The roots of Guild are in the dotcom gold rush of the late 1990s, and my first business, Econsultancy. Fortunes were being made and lost. I was working for one of the leading digital agencies in London building websites for household brands.
And yet no-one knew what they were doing. We were all making it up as we went along.
Academia was way behind industry and the media only really covered news. So where could you go to get trusted advice on what really worked, or did not work, as a professional practicing ‘new media’?
The answer was you needed to learn from your peers. Professionals going through the same challenges and opportunities as you and learning the hard way. But how could you find these peers?
Creating a professional community to share & learn
To solve that problem, I founded Econsultancy, alongside Matthew O’Riordan, a developer and technology entrepreneur who is still my business partner today. We built a business bringing digital professionals together, with the objective of sharing ideas and experience, and learning from each other. This happened both digitally, through email and online forums, but also face-to-face through all kinds of training and events.
The trick was to create an environment, whether digital or physical, where professionals could be open and honest. A place which people trusted.
Because always the most interesting and valuable insights were about what did not work, what failed. The media was full of hype, but we knew the truth.
And when people spoke truth amongst peers in a trusted environment it was not only gold-dust you could take back to your day job, it also felt great. Like therapy. Sharing the problem immediately alleviated it and often solved it. You built relationships with experts you could later call on. All of us were smarter than any of us.
It grew fast. It turns out this approach was good for business too. Econsultancy had amazing levels of goodwill, engagement and loyalty and ten years later we sold a global business to Centaur Media plc. It continues to flourish and I meet people, now very senior, who were there at the beginning with us.
The rise of mobile & messaging
In the last decade of course the world has gone mobile. And more recently messaging has exploded as a medium and continues to grow.
This is exciting and empowering. But those of us with valued networks notice the same thing. None of the messaging apps, WhatsApp being most common in the West, offer the right environment for professionals to share and bond. Their focus is instead on adoption and usage to sell more ads or harvest more data.
The control lies not with the human hosts, the ‘village elders’, of the community or professional group you belong to, but with algorithms owned by ‘big tech’ that operate beyond, or at least ahead of, the law.
Rather than fight this shift to messaging, the challenge that Matthew and I have answered with Guild is to create a new trusted environment for professionals in a mobile era.
From a technology point of view, this is all still quite new. But our belief is that, in the end, this isn’t about an arms-race on features or functionality, but about re-applying the almost old-fashioned aspects of human behaviour that make groups, networks and communities work.
We all know that there are basic factors you need for a good party, club or restaurant – lighting, food, drink, décor etc – but the differences that people feel and remember are likely to be human or emotional: how you were welcomed, the attention the host pays you, the particular rules or etiquette observed, the sense that you belong here and these are your tribe, your people, that this group and this place reflect the real you, the best you, the person that you want others to see.
How Guild was born
The name Guild was chosen as a deliberate throwback to those organisations created to foster collaboration and conscious sharing, and in recognition of the fact that basic human behaviours have not changed.
We consulted experts - Professor Robin Dunbar and Julia Hobsbawm, both of whom specialise in understanding the way that humans connect in groups - and we have used their learning. They are both on Guild’s Advisory Board.
We have built upon a realtime messaging infrastructure that is Matthew’s particular technology expertise and designed the front-end experience with leaders from the world of design, art and fashion.
The result is Guild. You can join as a Host, or be invited in as a Member by a Host. I run several of my own groups on Guild and can call on my best contacts’ advice or offer my own at any time. I rely on that exchange of ideas and expertise; we all do. In our professional lives, we want to belong. We want status, access to people with relevant knowledge and connections, to get better at our jobs, to share our knowledge not just for recognition but to give back.
And so Guild is radically new and extremely old at the same time.
It is for professionals who want to collaborate and succeed like they always have, but in a new way.