Trova Wants Coworkers to Find Shared Interests, Build Authentic Relationships
Sure the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the tech titans aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector.
In an effort to highlight up-and-coming startups, Built In has launched The Future 5 across eight major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five tech startups, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing. Read our round-up of Boston’s rising startups from last quarter here.
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After living more than two decades in upstate New York, Michael Fodera accepted a field sales job at Dell that would take him to Richmond, Virginia. Fodera didn’t have any friends in Richmond, but he figured he could meet other Dell employees, make friends with his neighbors or serendipitously hit it off with a stranger.
After months of awkward conversations and forced introductions, Fodera began to feel isolated in his new city. His new position was fully-remote, and his nearest team member was more than 50 miles away.
Fodera found himself wearing clothing from Ithaca College in hopes of striking up a conversation with a fellow alum. He knocked on his neighbor’s door, but they didn’t answer. He eventually put a sticky note on their door, which led to a lasting friendship.
“All I was looking to do was grab a bite to eat, go mountain biking, play soccer and build a new social circle,” Fodera said. “I honestly struggled to do that. It was a long and tedious process to build the very few friendships that I did have.”
Fodera eventually left Dell and joined a younger startup, where he was sold on the idea of a more inclusive and social work environment. Fodera didn’t feel much of a difference in the culture, though. When the company was purchased by a tech giant, it gave him the push he needed to quit his job and build Trova, an app that connects people based on their shared interests.
At first, Trova started out as a website to help renters meet their neighbors. During Covid-19, the business shifted to help college students meet their classmates. Most recently, the team of three co-founders has focused on using Trova to build authentic work relationships as companies increasingly embrace distributed remote teams.
I really want to make sure every employee, regardless of team tenure or work location, can find their people at work.”
Last winter, the co-founders brought this business model through the Techstars Boston Accelerator. Now, their beta platform is being tested by five companies.
The Trova website and app asks users to paint a picture of their life beyond work — or at least more detail than what colleagues typically share on their Slack profile.
New users will be asked if they watch sports, play video games or listen to music. They are then prompted to answer follow-up questions about which teams they root for, which games they play and what musical artists they listen to. They are also asked about their hobbies, pets, what college they attended and what city they live in. The platform also has integrations with Spotify and IMDb. Users can also filter all of their coworkers by shared interests, location and other factors.
“I really want to make sure every employee, regardless of team tenure or work location, can find their people at work,” Fodera said.
But Fodera is all too aware that employees don’t often share information about themselves because there’s no reciprocated value. He wants Trova to go beyond profile-viewing, which is why the platform uses AI to match employees with shared interests and encourages them to talk with each other. This motivates employees to share information so they can be matched with someone who has shared affinities.
“If you and I both grew up in New York and are interested in soccer and skiing, we’re going to introduce you on our platform to help start that conversation,” Fodera said. “Now you’re meeting people that share some of those common affinities, and it makes that feeling of isolation at home a little less awkward.”
This week, Trova expanded beyond its native app and launched a Slack app that allows users to see each other’s Trova profiles — and get matched with other employees — all within the Slack platform.
In addition to facilitating work friendships, Fodera said Trova has the potential to spotlight diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and increase engagement in employee resource groups.
Fodera also thinks the data that employees provide can be useful for employers who want to curate more inclusive workplaces and reduce employee turnover.
“If they knew the DNA of their people, maybe the next event that they throw or the next benefit they provide actually speaks to what their employees are interested in,” he said.
The platform is free to use, and any employee can start a Trova account without their employer adopting it. Trova does offer a paid enterprise subscription that allows HR teams to limit and restrict user access.
Trova has raised $145,000 from Techstars and an angel investor, but prior to that, Fodera bootstrapped the startup for three years. Now, Trova is fundraising to build an enterprise version of its platform, which could mean hiring software engineers.
“We’ve got a pretty healthy pipeline of some publicly-traded logos that are waiting for us to adopt some of these enterprise features that they need,” said Matt Bailey, Trova co-founder and chief revenue officer.
Fodera said he thinks Trova’s technology is needed now more than ever as HR teams think about bringing employees back to the office.
“Let’s help them make that a magnet, not a mandate,” he said. “Let’s give employees a reason to come back. ... If they can be social and actually connect with the people that they might have been introduced to on Trova, it’s a lot more compelling.”