What can one achieve in five minutes? The lionised American indie rock band R.E.M. wrote its biggest hit Losing My Religion, and the song ultimately made it a household name. The New York Times’ Culture Desk started a series online to make readers fall in love with classical music within that time span. The same duration can also be converted into a life hack. “If you don’t want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you’ll end up doing the whole thing,” CEO of Instagram and billionaire Kevin Systrom suggests.
However, what if a piece of tech could help us reclaim aborted dreams as we reflect on all the ladders unclimbed? What if a machine could turn back time and prove Robert Frost wrong — that choosing one path over the other does not make all the difference? Alas, those innovations have yet to be invented, but a new app can point you to an expert who may be able to set you on a life-altering course when your career resembles an endless stream of curveballs — all in the time you spend reading this article.
Your future is Anyone’s concern and, by that, we mean the new social audio platform led by Berlin-based Cavalry Ventures. Having raised US$4 million (RM17.6 million) so far, the spiffy app has been doling out career advice by high-profile entrepreneurs and industry leaders, who are helping employees find a foothold in the professional world. Now out of its beta stage, Anyone is giving audio-based contenders, which operate in the same vein as Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, a run for their money by offering exclusive mentorship that extends beyond workplace norms. Lifting those deprived of opportunities is a way of levelling the playing field.
As with any form of exclusivity, however, there is a catch. Each call is capped at the five-minute mark. The rationale is simple: It is short enough to train a person to elucidate their ideas succinctly (like a sales pitch) without hemming and hawing, but also long enough to absorb useful advice through a one-on-one connection. A conversation with someone who has already jumped through the hoops can provide precisely the insights to break down one’s ambition into quantifiable goals and actionable steps. You could be discussing marketing strategies with Dior’s e-commerce and digital director Zohar Benjelloun one day and virtual storytelling with the higher-ups from online menswear marketplace Mr Porter the next.
In the midst of a mental health crisis that has sent half the world scrambling for more meaningful ventures, Anyone’s CEO and co-founder David Orlic believes a well-structured mentoring business can help people find their life bearings again. “Our belief is that there are a lot of five-minute problems that we could be solving, whereas there are a lot of 30- or 60-minute problems that have solutions designed for them already. So, we’re building this for those conversations that are not happening.” He also hinted that the five-minute limit is set as such to leave Anyone’s callers a little hungry to “fuel transactions across the marketplace”.
Years ago, dispensing career advice was seen as remedial, as if the candidate in need was coming up short. But an app like Anyone, which tears down the traditional walls of a mentor-mentee relationship, does not view coaching as a means of reaching the finishing line but the start of the next heat. With help from others, putting time into honest introspection can determine whether you are walking into a wall or the hall of fame. It also helps that the social media platform is recruiting executives of different seniorities because, depending on where you place on the corporate ladder, they can relate and empathise with your struggles better.
Having a counsellor in your back pocket sounds convenient, but only if you have enough experts on board to wring valuable lessons from their experiences. UK-based Room Mentoring, a grassroots support network within the British fashion industry that seeks to increase representation among marginalised groups, has been grooming aspiring fashion mavens into inspiring executives since 2015. Selling advice can also be entertaining, as evidenced by American online education subscription service MasterClass, whose triumph is built on the impeccable brand of its notable instructors such as Martin Scorsese, Neil Gaiman and Hans Zimmer. But as usual, the road to success or “access to genius”, as MasterClass calls it, always comes at a price.
And a hefty one, at that. To put it into perspective, speakers using Anyone can set their own rates, from as little as US$5 to as much as US$500. The app takes a straightforward 20% cut of the advice fee. MasterClass on the other hand, which offers various lessons from crafting vivid prose with Margaret Atwood to properly salting an eggplant à la Gordon Ramsay, allows you to access more than 100 courses via a slew of glossy videos at just US$180 a year. Orlic was quick to justify Anyone’s extreme price range: Experts can choose to donate their fee to a charity if they do not wish to financially benefit from the advice they are dishing out.
At present, the audio app has clocked more than 9,000 five-minute calls, but Orlic, together with co-founder Alfred Malmros, is aiming for at least 100,000 submissions within a year. To compete with existing communication platforms such as Cameo and Bright, both of which enable celebrities, influencers and industry elites to sell personalised coaching videos, Anyone will vet and verify its curated list of specialists to reduce imposters who steal from free-floating advice on the internet. A rating system will also be introduced to ensure that users understand what constitutes good advice, how to avoid projection and eliminate biases in conversations.
Anyone has courted many people in the middle of their career who are not just looking for pointers on how to improve their jobs or pivot into something new — some may be able to, for the first time, feel encouraged to dip their toes in a field that seems off-limits at first. The fluidity of technology has proven that it takes more than one person to show you the ropes — it now takes a network to open the right doors. If you are seeking bite-sized inspiration instead of sage advice while going through a rough patch, well, you know who you’re gonna call.
This article first appeared on May 30, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.