebar provides content encouraging members to achieve their career goals and overcome obstacles. In the interest of privacy, members are not allowed to discuss their workplace, projects or even their names.

Members also get access to a goal tracking module, messaging features, live event series, community forum, resource library, and session recordings.

side bar

Sidebar’s proprietary meeting platform for groups.

“Sidebar members challenge, encourage and hold each other accountable as they are led through a research-based program by a professional facilitator,” Franklin said. “All of our members are engaged in the program, working through the curriculum and attending bi-monthly group sessions, so their memberships aren’t gathering dust on their bookshelf or LinkedIn profile.”

The cynic in me wonders if there is a “best in class” leader for every potential peer group. I think it will be a difficult model to scale.

Recognizing this, of course, the sidebar doesn’t let just anyone become a member. Potential users must submit an application and agree to an interview, and only those who meet one of several criteria – including having more than 10 years of experience in their field, founders who have started a company or Referral from existing sidebar member includes – qualify.

It’s not the most inclusive model – and that’s before taking into account the hefty cost of membership ($3,600 annually). But Franklin claims it’s Sidebar’s way of creating groups with a strong “growth mindset.”

“There are benefits to the network, there are results to the programs,” Franklin said. “There are other platforms that focus primarily on marketing your professional self or connecting with other professionals, whereas Sidebar is unique in that it is a personalized career development program. Some networks also offer specific skill building, such as workshops on negotiation or content like best practices for fundraising. This is not the same as a comprehensive program where an individual is setting clear goals, measuring their progress and developing their entire professional self with equally focused peers.

Franklin claims Sidebar has 5,000 people on its waiting list and an “impressive” group of early members. He wouldn’t say how large that membership group is beyond a guess – “hundreds” of people. But Franklin said some companies have started sponsoring sidebar memberships for their employees.

Sidebar’s staff currently sits at 20 people, and the funding will allow the startup to hire engineers and scientists to develop “even better algorithms to match people and collaborate through our virtual platform and other member tools.” “New and innovative methods” can be devised, Franklin said with enthusiasm. ,

In the more distant future, Sidebar may consider expanding the platform to provide some – or all – of its tools to HR departments through their benefits or training and development functions. But when we spoke, Franklin had nothing much to announce.

“Our program also includes professional facilitators, so we are looking for more people to help our members reach their career goals,” Franklin added. “And, of course, we are adding many other functions that are necessary to operate a growing company.”


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