Pennsylvania Startup: Gateskip Brings The Off Line Networking Model Online

Before you jump into this story thinking that Gateskip is just another LinkedIn wannabe, that’s not the case at all. LinkedIn is a great social network for business professionals. It’s also a great place to graduate from your Facebook existence, to just about the rest of your life.

LinkedIn has several non-intrusive ways of encouraging networking among it’s members, but they shy away from meeting new people. In fact when you want to connect with someone it asks you how you know them.  If you’re familiar with traditional Chamber of Commerce business after hours, or breakfast before hours models, the purpose of the “networking” element is to meet new people.

That’s where Conshohocken Pennsylvania based Gateskip comes in. Gateskip, along with sole founder Dan Esposito, want to bring certain elements from business after hours, breakfast before hours and BNI events to the web through this new network.

While I’ve personally used LinkedIn to outsource some work and projects to people I had some kind of connection with, the ultimate purpose for LinkedIn is to serve as a social network for professionals. Gateskip is more of a business network.  If you’re not sure about the difference, read on to the interview below.

While LinkedIn is connecting you to friends you may have had in high school or relationships you’ve formed through business, Gateskip is about generating leads for new found colleagues and exposing one users services to another user. Alas, it’s about actual networking.

Esposito talks to us in the interview below about Gateskip and Conshohocken which Esposito says is the Silicon Valley of Pennsylvania. It’s also home to startups like the new Scott Thompson led ShopRunner, and OpenDesks just to name a few.

What is your Gateskip

Gateskip is a functional business networking website where members must play an active role in creating referrals for other members in groups that they either join or create.
We basically took the offline business model of business networking that was made popular by companies such as BNI, LeTip, Business Clubs of America and thousands of other local business networking groups where only 1 professional per category is allowed in each group, brought it online and added some features.
One of the features is a pay for performance lead platform.  If a member has a lead but cant refer a group member because that professional doesnt exist in his group then he can create a lead that is bid on by members outside of his group.  So if I have a friend who wants to get hardwood floors installed but I dont have a flooring professional in my group then I create the lead and wait for bids.  I check out the profiles and rankings of the members who bid on my lead and I give it to the one or ones I feel most comfortable with.  Its their job to close the deal.  If they close the deal then they pay me a finders fee.
We also have web conferencing, a CRM and an affiliate program.   We will actually pay a monthly referral fee to our members who bring new members to the website.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds  

So far Im the only founder.  Dan Esposito.  I graduated from Millersville University in 1995 and had a couple stints in the NFL.  From there I had a few different sales positions, from advertising sales to wholesale mortgage rep for Washington Mutual.  Yes, I unknowingly helped ruin the economy by collecting a LOT of bad loans from mortgage brokers.  When the mortgage industry crashed I decided to start an energy brokerage and founded New America Power and then brought my brother with me as a partner.  It was then that I found myself in the business networking world.  I visited about 5 or 6 different groups and that is how I came up with the idea for Gateskip.   If there are any PHP hackers out there, please contact me for a sweat for equity exchange.

Where are you based?

Conshohocken PA

What is the startup culture like where you are based?  

Conshy is the silicone valley of pennsylvania., OpenDesks, GSI, Yorn, and many more are all here. I can literally see Kinetics the home of ShopRunner, Rue Lala and Fanatics from my home office window.

What problem does your startup solve?  

This is an easy question for me to answer since I was faced with the problems of finding a networking group that I wanted to join.  Most of the groups I visited had early morning hours or lunch time meetings.  This wouldnt be so bad if they werent so far away.   The groups that were close to me had the energy broker seat filled already.  BNI and Le Tip were pretty expensive to join, which wasn’t too big of problem for me….i just didnt want to commit that money if I wasnt sure that I would stick with the group.  When I finally found a close enough group that had an open seat for an energy broker and wasnt early in the morning I joined.  I paid my $300 startup cost and $10 each week.  After about 5 weeks and seeing no referrals or any interest in my services, and realizing that this group was really just getting together to have lunch each week and wasnt serious about generating business, I quit the group.  I didnt get my money back and I decided, “there has to be a better way”     I searched online and couldnt find a website that mimiced the offline model.  Sure, Linkedin was around and ReferralKey was a new website that encouraged referrals but the problem with these websites was the lack of exclusivity.  I was connected to about 50 mortgage brokers  on Linkedin and ReferralKey.  This model doesnt encourage a true sharing of referrals.

What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?  

Finding a developer that fit my budget.  I can create businesses.  Ive done that since I was 12.  Ive mowed lawns, sold candy in school illegally, sold italian waterice out of the back of my pickup in college, etc.   I knew a lot about the internet but nothing about creating a website.  At first I thought, “this should be easy.  I have a great idea and some developer out there would love to partner up with me”  No luck.  I couldnt find a developer that saw the potential, or at least one that didnt want to take a gamble with me.
I came across my current developer through Craigslist.  It was rough going at first.  I almost gave up on the project after they showed me their initial release.  I had to refocus and find a new way to communicate my vision.  Its pretty close but at the same time its far from where I want it to be.

Who are your mentors and role models?  

I dont have any mentors but I definitely have role models.  Mark Cuban is a huge role model.   Mark Zuckerberg is a role model.    Reid Hoffman is definitely an inspiration based on his quote, “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”

Rocky Balboa.

Whats one thing the world doesn’t know about you or your startup?   

That I am a 1 man show.

What’s next for your startup?

Full launch.  I have been looking for an advisor with previous startup experience.  I have 2 angels who are interested in investing but I want to make sure I clear the path of unneccesary obstacles before taking friends money.   Im also giving away free memberships to team leaders.  If you’re interested in starting a networking group please go to Gateskip and request a password.


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