Founder: Deepak Goel
Company Description: Karma Circles is an online peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform.
Company Site: http://www.karmacircles.com/
Date of Interview: January 2015
Deepak Goel is the founder of KarmaCircles, an online peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform. He believes in creating bite-sized opportunities for “structured giving” and contributing to the pay-it-forward movement by putting good karma out in the world.
On his product development background and influences:
Deepak is originally from India, but came to Silicon Valley to work for Microsoft after he finished college. There, he “grew up next door” next to all the startup legends under the influence of Steve Blank and Eric Ries. He continued to Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley and worked as an early Product Manager at Coupons.com during a period of 6X growth. He returned to India for a while to grow a real estate company, IndiaHomes and then returned to the US to be a co-founder at Packback, which brought him here to Chicago.
On the idea and inspiration:
Deepak plays the role of mentor, adviser and investor to multiple startups. He advises through organizations such as 500 Startups and Impact Engine, and is an angel investor himself; but he spends a great deal of his time mentoring and advising for free. It’s actually all this pro bono advice that gave him the inspiration for KarmaCircles.
“I was giving, giving and giving – but I wasn’t documenting any of those conversations. I do it because I love doing it, not because I want something in return. But wouldn’t it be great if this could be documented? Giving and receiving is a big part of our life. Why don’t I create a platform where anybody in the world can give and receive for free? It doesn’t matter where you are.”
When someone gives their time within the KarmaCircles community, it is documented by a KarmaNote, which is essentially an online thank you note for what the person did. These notes can then be used to track results of good Karma, create lists of people you’ve helped and taken help from, and build an online profile of yourself through all of the good Karma you are putting back into the world. “It’s like a Twitter of thank you notes.” (You can see Deepak’s KarmaCircles profile here.)
“Uber said every car in this world can be a taxi. I’m saying everyone in this world can be a mentor. We believe that everybody can be an expert to at least a few other people in this world.”
On product development and iteration:
Deepak went back to India to put his full-time energy into building and launching the KarmaCircles product in 5 months. He used his experience and education in product management to get things moving. He first shared the concept in a series of 1:1 meetings with about 70 people to refine the idea and concept. Then, he did a mock-up of a visual design and went through another set of 1:1 interviews. After that, he built and launched the product and continues to do 2-4 interviews and interactions daily to spread the word and get feedback and ideas on how the product resonates with people.
True to lean startup methodology, Deepak makes a strong effort to focus on quick iteration and learning versus getting ahead of himself. He believes in evolving slowly, but learning and iterating quickly. Next in line is a formalized marketing campaign outside of word of mouth.
On investing in startups:
Deepak is an angel investor in a couple of startups himself. He makes it a point to advise the startup founders for several months before making any investment decisions so that he can really understand the strengths of the founders and the business.
“What’s important is that they listen and then they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They either accept my advice, or they say they’re not accepting it for a reason. If they listen to me all the time then I won’t trust them either.”
Deepak came to Chicago to join the leadership team at Packback before starting KarmaCircles.
“I really really love Chicago. What I really loved about Chicago was that people are very friendly. Anyone I asked for a meeting would give me time. People actually told me how grateful they were for my help with Packback. They would say, ‘Thank you so much for helping build up a Chicago company.’ They are patriotic (about Chicago) – they love each other, they help each other. It’s a friendly environment. I am very optimistic about the Chicago economy growing.”
On the balance of giving in the world:
Deepak believes that the world can achieve balance through giving and that giving can have viral-level effects if people will just stop burying themselves in their daily lives.
“One of the things I want to accomplish through KarmaCircles is structured giving. My mom says that everyone in this world should be contributing at least 1% of their time and money for the social good. People have not done that for many centuries. Once everyone starts to devote 1% of their time to the social good, then you don’t need social entrepreneurs to devote 100% of their time to it.”
With platforms such as KarmaCircles, Deepak hopes that people can easily give more frequently, in varying amounts and in varying capacities. “Giving will come back to you in ways that you cannot imagine. A company came out of all this giving!”
KarmaCicles is also being used by business schools and companies to foster and promote mentoring programs. You can contribute to the KarmaCircles community by signing up at karmacircles.com. How can you help with 1% of YOUR time?