PeopleLinx gets ‘LinkedOut,’ reworks product

Philadelphia Business Journal | Lauren Hertzler | Jun 17, 2014, 2:28pm EDT

peoplelinx foundersStartup PeopleLinx learned in March it would get the boot from using LinkedIn’s application programming interface. PeopleLinx is one of many companies recently cut off from using the LinkedInAPI tool for hiring, marketing or sales purposes. (Hence the #LinkedOut hashtags we’ve beenseeing on Twitter.)

But it didn’t deter the Center City-based PeopleLinx team. Instead, the young company has re-engineered its product, using LinkedIn in a way that still allows PeopleLinx to deliver on its value proposition.

The company’s main goal has always been to improve how employees use social business tools at scale. It’s doable without LinkedIn’s API, said Michael Idinopulos, PeopleLinx’s chief marketing officer.

Josh Druck, marketing coordinator for PeopleLinx, explains how: “A core function of PeopleLinx is that it allows companies to serve customized recommendations to employees for how they might enhance their LinkedIn profiles to better align with their company. With access to LinkedIn’s API, PeopleLinx could automatically register when an employee completed one of those recommendations — which made for seamless reporting and a smooth user experience. Without API access, PeopleLinx can still serve up customized recommendations, but has had to innovate on its user experience and accompanying reporting of completion.”

“The good news is that the lack of API access doesn’t affect the ability to drive enhancements for clients, we just needed some time to improve the user experience and reporting,” Druck added.

“We’re still providing guidance,” Idinopulos said. “In many ways it’s a better configuration in this way.”

Plus, PeopleLinx did announce its new relationship with Twitter in March, and is reportedly trying to finalize deals with Facebook and Google+, Idinopulos confirmed.

PeopleLinx’s investors agree that the company can excel without LinkedIn’s API. So do its employees and most of its clients, too.

Idinopulos said PeopleLinx only lost one customer out of its 50-plus.

“Frankly, it’s a small customer, it’s not even a household name,” he said.

Additionally, about two dozen customers wrote emails to LinkedIn, saying PeopleLinx’s use of LinkedIn’s API is a huge positive, Idinopulos said.

When asked why a handful of employees left around the same time the news struck, Idinopulos said it wasn’t “a direct result of this.” Instead, he said, they just had other opportunities they chose to pursue.

At the heart of PeopleLinx has always been LinkedIn. In fact, two former LinkedIn employees, Patrick Baynes and Nathan Egan, founded PeopleLinx. Their experience with and knowledge of the popular social networking tool is how they were able to grow PeopleLinx to be a reputable company with more than $3 million in funding.

There’s no doubt the news, delivered in an email to a PeopleLinx head, came as a shock.

“We were surprised because we’ve always viewed ourselves as a big positive for LinkedIn,” Idinopulos said. “The whole reason we exist is to help people with employee adoption, engagement and usage [of LinkedIn]. It’s a win for them, their customers and for us.”

“We definitely went through a couple of sober weeks in the office while we were still trying to figure out what we were doing,” Idinopulos added.

Here’s the letter, sent to PeopleLinx in March:

LinkedIn’s Developer Network seeks to power the professional web by providing a platform to build professional applications that make LinkedIn members more productive and successful, keep them in full control over their data, and respect their privacy.

We have reason to believe that the PeopleLinx product violates LinkedIn’s API Terms of Use ( In accordance with Section I.C, you are required to be part of one of LinkedIn’s Partner Programs in order to use our APIs for applications that are “used for hiring, marketing, or sales.” Some examples of this activity include using the LinkedIn APIs for, “lead generation, relationship management, systematic matching of people with their LinkedIn profile, or anything with a similar feature or purpose.”

As a result, we will disable your access to the LinkedIn APIs in 30 days. This constitutes our termination of your developer relationship with LinkedIn. To the extent you have any LinkedIn member data in your system, including LinkedIn member profile URLs and pictures, you must immediately delete it, including any backup, redundancy, or other distributed copy.

LinkedIn prioritizes the companies that it partners with based on strategic alignment, size of opportunity and current needs. At this time, we do not believe you are adding sufficient value beyond our existing products to justify a partnership.

If you believe this decision is in error, please reply with a detailed explanation. We will review our decision to disable your API access in light of the information you provide. Please note, however, that full resolution of any differences may require an audit of your code, database, or other aspects of your service.

With PeopleLinx’s close relations with LinkedIn, the letter was almost unbelievable. Nate Lentz from Osage Partners, a lead PeopleLinx investor, said, “The initial reaction was that this must be a mistake.”

Luckily, the PeopleLinx team didn’t panic. They informed its customers and investors, and reached out to LinkedIn (to try to change the outcome) as soon as the news became available.

“Of course, the first thing we thought was that we can still make this work,” Idinopulos said. “We realized that our greatest asset wasn’t the use of LinkedIn’s API … it’s our team’s expertise on how to use LinkedIn and other networks on how to cultivate business.”

“Something we thought was really important to us and our product, turns out we could do very well without,” he added.

Druck said he was only “nervous for a second.” Then, he said he realized that this is one of the “best things that could happen” to PeopleLinx.

The freedom has made the PeopleLinx product “the best it’s ever been,” Druck said, adding that PeopleLinx had to get approval from LinkedIn before making certain decisions.

“This is the track we should have been on a while ago,” Druck said. “This will set us up for the future in a good way.”

Lentz, from Osage, agrees that PeopleLinx will grow from this, and said the investment firm is “ready and prepared to support PeopleLinx if it needs more capital.”

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