Note: This story was updated on March 24 to say that Workaholics was a program and not an app.
James Chapman has always had a passion for entrepreneurial and creative development endeavors. While working for community development nonprofit Causeway in Chattanooga, that was his focus.
Chapman noticed that creative people who used the space were often workaholics who rarely kept normal hours, and they often liked to collaborate, or at least run ideas by other creatives.
He developed an idea for a program called Workaholics that would let these creatives know if one of the work labs was available and who else was around. Chapman's work got noticed by a lot of people, including Dan Gilbert, owner of Rocket Mortgage and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Chapman, 35, was flown to Detroit by Gilbert several times and eventually hired to run the entrepreneurship and development programs associated with Detroit Demo Day, an annual event at which creatives pitch their ideas in hopes of getting up to $1 million in funding for them.
All the while, he kept thinking about his Workaholics idea, because it seemed to translate to his situation at the time.
"Even after I moved to Detroit, I kept thinking about Workaholics," Chapman said.
"People would ask, 'Yo, who's in the space now?' or 'Can you connect me to who is there?' or 'What are they doing?' What I realized was that technology could make those connections," he said.
He conceived of an app called Plain Sight, a social networking app for creatives looking to bounce ideas off of other people or to find how-to information.
He liked his job in Detroit, but the app idea wouldn't go away, so he had a tough decision. With his mind made up, he approached Gilbert to thank him for the opportunity and to tell him he was leaving to pursue his idea. Gilbert asked about the idea and said it was the first one he'd heard in a while that excited him. He agreed to become an angel investor and to take the lead on raising $1 million.
"I just went to him to let him know I was out and wanted his respect," Chapman said. "I was shocked when he said he'd help. He came big."
Chapman is a "non-technical founder," meaning he had the idea but doesn't have the skillset to build the app. That was done by developers in Detroit. Chapman, who divides his time these days between Chattanooga and Atlanta, communicates with them via computer, usually while at a local coffee shop or workspace.
The networking app was launched five months before the pandemic and was featured as an Apple App of the Day, but because it was originally designed to connect people in person, it has been somewhat reworked. Chapman said the original idea was that Delta Airlines travelers who had layovers, for example, might gather in the Delta Sky Lounges and see if other creatives were there as well. Delta has become a partner in the app.
Chapman has broadened his idea to appeal to creatives anywhere online.
"It would allow you to grow your network with other people," he said. "So, instead of talking to the guy at the bar about your idea, you can check in with people with similar interests."
The app is free and makes its revenue from advertisers such as co-working spaces or coffee shops that might appeal to app users.
As part of its mission, it attempts to "combat any initial unconscious bias that might prevent members from connecting with one another" by using avatars instead of profile pictures, for example.
Ciara Williams, a Detroit-based entrepreneur, started a juice business in 2019. She downloaded the app about four months ago and said it has already helped her connect with developers who were able to answer some questions about her website. She said she likes that it immediately connects her with like-minded people and "takes the fluffiness out of it.
"I can jump right in, and I think the name is perfect, because how many times have you heard of something that was just around the corner or right there in front of you and you didn't know it?"
Williams said she also likes the avatar and use of initials instead of full names and detailed profile information.
"It lets you connect based on your needs and not all of that personal stuff," she said.
People can still insert their social channels, link to their work and have others vouch for them, but the hope is that people connect based on their interests and skills.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.