Andrew Eckart and Justin Bobo see an opportunity as only the millennial generation can.
The 2014 Vanderbilt University graduates were working in different jobs in different industries — Eckart studied civil engineering and worked in sales at a construction software company; Bobo studied economics and worked as an analyst for a private equity fund — but discovered they had the same problem.
They felt there wasn’t a platform that best enabled and empowered professional service providers to work together on issues facing mutual clients by providing a secure and streamlined place for all communications and file sharing.
So, they created Collar Technologies, an online community where likeminded professionals and clients can discover and review trusted advisers and team members.
Currently in public beta online, Collar is not intended to be just another tool for customer relationship management, Eckart said.
“Rather than having clients continue to act as intermediaries, we want to encourage direct communication between professionals with transparent client participation,” he said. “We also think this can be a valuable tool to help professionals develop business by allowing prospective clients to find and connect with them.”
It works like this: professionals create an individual profile before creating an “office” for each one of their clients, including shared and direct messaging and file sharing capabilities.
“There also will be an office-wide feed that documents all of the activity that has taken place, so you can sign in and see what has been going on between your clients and other included professionals,” Bobo said.
Eckart said Collar can help professionals work more efficiently with multiple clients this way.
“You can go from looking at the conversations you are having with one client to looking at the files that you share with another client, all in one place,” he said.
Collar also is built with compliance in mind, he added.
“Unlike a lot of general purpose communications tools, Collar does not allow someone to edit or delete messages once they have been sent,” Eckart said. “When a conversation is archived, it will still remain accessible only to those included.
“You can delete files, but the metadata, such as the name of the file, its type and when it was shared, will still be reserved.”
There is a method to this madness, Bobo said.
“If there were ever to be a legal issue, you can know that everything has been securely tracked and documented,” he said.
I was one of two dozen young professionals from a range of local firms — including accountants, attorneys, administrative assistants and more — to participate in a focus group that not only would learn more about Collar but also be able to provide insights and suggestions as potential future users.
Eckert and Bobo said they knew they needed to test their online community and mobile application with the professional service providers it was intended for. So, they went to Sobel & Co., the Livingston-based certified public accounting and consulting firm, to create the event.
They were looking for questions. And got plenty.
The biggest concerns regarded online security and whether the entrepreneurs understood the level of due diligence it would take for an organization to potentially adopt the use of the program.
“We know that is one of the early challenges, and while we have not yet worked with a third-party cybersecurity firm, we would like to go through that process soon,” Eckart said. “Our security system currently is used widely by most of the services that you already use, with most software using either the Google or Amazon clouds, and is more secure than a Gmail account.
Another question: Who, exactly, gets to decide what is viewed and by whom?
“No one outside of an office can access its files or conversations, and even within an office, administrators can control who has access to each,” Eckart said. “While file permissions cannot exclude administrators or the owners of each office, other office participants can be removed.
“We also would like to add an organizational account so that, if an employee were to sign up, an administrator from that organization could oversee how many professionals are using the program, which offices they are creating, who has been given access to each conversation and file, and more.”
The young professionals also were interested to learn how they themselves might be reviewed while utilizing the business development tool within Collar.
“We would like to add review moderation down the line, and if a current issue is reported, we can manually take malicious reviews down,” Eckart said.
Lastly, there was a question as to whether there would be an open community within Collar for professionals across organizations to meet and collaborate.
“We hadn’t thought of that, but we certainly can create a public channel in which any Collar user can join, so that people can interface, coordinate and brainstorm with one another without necessarily needing to be included in a client-protected office,” Eckart said.
Emily Sobel-Grise, in human resources and business development at Sobel & Co., thought the event went well.
It certainly met her goal of creating a networking environment for millennials.
“As Andrew was describing his concept for an online collaborative tool, we both agreed that his target audience is the millennial generation, as the successors to Generation X and Baby Boomers are the most likely to embrace technology-driven and -supported communications processes,” she said.
Sally Glick, principal and chief growth strategist at Sobel & Co., said Collar is the type of company Sobel is looking to help.
“Sobel & Co. is committed to working closely with entrepreneurs like Andrew, helping them to launch new ideas, grow their companies, and create thriving, sustainable organizations,” she said.
Eckart and Bobo feel they got just that.
The next step for Collar remains to be seen.
Collar is currently free for clients — but Eckart and Bobo are considering subscription service fees, promoted search results and targeted advertising for professionals.
“You can have a lot of influence over what Collar is at this stage,” Eckart said to the room of young professionals. “We have lots of ideas, but we really want to hear how you would guide this into what you need it to be to solve the problems you currently are having.”