Case Study

Investing in relationships; introducing Clay

Brian O'Malley, Partner

Summer 2021

5 min to read

We’re pleased to announce our investment in Clay, rethinking the software that fosters one of the most important things in our lives: our interpersonal relationships. At Forerunner, we put people in the center of everything we do. We watch how our lives are changing and how priorities are being reallocated. Across just about every demographic, we’ve seen interpersonal dynamics change as relationships become more digital-first than ever before.

Because of this perspective, we immediately clicked with Clay co-founders Zach and Matt. Besides having one of the most beautiful products I’ve ever used, they spent extra time understanding their customers and their underlying needs. Unlike some founders who focus on shipping the easiest product to get to market, Zach and Matt focus on getting the right product to market. This nuance separated them from the dozens of other teams I’ve seen attacking this problem, making this company a “must back” for us at Forerunner.

Not a Business Network and a Social Network...Just a Network

Emerging from COVID, people are realizing what had already become true: People have become increasingly important to one another, but differently from before. We don't have a business network and a social network. We don't have binary connections where we either know someone or we don't. Clay is the first relationship software company built for the end consumer as the customer—not some advertiser, not some recruiter, and certainly not your company. Clay understands that your network is yours, so you should manage it and you should own it.  

I’m just as likely to grab a drink with a work friend for purely social reasons as I am to discuss business with one of the other dads at my son’s baseball practice. At the same time, we’re living in a juxtaposed world of increased connectivity and unprecedented levels of loneliness. Social networks have provided connections like Cheetos provides sustenance...feeling good in the moment, but ultimately delivering empty calories.  

While many folks have talked about the need for a new “LinkedIn” or “Facebook” for the past decade, there have been few successful attempts at building a better relationship graph. But, in 2021, we believe things are different. Yes, like everything, COVID had an impact, but it wasn’t the driving force. These elements were already at work. While many, I think of three main changes:

  1. Relationships have changed. We might see individual people less, but we interact with more people than ever before. While many are increasingly focused on their inner circle, people move in and out of that circle more frequently and we generally maintain a larger sphere of connections. Comments, likes, and reposts create a much broader signal for connection.

  2. Communication tools are fluid. While many folks have given up home phones, an increasing number of formats drive communication. I might text someone in the morning, Slack them later, and then comment on their tweet that evening. In order to understand my relationship with that person, it is important to be comprehensive while also understanding context.

  3. Willingness to pay. Historically, relationship management tools were part of other products. I might get a free Contacts app with my iPhone or a module in Outlook. Or I can use Facebook or LinkedIn, which let me use their products for free in exchange for my data and attention. As consumers start to become more willing to pay for software that serves them as the primary user, it unlocks more opportunity for software developers to prioritize individual needs.

Networks are a Search Problem, Not a Graph One

We’ve all become spoiled by the efficiency of Google search. Results are high quality, fast and constantly changing based on updated information and my personal context. However, it wasn’t always like this. I remember using early search tools from InfoSeek, AskJeeves, Yahoo, etc, where you had to come up with the exact right keywords—and even then, search through dozens of pages to find the right information.

Searching for people today reminds me of those early search engine days. Connections are binary...we’re either friends or not. We either clicked “yes” eight years ago on LinkedIn, or we don’t know each other. The graph might tell us that we share multiple connections, but what if those underlying connections are dated or flawed? There is no “Page Rank” equivalent for strength of relationship, and there is certainly no representation of the dynamic nature of interpersonal relationships; each day either growing or shrinking, becoming more relevant or less.  

On top of that, there are limited tools to help me understand the intersection between people I care about and important events in their lives. Right now, we’re at the level of “it’s her birthday,” which is a far cry from where I’d like things to be: “Jane is going to be in town this weekend,” or “Mark has a tweet that is trending,” or “Someone you want to know just asked a question; you know a lot about that,” or even, “Someone important to you has a few friends that moved away, so you might want you to reach out.”

While these questions might seem impossible to accurately answer, it is not that far of a stretch if you consider just how good Google search has gotten: Not only do they list my favorite restaurant, they know the closest location, the hours, the menu, the best way to get there, and even what I should order.

By approaching relationship software as a “search engine” problem, which is ultimately a data-quality one, the Clay team has been able to deliver on “magic moments” related to people. The more people who use the product and the more data sources that become connected, the better the experience is for everyone involved. Enhanced and updated contact information for my network is appreciated, but knowing whom to reach out to when creates a special and engaging experience.

Inspired by the Ambition and Network Surrounding Clay

We’re inspired to work with Matt, Zach and the entire Clay team. They’ve assembled an amazing syndicate including execs from AirtableEventbriteFacebookOracleLinkedInMicrosoftSalesforceTinder and The White House—people who have worked at the intersection of relationship software and social networks, know that something better is possible, and believe this team is the one to build it.

The ambition here is bold, both in the scope of the opportunity and what Clay will mean to our relationships. Relationships are messy. They aren’t black and white. So, for those folks willing to get their hands dirty, we welcome you to Clay. Early customers get an incredibly clean contact manager that understands the context of who is important to you today. As more customers join, and as Clay integrates additional data sources, the experience will only get better. We invite you to join this early experience and share your feedback. 

And to the Clay team: Welcome to the Forerunner family!

Learn more about Clay, and start connecting deeply, by visiting clay.earth.

Unique people. Unique approaches.

We’re a diverse team of visionaries and veterans who looked at the VC industry and said: “We can do more.” Together, we’re redefining what VC can be — for consumers who deserve better.

We’re a diverse team of visionaries and veterans who looked at the VC industry and said: “We can do more.” Together, we’re redefining what VC can be — for consumers who deserve better.