Lisa Conn ‘06 is co-founder and COO of Gatheround, a team-bonding and community engagement platform for people-focused organizations seeking to build relationships and strengthen teams in an era of disconnection and distraction. She has held leadership roles at Facebook, the MIT Media Lab, FWD.us, and President Obama’s campaign, consistently focused on healing societal division through community and technology.
Lisa received her B.A. from NYU and an MBA from MIT. Formerly named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, her work has been featured in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Vice News, and more.
What was your inspiration for starting Gatheround?
My co-founders and I are former community organizers. We have a passion for bringing people together in meaningful ways, and we know how important the work of gathering people is.
Three years ago, we built the first version of Gatheround with a kernel of an idea — that there had to be a more authentic way for groups to connect than staring at a dull slide deck and listening to a monologue, or trying to start a conversation with a sea of tiny faces in squares.
Why? Humans have always been social creatures. We are at our happiest gathering around campfires or cafes or porches to share stories and lose track of time together. When the internet came along, it gave us more ways to interact than ever before, but something got lost in translation. After studying these community trends during my time at Facebook and as a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, it became clear to me that something is missing in online interactions: real humanity.
At Gatheround, we’re working to help solve this problem. We believe that stronger communities are the antidote to isolation and the key to human happiness — and can enable us to gather around and solve humanity’s greatest challenges together.
What about your experience at Sage Hill helped prepare you while developing Gatheround?
Three things stand out most from my time at Sage Hill: the intelligence of the student body, Town [Meetings], and discussion-based classes.
Sage Hill was full of incredibly smart, talented, hard-working people. It gave me a real affinity for working with and learning from brilliant people. As a founder, a big part of my job is recruiting, hiring and leading talented teams. As a tech company, we are part of the so-called “knowledge economy” where the greatest resource our company has are people and talent. Sage Hill taught me to recognize talent and to work with exceptional people.
The Sage Hill Town [Meetings] stand out all these years later as a place where the community came together to share updates, ask questions, and get to know each other better. They had a special feeling — where everyone was equalized through information transparency, and we felt part of something bigger than ourselves. So much of what we are building at Gatheround attempts to replicate that feeling.
Finally, almost all of my classes at Sage Hill — including AP Calculus, somehow — were discussion based. This instilled in me a real love for group discussions where you learn from others, build on each other’s ideas, disagree in a constructive way, and share. At Gatheround, we are designing the best, most inclusive way for groups to have group discussions online. One example: we have a feature called Group Share, designed to facilitate group sharing. People who choose to share just pop on stage, one after the other. Everyone gets the same amount of time to speak, so no one can hog the stage, and the video simply fades to black when the time is up.
What is the main goal of Gatheround?
Gatheround’s mission is to help communities, companies and teams feel a sense of togetherness and belonging, no matter where their people are.
Despite the many benefits of distributed and remote work, one huge challenge for leaders is building connection, trust, and empathy between members of an organization without the daily interactions that happen in a physical space. At Gatheround, we hope to play a meaningful role in solving what is really a growing societal crisis around isolation and loneliness, helping teams establish the foundational trust that lies at the heart of every great organization.
We’re already used by dozens of Fortune 500 companies and the majority of the top 15 tech companies including Asana, Coinbase, Fiverr, Culture Amp, and many more.
What do you foresee in the future for Gatheround?
We all know that 2020 launched the great experiment in fully remote work. We are now in a liminal space between predominantly in office and whatever the future holds. But this last year was about more than the transition to remote and hybrid — it also introduced major changes to employee attitudes and expectations. Employees increasingly expect their employers to care about their holistic mental health and wellbeing. The political realities of this last year brought about increased awareness of the inequities that still permeate our world and workplace, and so more than ever, employees expect their employees to demonstrate a real commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. All of these changes have left people leaders in need of more resources and support.
I’ve led large teams throughout my career, and I know first hand how essential company culture is: you can have the best strategy in the world, but without a strong culture, it won’t work. And while building culture has always been hard, all the rules are being rewritten today.
We started Gatheround by building an engaging way for employees to connect, bond, and learn. We’re currently building a new version of the product aimed at meeting the unique challenges of this moment. In the hopefully not-so-distant future, I see us being the leading solution for culture-obsessed companies at the forefront of the future of work.
Having had the opportunity to build something that will serve the community, what piece of advice can you provide to current Sage Hill students in serving their communities?
Know yourself well — understand your superpowers, your working styles, and your preferences. Learn to work well on teams. Pay attention to the world, and look out for what big challenges you care about that aren’t being addressed. Combine your knowledge of yourself, ability to work with others, and what you believe the world needs most to maximize your impact. And be kind and honest. Never sacrifice your integrity in the service of your ambition.