Logging into LinkedIn is like walking into a crowded room and having 100 or so ‘professionals’, the majority of whom you don’t need to know, hand you their card and then walk away. That’s according to Eamon Leonard, a patriarch-of-sorts to the continuously emerging Irish tech community, and now founder of a professional networking startup that does away with the noise of its more established counterpart.
Why is that after 20 years putting data about our personal and professional lives on the internet that we still get emails or phone calls looking for a recommendation for a good developer or an inside tip on open positions in our places of work? It’s something that Eamon’s been thinking about, been frustrated about, and it was that frustration that led him to found Cohort last November. Although reluctant to entertain comparisons with LinkedIn, one question is somewhat inevitable.
“What the f*ck is the point of LinkedIn?” asks Eamon.
You get what you give
Cohort presents a streamlined mechanism for identifying the value in your current relationships. If LinkedIn is indeed a crowded room of people you half know, Cohort is a quiet dinner with two or three of your best mates and their friends. The product consolidates its users’ disparate networks into one place, bringing to light the clearest possible picture of the relationships they’ve built over a life spent online.
Looking for an experienced product manager with a background in mobile? Turns out one of your Facebook friends knows one. Need reliable advice on how to enter a new market? Seems that a co-worker is friends with a VP Sales EMEA for well-known consumer tech company.
Cohort also opens up your own relationships to your extended network. “We want people to get out of their network what they’ve already put in. Social capital is like a bank account. Every time you do a favour for someone, it’s like your balance is going up. Any time you ask them a favour, your bank balance goes down. Cohort is about growing that bank balance over time,” says Eamon.
A former agency web developer who quit and went freelance in 2007, Eamon says that he’s spent his whole career developing networks. He says that what he’s learned about them can be developed and applied to all spheres of human interaction. He’s learned about the power dynamics that are at play in every handshake, every favour exchanged, and what they mean for a given relationship.
Writing code in the wee hours
These learnings are being put to work at Cohort. Other, perhaps more important, things he’s learned along his way are also being applied. Eamon admits that in his early days as a developer, he got caught up with the machismo and bravado of working unnecessarily long shifts. “More than once in my career I pulled 24-hour shifts, and tried to write code through the night. I would sleep under my desk. The longest I ever did was 36 hours,” he says.
Things have changed.
“I used to be a believer in working stupid hours before I had kids. I used to think that that’s how you prove your worth. Occasionally that approach is required, but if that’s the norm, you have to get a new perspective,” says Eamon.
Cohort helps you get the most from your network
As a parent, he says that he doesn’t want to put anybody through that kind of experience. “At the time I was high-fiving people going, ‘Look how awesome I am.’ And the worst thing is that if there had been any mums or dads working with us, they would’ve had to go home to deal with their kids and then come back in. I can see how I would begrudge them or feel like they’re not team players. I don’t want to put that on anybody,” he says.
Working at Cohort is a 9-5 affair. Eamon’s woken between the hours of 5.30am and 6 by two “awesome” alarm clocks – his two young children. “Well they’re awesome to me,” he says. While getting ready to make his way to Cohort HQ, he’ll tap out responses to emails and check in on Cohort’s overnight activity via Intercom while tending to his children, allowing his wife a little bit of a lie-in.
“I hate that word”
He’ll aim to be in the office for 9.30am or so. He’ll be the last one into the office, something with which he’s not particularly comfortable, but will make up for it by bringing pastries from Dublin institution 3FE. Cohort is a team of four, which Eamon leads. He is however reluctant to call himself the boss.
“I hate that word. I’d like to think of my position as more of a leader. My job as a leader is to help my team be successful. I 100 percent trust them, and I don’t look over their shoulders; there’s no micromanaging,” he says.
Three of the team are parents, and there’s a strong focus on working a nine-hour day. Eamon says that if you can’t get what you need to get done in two roughly four-hour chunks, with a break in between for lunch, then you’re doing something wrong. He also says that break in between should be a proper break: no sandwiches at your desk while trying to catch up on work.
“I’m a big believer in getting out of the office and stretching your legs for a bit. The chats you’d have over lunch – you have lightbulb moments like, ‘Man! How did we not think of that?’ They always seem to come with a mouthful of burger,” he says.
After lunch, the Cohort team will work till 5pm or so, when they’ll have a catch-up and talk through how their day went. After that they wind down to their 5.30pm finish. Then it’s time for Eamon pick up his son and head home.
“My philosophy is if I know that I’ve dedicated quality time to things that are most important to me, like my family, then when I’m in work I can focus on work and not feel guilty for being a bad parent or a bad husband. There needs to be a clear delineation,” says Eamon.
He says that it’s important because to keep the line between family and work defined because once they start to blur, you won’t do a good job on either. Even if you’re not a parent, he says, striking that balance is important. He says that if you’re 20 and just out of college, finding a sustainable work-life balance should be a priority.
“People have to be really careful about where the line is drawn and what side of the line they need to be on. That line being blurred isn’t sustainable. Even turning off notifications on Slack after a certain time can make a difference,” says Eamon.
Perspective from a life in tech
Back in 2007 when Eamon first went out on his own, there wasn’t much of Dublin tech community to talk about. The first company he built, Orchestra, which was acquired by Engine Yard in 2011, grew up in a very different time to today. The first iPhone hadn’t been launched. People were still using MySpace.
Establishing Cohort in a world where Stripe allows startups take payments and Intercom allows them talk to their customers early on has made things easier for Eamon and Cohort. Equally, the perspective a life spent in tech brings has made things more manageable. There’ll be no more 36-hour shifts.
“That’s the benefit of working in tech for this long. You’ve got a different way of looking at things. You’re able to look back and ask, ‘Was that really worth it?’