Founder: Sumaya Kazi
Year founded: 2011
Location: San Francisco
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with more social media cred than Sumaya Kazi. The 28-year-old was senior social media manager for the global communications group at Sun Microsystems from 2005 to 2009, back when most big companies didn’t have a clue about social media. Kazi helped the tech giant navigate that whole new world and, in the process, ignited an entrepreneurial spark within herself.
But Sumazi, which Kazi describes as an online platform that “connects you to the people you don’t know but should,” isn’t her first startup. While she was at Sun, she started a company called The CulturalConnect, a series of websites and e-magazines designed to inspire young, minority professionals by publishing profiles of their successful peers. The sites also enabled users to connect with one another and to the professionals who were featured.
The CulturalConnect, she says, was her “starter startup.” Her work there, in addition to a survey she conducted in the summer of 2010, revealed that “people were really craving a destination or service that allowed them to get connected to the people they really needed to know—people who were out of sight, but not out of reach.” By Kazi’s estimation, traditional social networks didn’t fit the bill. So she assembled a team and created a beta version of Sumazi, a platform built on top of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, that connects people around specific needs and opportunities. For instance, I recently posted on the site a request for nominees for Inc.’s 30 Under 30 coolest entrepreneurs list. That request is automatically pushed out to my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, but it’s also shared globally with all members of the larger Sumazi community, who can choose to respond directly to the request, or help me spread the word to their own private networks.
Shortly after its beta launch, Sumazi was chosen as a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield, where it won the Omidyar Network award for the startup "Most Likely to Change the World." "We got an awesome reaction and our first angel investor, Christina Brodbeck, was on the founding team at YouTube," says Kazi.
Sumazi is now in private beta and is free to everyone. The company’s revenue comes from businesses for which Kazi creates branded, private communities. For instance, a law firm with a tech practice that serves emerging entrepreneurs uses Sumazi to connect clients who attend its events and conferences. “We’re also working with a large consulting firm and a not-for-profit organization,” says Kazi. She also has plans to tap into student and alumni organizations. The demand from large organizations, and the revenue that comes with it, “was unexpected because we were creating a consumer service.” Kazi may find that surprise to be a particularly welcome one, since she is now in the process of trying to raise $750,000 to $1 million to scale the company.
Illustration by Cannaday Chapman