DURHAM - The guy either is one of the most stubborn individuals you’ll ever meet or knows something everybody else is missing.
“It will happen in due time by staying the course,” said Thomas Massey.
He’s the CEO of inquireaboutme.com (i.am), a no-cost social media network that enables individuals to provide, share and view professional and personal references in both visual and written form. Think LinkedIn and then some.
Massey launched i.am in December 2020. The global pandemic was roiling, back when seemingly everything was online. Big Tech was on a heater, because COVID-19 forced the marketplace to everybody’s fingertips: remote work; online school; meal delivery. Tech was the toast of the town.
COVID-19 vaccines unplugged the toaster. Things cooled off, pretty fast, or at least quickly enough to disrupt scaling and lead to layoffs in the tech space. In the first half of 2023, tech companies laid off more than 300,000 workers, according to Insider, an independent news hub. Even LinkedIn — where folks go to look for work — shed nearly 1,400 positions in two separate cuts this year.
Here’s Massey, though, head down, plowing ahead with his tech start-up in an uncertain economy getting its knees chopped from under it by a news cycle dotted with unflattering exclamation points.
“Faith, patience, resilience and a strong work ethic that's unmatched will prove to be a winning formula. It simply takes time and understanding in knowing that it won't happen overnight,” Massey said.
Among the distinguishing features of i.am is its efficiency. The platform is a one-stop shop where job seekers can have their résumés reviewed and references checked. And because there’s a video option for those references, employers can see and hear what someone has to say about an applicant. There is no linking to other sites and then rummaging through a slew of tabs to get back to the starting point. The i.am platform makes it a seamless scrolling experience.
The thing with i.am is it’s not exclusively for navigating the employment space, Massey said. Think about any lane requiring a reference, and i.am is the tool that can provide the fix — high school students applying for college; adults seeking membership in civic or professional organizations, for example, he explained.
“The platform is so nimble,” Massey said. “If I’m a high school athlete trying to showcase my highlights and needing college coaches to hear what my coaches and teachers have to say about me, then I’m hopping on i.am and posting my stuff there. So many possibilities.”
Mike Walden, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor Emeritus in N.C. State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, has said the i.am concept makes sense because it’s designed to help people find jobs, and plenty of individuals need jobs these days. But Walden didn’t go so far as to call the venture a slam dunk.
Massey’s investors are confident. They aren’t putting pressure on Massey to trim expenses, such as cutting back on what he’s paying contractors to push the buttons and develop the bells and whistles on the backend of the i.am platform.
“I believe in the guy,” said Fred Barnes, an i.am investor and managing partner at TAC Integrated Solutions in Washington, D.C. “Is he stubborn about it? Yeah, and that’s what it takes.”
Massey owns it, likening himself to sports agent Rich Paul, who represents professional athletes including Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. Paul didn’t grow up seeing Black sports agents, so he had to find his own path. Massey, a Black man, says similarly.
“I’m a unicorn when I’m in the marketplace telling venture capitalists about i.am. It’s hard to believe in a unicorn, because they’re anomalies, you’re not used to seeing them, you don’t know whether to trust them. But I have a network of supporters, especially my Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers, who believe in what I’m doing,” Massey said.
Some of i.am’s investors are members of the Alpha Kappa Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, at North Carolina Central University, Massey’s alma mater. Family and friends have his back, too.
“My support system is incredible. Too many to name. They know who they are,” Massey said.
Sandra McDade is one of them.
“Thomas Massey has proven that when everything around you is shutting down or closing up, that is the precise moment for you to buckle down and start up. That is exactly what he did!” said McDade, an i.am investor. “He launched his inquireaboutme app during a pandemic. He never allowed the problems of the world or any personal circumstances to derail his vision.”
Richard Burton, the chief financial officer for i.am, said gearing up for a strong fourth-quarter close to the fiscal year is the focus. More people joining the platform helps toward that end, because that makes investors and potential investors feel better about the venture, said Burton, who pledged Kappa Alpha Psi at Clemson University.
Free of charge and available through Google Play and Apple’s App Store, i.am has a new feature that streamlines the college application process, Massey said. High school and college athletes could use the platform to market themselves for name, image and likeness deals, he said.
Still in the development phase is a feature on the i.am platform that will cater to busy human resources professionals when AI technology is enabled to optimize the process for checking references, Massey said.