DURHAM — That germ of an idea Thomas Massey had years ago now presents as a gem.
COVID-19 injected the American workforce with a shot of reality, the jab crystalizing for many that nothing is promised tomorrow, so they figured there’s no sense working a job they hate today. Many gave their employers the two-finger peace sign — some offered the one-finger salute. It was time to go.
Here’s where Massey’s gem is designed to shine. He calls his jewel inquireaboutme.com (i.am), a free social media platform enabling individuals to provide, share and view both professional and personal video references. Picture a Facebook and LinkedIn mashup but more nimble.
“My platform allows you to see the face of the individual providing the reference, authenticating the reference before finalizing a recommendation for employment, college admission, membership into an organization, along those lines,” Massey said. “Whether you’re applying for a job, trying to get into college, highlighting your personal achievements or professional achievements, inquireaboutme does the talking for you with videos, pictures and blogs.”
Years in the making, Massey launched i.am in December 2020, in the thick of the pandemic and well before a COVID-19 vaccine was widely available to the general public. Since launching, Massey — he has an expansive background in graphic design and approaches everything through that lens — had his i.am team tweak the platform for a more modern look.
“We have to appeal to millennials. They have next and are dictating where the marketplace is going,” Massey said.
That’s the thing — nobody seems certain where the marketplace is headed. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has kept his finger on the financial thermostat that is the U.S. interest rate. Cryptocurrency is, well, cryptic. Economists are certain a recession is coming but not sure whether it hits by year’s end or sometime in 2023. And layoffs are a thing, employers anticipating grim days ahead.
Among those laying off thousands of workers are Meta (formerly Facebook) and Twitter, both tech heavyweights with deep pockets. By comparison, if Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk require baggy pants to hold their coins, then Massey can get by with skinny jeans. Yet here he is with i.am, scrapping, looking for a seat at the volatile tech table.
“I know it seems counterintuitive for me to be out here elbowing my way into the tech space right now. Believe me, I get it,” Massey said.
But even in a wobbly economy, the principle of supply and demand remains stable, explained Mike Walden, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor Emeritus in N.C. State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Walden, also president of Walden Economic Consulting, said i.am is positioned, at least conceptually, to take advantage of market conditions.
“Since this venture is designed to help individuals find jobs, and since most economists think job searches will become more difficult with a slowing economy, then I think usage of the described service will increase in coming months,” Walden said.
During the first investment round for i.am, Massey raised $50,000. The second round generated $30,000 this calendar year. Some of those investors include Massey’s fraternity brothers from the Alpha Kappa Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. at North Carolina Central University.
“My investment in inquireaboutme is not only about investing in a black-owned technology company, this investment is about adhering to lessons instilled in Thomas and I approximately 28 years ago — brotherhood and networks,” said Fred Barnes, managing partner at TAC Integrated Solutions in Washington, D.C. “When the call came to be a part of this phenomenal opportunity, I realized the privileges that come with networks. But, more importantly, I knew my role was to support my brother in whatever capacity he needed.”
Support from the marketplace is what Massey really needs. Massey expects an uptick in i.am users after increased marketing in the coming weeks.
Available through Google Play and Apple’s App Store, i.am lets users compile all the things related to getting a job — cover letters, résumés, samples — in a single digital hub, allowing employers on demand to go online and both see and hear for themselves what references have to say about individuals they’re considering hiring. University admissions officers could listen to someone speak authentically about the way a student prospect volunteered at the local homeless shelter, and there might be video references from a teacher or high school counselor, for example. A high school athlete could include sports highlights and have coaches upload video references. Members of an organization could view both written and video references for potential members.
“The overall objective is to utilize inquireaboutme to unite all people and make informed decisions, some of the most important decisions of their lives,” Massey said. “My next move is to partner with universities, colleges, businesses and organizations.”