by Peter Johnston
September 1, 2021
Polywork founder Peter Johnston discusses the inspiration and journey to getting Polywork off the ground, and the exciting, inspiring community response so far.
Polywork has been a labor of hard work and love from our incredible team, and the feedback so far has made all the hours, love and energy invested worthwhile. Feedback like this:
“What excites me about Polywork is that it is designed for people who are more than one thing instead of trying to shove them into one box or another.” –Idan Gazit (Product Designer, Software Engineer, Mechanical Keyboard Enthusiast)
“I just want to be able to share my work in a way that actually reflects who I am and how I work. Polywork allows me to do that.” –PG Gonni (Product Designer, Figma Wizard, Twitch Streamer)
Or comments like these:
“I always thought of myself as pretty ‘single-tracked.’ Seeing the variety of badges on my profile is leading me to see myself in a different and positive light.” –Michelle Feng (Software Engineer, Ice Skater, A11y)
“I’m loving Polywork. I’m a coder but I also design. I write too and own a photography business for fun. With Polywork I get a better understanding of the 360 view of people versus just a bunch of companies and job titles.” –Philip John Basile (Fantasy Sports GM, Advisor, Game Developer)
We’ve been so heads-down on creating Polywork for the last little while that we haven’t really had a chance to stop and reflect on what we’ve built. Given the excitement and reception to our invite-only beta, we wanted to share why we started Polywork.
What is Polywork?
Polywork is a professional social network that lets users create a free personal webpage, share what’re they’re up to both personally and professionally and send collaboration requests to others.
At its core, Polywork was founded on the idea that people are more than the labels society has placed upon them, such as job titles and the schools they went to. Scott Belsky (Behance Founder and Chief Product Officer at Adobe) wrote it more eloquently than I ever could:
"your history of job titles + shingles you’ve associated yourself with are antiquated proxies for potential.people want to connect based on past projects, who they've worked with, and the initiative taken to pursue their interests. no better way."
How Polywork addresses the problem with professional networks today
As a designer by profession, I was always uneasy with such a singular label. I’ve worked across a multitude of aspects including user research, design psychology, UI design, data visualization and more—and that’s just my 9–5. What about all the other things I do outside of my day job, like my writing, mentoring and speaking?
The reality is that today we are all more than our job titles. Whether it’s music executives who also manage real estate portfolios, NBA players who also invest in startups, software developers who are also photographers and memers, or actors who also run tequila and gin companies. The polywork trend is very much alive.
One of our earliest community members said:
“LinkedIn has created a culture where I literally feel like I can’t represent what I consider the best parts of me for fear of it being deemed ‘inappropriate’ or ‘unprofessional.’ —Kobi Ansong, (Music Manager, Writer, Advisor, Mentor and Marathoner)
Kobi was one member of a small amazing group of early community adopters that helped us bring Polywork to life. After that conversation, energized and fueled by how existing “professional networks” have made people feel, I registered the trademark for the "The UnProfessional Network" later that afternoon.
Using the system of the job titles and schools we went to as the main way to identify potential is just simply flawed. These titles are arbitrary labels that make us look indistinguishable from one another. How can you possibly differentiate yourself—or find the right person to collaborate with—when you’re reduced to simply “product designer,” “software engineer,” “architect” or “marketing manager?"
These labels that hide us have slowed the world down considerably as we have to spend so much time to work out, "Cool, you’re a product designer? But what does that actually mean? What have you done? Who are you? What do you care about?"
In addition, professional networks are rife with false information, random endorsements and spammy behavior. Multifaceted professionals are left stumbling in the dark, trying to work out how to properly represent themselves and connect with real opportunities, whether it’s full time jobs or fractional work. Those who opt out of professional networks entirely are forced to turn to industry-specific portfolio sites, which are great but limiting (i.e. Behance: just your design work. Flickr: just your photography. StackOverflow; just your engineering.)
So how do you represent yourself if you polywork? Where do you go?
Why Polywork is community-first by design
Where other professional networks feel competitive and stressful to keep up-to-date, Polywork is unapologetic about letting you show who you are, what you do and what you want to do next. Onboarding and selecting the badges that represent your life takes a few minutes—while adding posts to your timeline, connecting to your own domain and sending collaboration requests to others are as easy as sending a tweet.
After just several months in our invite-only beta, it’s been amazing to see Polywork’s mission, design and ease-of-use resonate with our early community💜.
I can’t simply put into words what the reaction to Polywork has meant to my team and me. To see early users start campaigns on Twitter showing their excitement at being able to create the "Imposter Syndrome" badge, the "Failure" badge, the "Learn in Public" badge, the ‘White Claw Enthusiast" badge 😆—all these amazing ways to represent who we are and the human side of what we do. To see such an amazing mix of professional updates (launching new products, speaking at events, people raising funding for their startups, right through to people posting about starting homeschooling their children to spending time with family) has honestly been wonderful.
To have these new early members and our existing community share their time and to get to hear their stories about why they are getting excited about Polywork and what we can be better at has been something I’ll never forget.
People like Rich Burroughs tell me he thinks our product is going to help people with ADHD keep a track of the things they have done better. To feel Tessa Kriesel’s energy and passion for the Polywork mission around democratizing access to opportunity and enabling people to explore alternative paths for themselves. To get to jam with Colby Fayock and learn what an AstroCoder and Emojineer is (two badges Colby created)! To get to read what the product meant to Natalie Davis and the possibilities she hoped it could bring for her. It’s been such an overwhelming journey. I can’t thank you enough for lending me some of your time to get to know you.
The future of Polywork
The feedback we’re receiving helps us learn about Polywork as we create it, and we’re still learning a lot, which is why we’ve decided to be invite-only right now. This won’t last long (we promise), it’s intentional for a number of reasons. We are a small team and it means we can iron out any product issues and bugs and focus intentionally on supporting our daily users.
As Polywork continues to grow, we hope to be able to empower people to express what’s important to them, and enable them to take professional paths more colorful, unique and different than they once thought possible. Because when people use their agency to make the life for themselves that they want—without feeling suppressed, embarrassed or intimidated—only good can come of it.