Solving the Gen Y Woman’s Career Problem

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Levo League launched last week by founders Caroline Ghosn and Amanda Pouchot. It’s a professional social network for Gen Y women, and is funded to the tune of $1.25 million by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Ning founder Gina Biancihini, and Gilt Groupe’s Susan Lyne among others.

Oh, and it sucks.

Big connections mean big expectations and I’d say with the exception of some fantastic and probably un-deserved PR (Can you say privilege? Co-founder Caroline Ghosn is the daughter of Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn), the launch has fallen spectacularly flat.

The site is confusing and manages to mash up bad and outdated UI simultaneously, while not making it clear that you need to be “accepted” to use the site. And let’s stop right there and point out that applying to be accepted flies in the face of Generation Y’s most basic principles, the team-building generation that gives everyone a trophy. We like to flatten hierarchy, not build it. While I understand the tactic is more about marketing, creating false scarcity around a demographic that puts inclusion first is lame.

After sign up, you are dumped into an environment with limited content – although what content is there is solid – a teeny tiny job board, a deserted community “lounge” (already?), and a directory of companies with no job openings.

Except, wait, the joke is on you. When you are accepted into Levo League, the content and pages on the site? Exactly the same.

Totally bizarre, to say the least. Let’s not forget, similar, if not identical sites have tried and failed. Damsels in Success, also described as a social network for professional women, launched back when I was a wee beginner of a blogger. Founder Harleen Kahloon also had major connections, lots of press, and good content. And yet, the site no longer exists.

Safe to say, the future of women and careers online is not a directory of companies, job listings, and a social network tacked on. It’s almost as if Levo League should have launched in the late nineties along with Careerbuilder and Monster. But these days, those guys are failing. Monster recently laid off 400 people and just last week, put itself up for sale.

(Sidebar and disclosure: Ryan’s company was also a professional social network for Gen Y at one point. And it too failed. I’ve watched the painful progression and pivots over three years to Brazen’s current, successful iteration that allows recruiters and job candidates to connect in a useful and innovative way.)

The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure Levo League’s founders know this too.  The number one thing you can do for career opportunities and advancement (read: dream jobs, meaningful work, more money, better titles) is to network, network, and network. Eighty percent of job openings are filled through networking (you know, actually talking to people), and certainly Ghosn and Pouchot are masters in this regard. These founders are exceptionally smart and likeable, and engaging to watch to boot.

But managing your career and building a start-up are different. At some point the relationships that give you money, press, and maybe even your first few thousand users will do nothing to retain your users, build loyalty and create rabid fans. PR is only an attention-based mechanism. It does nothing for engagement, retention or product strategy. It is one thing for friends to support you to your face, but it is quite another for them to use the product you’ve built and integrate it into their daily or weekly life. Friends aren’t users.

The Levo League site just isn’t set up to support networking and mentorship between ambitious women. There is an interesting opportunity there, however. Why not create a mentorship site that matches mentors like dating sites match mates? Or even simply match like-minded career women? That sort of algorithm would be awesome and totally useful.

I have no doubt Levo League will be successful, eventually. Their smarts, that kind of money, and their high-profile backers mean Ghosn and Pouchot will have the luxury to pivot, iterate and learn from their mistakes. Let’s just hope they fail fast. I’m ready to see what’s next.

What do you need to succeed in your career? Networking, support, advice? What’s missing on career sites today?