Maryam Banikarim currently serves as the CMO of Nextdoor, the popular hyperlocal neighborhood and community app.

 She’s no stranger to finding her own communities; as her family moved around the world, she found purpose in stepping in and being useful wherever her family lived. These experiences serve her well as she leads marketing at Nextdoor and keeps the brand’s purpose at the helm of their efforts.

"I think for us at nextdoor, for example, our purpose is around cultivating kindness and making sure everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on."

Maryam BanikarimChief Marketing Officer, Nextdoor

Transcription

Katie Hankinson (00:00):

Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson and I’m Mickey Cloud. Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies. Well, welcome to Building While Flying. My guest today is Maryam Banikarim, career leader and purpose driven change agent. Maryam has a storied career across numerous industries from journalism to publishing and TV, to working as global CMO at Hyatt hotels group. She currently sits as CMO of next door, the neighborhood networks, social media platform that operates in 200 and seventy-five thousand neighborhoods across 11 countries worldwide and connects neighbors, businesses and public services, as well as Maryam sitting across countless boards are nonprofits. So not too busy, then Maryam, welcome to the show. Well, thank

Maryam Banikarim (01:04):

You so much for having me. I really appreciate

Katie Hankinson (01:06):

It. I’m excited to dive in, um, especially with your depth of experience. I think we can, we’ll we’ll hope to cover a decent amount on in our chat. Um, so I thought before we dive into the kind of bigger picture, um, building while flying and what you’ve been doing on the next door side of things, love to just talk a bit about your background. We touched on your pretty diverse career path, but you, you lived through a revolution as a child. You’ve lived all around the world. Um, can you talk a bit about the experiences that have shaped who you are today and as a change agent and most recently as CMO next door?

Maryam Banikarim (01:40):

So it’s true. I, um, grew up, uh, for the most part in Iran as a kid, uh, we moved in 79 when I was around 11, when the revolution broke out first to Paris and then to Northern California. Um, and I think I was fortunate. We grew up speaking English and I didn’t have an accent, so I was able to blend in, whereas I think, um, blend in as much as one can obviously being different, but it was definitely a degree more, um, E it was

Katie Hankinson (02:08):

Slightly under the radar,

Maryam Banikarim (02:09):

Slightly, slightly easier if you didn’t have an accent and sort of had parents that were Western, so you dress more like everybody else, but, you know, I think for me early on, um, this idea of sort of community and fitting in right, was something that I experienced not being a part of. And obviously sort of, particularly when you move in middle school, that, that idea of how do you sort of read the room and find your way in, was really sort of visceral. Right. And I think I learned quite early on how to sort of take a look around me, um, and sort of understand the norms, um, of what was happening and then sort of figured out how to navigate that. Um, and one of the ways I navigated that was by just joining right, by being willing to step in, I have my kids laugh at me.

Maryam Banikarim (02:59):

Right. Cause, um, they’re like moms, you know, mom always just steps in and joins and gets involved. And I think for me, it was just a way to feel useful and then being useful, you sort of found purpose and you found community. Um, and I, and I was able to sort of compartmentalize, you know, that noise that we all probably haven’t have at a higher degree in like the middle school age. Um, you know, you weren’t like everybody else, you didn’t look like everybody else. I mean, I joined, I showed up in middle school in California. I just moved from Paris. I were like a poofy ballet skirt. And Lisa, you know, sat in shoes and we’ll put the Beto shirt and it was the era of Calvin Klein jeans and Izods, and I stood out like a sore thumb. Um, I think that night I went home and I said to my mom, I need to go to the mall so I can look like everybody else, but that notion of, um, being different and yet figuring out, you know, how you look around, but what you pick up and how you can blend in with something that I think I got early.

Maryam Banikarim (04:00):

But then also I sort of benefited from, by stepping in sort of finding community and finding my way. And sometimes when it became a habit, I think, um, that then served me well, just, I would say throughout my life. Right. And so even later when my parents stopped moving and I kept moving, whether it was moving to Argentina or Paris, I was very focused on feeling like a local. When I landed, I was very much somebody who wanted to show up and, and find people who were local and do local things versus just tourist things. And I think, um, so at its core, I think community has been a big part of my entire life and sort of this idea of, um, connecting to find community, to make a difference with something that I didn’t articulate or know about specifically, but sort of has become clear in terms of what I just did instinctively.

Katie Hankinson (04:51):

That’s such a, the connecting to find community to make a difference weaves together, that ability to read the room to step in. Um, but then obviously also to drive community. And now here you find yourself at next door, you can live and breathe that in the day-to-day.

Maryam Banikarim (05:07):

Yeah, I think, um, you know, it’s funny when I, when I left Hyde hotels and took what I now call a gap year and a half, um, you know, I wasn’t sure I would go back in and over time cause I wasn’t actively looking for a job. I sort of had, um, joined a bunch of boards and had agreed to be a executive in residence at Columbia. You know, my, my son said as an unemployed person, I was busier than ever. So I wasn’t sure I would go back. But what I discovered is I would get a phone call here and there was that I sort of had this four box in terms of things I would, um, sort of consider, which you know, was not the norm. I would say like, can I make a difference? Do I believe in the product? Um, do I get to work with people I respect and can I learn?

Maryam Banikarim (05:51):

Right? And so those aren’t sort of the things you normally put on a resume in terms of what you’re, what you’re looking for when you start searching. But what I began realizing was that those were the things that intrigued me. And I think for me while it was super interesting and I really definitely think stepping away was the best decision I ever made. What I also discovered is I missed being part of a team. I missed operating and doing things with others. For me, it was never an individual journey. It was always a team. Like I was Jim Collins, who I got introduced to early in my career. I was always interested in being on the bus. I didn’t need to be the leader of the bus. I just wanted to feel like it was a team sport. That’s

Katie Hankinson (06:31):

I love that, that, um, that a way of looking at things, I also think the four box is such a valuable way to just really simply get to something that is about values alignment. Um, and it’s not just about kind of the belief piece, it’s the action part of it as well. Like can I make a difference it’s as, as, as valuable as do I respect the thing that the people are doing?

Maryam Banikarim (06:53):

Yeah. I mean, you know, again, I think like as a kid who were up, um, sort of in chaos and revolution, I sort of always felt like you only lived once. And so, you know, my, my, my joke was you better make a difference cause you know, we’re going to be around for long. And I remember early in my career, I actually had the opportunity to interview with Richard Kirshenbaum. Um, I didn’t end up going to Krisha, but on that interview he said to me, if you were a car, what kind of a car would you be in? I wasn’t really a car person. And it was kind of, you know, you were just on the spot and the interview. And I remember saying, oh, I’d be a 1960s, two 50 SL convertible. It was just this classic car. I’d seen it at a car show randomly. Um, and he said, well, why would you be that car? And I said, well, it’s kind of a classic, but it’s trendy. And, um, you know, if I was going to be a card, be convertible because you only live once and I wanna be able to feel the wind in my hair

Katie Hankinson (07:42):

Pretty good off the cuff. So I love it. Yeah.

Maryam Banikarim (07:45):

But I think it’s, it’s the same thing. Right? I mean, that car was not, you know, it was like sort of this, um, sort of traditional, but trendy sort of, you know, it was sort of embodied a lot of things. I feel that way about a mini, a mini Cooper convertible, right? Like this idea that like, um, it’s a little bit of you, it’s not too flashy, but it’s, um,

Katie Hankinson (08:05):

It’s got a little bit of that freedom

Maryam Banikarim (08:07):

And actionability, right. And, um, this idea of like timestamps stills, when you were in a convertible and listening to music with the air and, you know, in your hair, it was always something that sort of stayed stuck

Katie Hankinson (08:17):

With me. Oh, I have such a great vision of you now that the metaphor have you approach life. That’s fantastic. So you’ve sort of come from very much like a clear sense of values alignment in the, in the work that you’ve done over the years. You’ve, you’re currently at next door, which kind of brings together making a difference, belonging, the community aspect, learning you also have been pretty vocal throughout your career about the idea of purpose on the, on the brand side. Um, can you talk a bit about that? I mean, the conversation is, is definitely happening more and more right now, consumers are asking for it. Um, can you talk about when you think about this, how you apply this in your brand building and your

Maryam Banikarim (08:55):

Efforts in your current role? Yeah. You know, so I got introduced to purpose when I was at Univision and I remember at the time, uh, Jerry Perenchio owned Univision and the team had been trying to get Jerry to let them do advertising on a B2B side. We obviously did advertising to consumers, which was in Spanish. Right. But the business operated in English, most people who bought Univision were buying, um, a product or a program. They didn’t understand because it was for the most part in English language buyer, who’s buying site, which media. So, um, you know, the sales team, um, at the time kept wanting to do ads. And at one point, um, they convinced Jerry that like, we should have some air cover in the form of ads. And he basically said, well, we need to go find an agency. I was probably the most likely candidate to go help do that.

Maryam Banikarim (09:44):

I’ve worked on that project with him. And in that process, we actually ended up meeting Roy Spence, where I spent at the time was [inaudible]. And he said to Jerry, I don’t want to do ads for you. I actually want to help you figure out your purpose. And that’s really when I got introduced to this idea of purpose and, um, you know, I think people PR to your point, like purposes come into fashion, but it’s really honestly been around for a very long time. Right? Frankly, that idea of purpose in the way that Jim Collins talks about it is about like your north star. It’s not about your CSR strategy or your social impact strategy. It’s about your north stars and organization. And frankly, it reminded me of a class I took at Columbia. The more I learned about it, which was a class that Edward Deming used to give.

Maryam Banikarim (10:29):

Right? So like, again, like these ideas are never original. It’s like Joseph Campbell, there’s seven ideas. We repeat, um, Edward Deming used to say that, you know, the airlines, the trains, the characters, didn’t see the trains, the trains didn’t see the automotive because they saw themselves in a very linear business. But if you actually thought about the greater purpose that you were solving, you actually had a much wider aperture into the business you were in. And so then you could see changes as they came. I, I, that always sort of struck me because if you’re, if you’re, if you actually thought of yourself as a railroad owner, as in the business of moving body in space, you would have thought of things differently than if you thought of yourself in the railroad business. Right. And I think one of the things I’ve discovered when you actually do purpose work and Southwest is sort of a classic example of somebody who did purpose work early.

Maryam Banikarim (11:16):

And there was, they said, we’re not in the airline business. We’re actually in the freedom business, we actually offer $49 fares. And so people now have the freedom to fly who never did before. Well, not seismically shifted the way they approach their business. It wasn’t about their marketing. It wasn’t about, you know, their sales effort. It was really a decision in terms of a business as to the lens they were going to put on top of the business in terms of how they made decisions. Right? And so they then pulled that through their marketing that translated to an ad campaign that said, dang, you’re free to move about the building. It wasn’t a one-to-one relationship, but they also made decisions like got rid of blackout dates, right? We’re in the freedom business, we have blackout dates, which was a costly decision, right. But it showed the world that they actually were putting where their money, where their mouth was. And I think that, you know, today, especially in the world where we have social media, you can’t hide right. There is, it is so

Katie Hankinson (12:09):

Obvious if you’re not walking the talk. And

Maryam Banikarim (12:11):

I think that, um, purpose was never really just about marketing purpose was about the north star of an organization and a business strategy. Um, you know, Jim Collins sort of has this Venn diagram. It’s like, what are you best at in the world? What can you make money at? Um, so it’s about, it’s about actually how you make money. It’s not about being a nonprofit. Um, and what’s the difference you want to make, right? So what’s your north star that you’re trying to go to. And I think, um, you know, it’s a really good reminder. And I think for us at next door, for example, our purpose is around cultivating kindness and making sure everyone has a neighborhood they could rely on. That’s a very different lens than if I thought of myself as just a social media company or a technology company. Right. Which becomes a much narrower lens within which to operate at Hyatt. Our purpose was around caring for you to be your best. That’s a very different lens than thinking you’re just in the hospitality business. Um,

Katie Hankinson (13:05):

I also think it’s fascinating because I mean, even as I was thinking about, you know, next door as the example, you know, you’re the kind of natural place your head goes is it’s about community. It’s about creating connections with community. For me, a lot of it felt like about belonging, but I love that it took it. You took it one step beyond that into cultivating kindness and making a neighborhood. Everyone can rely on like there’s so much in there that is more than just this instead of feeling of belonging. It’s, it’s what truly makes the connections meaningful.

Maryam Banikarim (13:38):

The byproduct of that is that you feel you belong, right? So I think, um, you know, words matter, right? And so you end up purpose. Purpose words are usually one sentence, but as somebody who’s done purpose work and multiple companies, I mean, you end up debating every single word for hours. You have the right months, but words matter. And so I think, um, you know, when I first joined nextdoor, I could understand the, everybody has a neighborhood that can rely on you get them consider I need, um, my dog’s lost, I need my keys. I was like, kindness. That seems so lofty three weeks into the job COVID broke out. And you began to see people show up on the platform saying, um, I, if you’re immunocompromised, I can run and get you. Right. And so just sort of that instinct that shows up, and frankly, I think it’s the majority of people have that instinct of, of, um, wanting to be useful in a moment of meat.

Maryam Banikarim (14:30):

Then you began to see that show up. And I think, you know, you see it in Trump in big ways. And small ways I say sometimes kindness is just waving to neighbor, has to be like, I’m off. Bring you my kidney. Uh, somebody, I was on the phone with reminding me of a story of a gentleman in Texas who really just wanted somebody to throw the ball with and his wife posted on next door and a whole bunch of neighbors responded. And he began having just a game in the backyard. He was a retired guy. Um, he just would throw the baseball around with his neighbors. Right. And I think you find utility, you find something you’re you need, but through that, you ended up finding community. And when, once you find community, you find belonging. I think we show up to the table. I mean, even me as an immigrant kid up showing up in a Lily white suburb of San Francisco, I didn’t show up and say, I’d like to belong. That’s just not how we can. That’s not how we actually process information, enjoining things. I began to feel like I belonged. Right. It’s a broad

Katie Hankinson (15:23):

And reading the room and recognizing what other people needed from you. Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And I also, I mean, I be curious to know, you know, what’s amazing about the fact that you’re, you know, you really are so close and tied and literally seeing a community behaving in front of you. There are many of these moments of kindness and humanity bubbling up on the platform. What are some of the principles or the actions that you’ve, or kind of structural things that the brand has done to kind of reflect cultivating kindness and, and creating a neighborhood much like your, your Southwest example about blackout dates. What are the next door versions of that for you?

Maryam Banikarim (16:03):

One of the things that I joined the next door is, um, th there there’s a, there’s a lot, a lot more, you learn every job, right. And I think me and Sarah is a very principled CEO. So we make a lot of frameworks in which to make decisions. And it’s actually been a really interesting discipline to really hone, right? Like what’s the principles to make a decision when it shows up. And then it forces you to go back and really sort of revisit some, you know, words on a page that really were meant to be more than that, right. There’s supposed to be behaviors. And so that’s a really important lens to go back when tough decisions show up. But, you know, also I think, you know, we we’re a community platform, right? And so in that sense, we have community guidelines that we expect people to be able to abide by.

Maryam Banikarim (16:48):

And if they don’t bend, we are not shy about asking them off the platform. Now we’re not perfect. And, um, I think one of the key things for next door was it, you know, the way next door it was founded 10, 11 years ago was that, um, the founders actually had read an article that Charles blow wrote that talked about how, despite our becoming more connected as a community with the internet and everything, 28% of Americans didn’t know a single one of their neighbors. And that seemed like a startling statistic. And so they really set out from a neighborhood level to connect neighbors, not just so that they would be connected digitally, but so that they could be connected in real life. So the whole premise of the brand was to leverage technology, but really to enable humanity, right? It’s not about spending as much time as possible online.

Maryam Banikarim (17:33):

It’s about spending time online with the idea of getting to actually connect in real life with somebody. And so I think when you do that, one of the things that we were very focused on early on, and it’s still true today is that we actually have community led moderation. I say all the time, you know, um, one of the women who’s in our community team would say how, if they, if they swore, um, in their comments and in her neighborhood, people would take that off. Cause they would consider that disrespectful. Cause one of them is not being disrespectful. And I said, well, in New York we consider swear words, um, you know, a sign of endearment. So you do need that level, right? You need, I mean, some of it is obviously done, um, through AI, but a lot of it’s also done by actually having community-based moderation.

Maryam Banikarim (18:16):

And there was a reason for that, which was communities behave differently. And so I think one of the amazing things for me when I look at next door in globally is that it’s kind of a tapestry, right? Each neighborhood is different. It sort of weaves together to create, um, this bigger picture, but there are differences. I remember when COVID first broke out, um, we did an insights report, pulling data from how people were behaving. And you can see that as you got closer to the west coast, men were willing to cut their own hair. And as you got close to the east coast, they would just let it grow. Right. It’s kind of a fascinating psychology,

Katie Hankinson (18:50):

Oh my God. Such gems coming from the community and the things that I almost undefinable that you just pop up, but those medical moments you just described about,

Maryam Banikarim (19:00):

I know if I look at my own next door, right? I live in Chelsea, I’ve lived here for 20 years, whether people are complaining about, um, you know, somebody using their garbage can, that’s outside to drop their poop in a bag, or whether, you know, losing the key or my favorite story of Lois whose daughter posted on next door that she wanted to take her 91 year old mother to Staten island to visit her, um, her father’s grave site and 30 neighbors showed up who didn’t know and offer to take them. Right. And how incredibly magical that was. And then she came back after having had a couple showed up and took them. She actually organized birthday, socially distanced birthday in the park and Tribeca for her mom and invited anybody who wanted to come. And I actually like walked down to Tribeca and went because I just was so inspired by the fact that, um, the story just sort of was incredibly touching, right?

Maryam Banikarim (19:50):

Like what made her feel comfortable enough to ask for the help? And then why did this young lady offered to help and, and who was Lois? Right. And so I sort of showed up and it was kind of this incredibly magical experience. And I said to her, I want to tell your story. And she said, why? I said, because I want other people to know that they can ask for help, like you asked for help and that we’re willing to stand up. Now that’s a heartwarming story. But half of the time I look at some of the stuff on next door and it makes me laugh. Right. And I think that,

Katie Hankinson (20:19):

Oh, I have, that’s my principle. I’m a total lurker on next door. And my principal thing is finding hilarious Williamsburg or Brooklyn, my local neighborhood stories of just people piling on with humorous builds or, or people reaping. We United with their pets. That’s another one.

Maryam Banikarim (20:35):

So many, you know, I think, um, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, right? I mean, the things that we love about, um, our neighborhood, it’s kind of like the sitcoms. They’re funny, they’re quirky. Sometimes you’re irritating, but in the end, that’s what binds us together as a community. I think it’s not just my neighbors. It’s also my small businesses. Right. It’s Stefan who runs the French bakery, who everybody’s super connected to now, because we all have been in place for so long. Right. I used to be on a plane or in a different part of Manhattan on a regular basis over the course of my day. Now I’m in Chelsea. Right. And I know Chelsea way better than I ever did. Despite the fact that I’ve lived here for 20 years, like this last year and a half, I, you know, I noticed the tulips. I’m like, wow, I never knew they were tulips in the, in the garden then, you know, on ninth, ninth avenue. Cause he missed

Katie Hankinson (21:22):

Like the three weeks that they were in bloom or whatever. Yeah.

Maryam Banikarim (21:25):

I didn’t look down right. Or up for that matter.

Katie Hankinson (21:28):

We were looking at the screen. I know, I know the feeling. So let’s talk a bit about the pandemic. Cause I, I mean what a brand to have been like to have experienced the panic where the pandemic alongside as it were, you know, there’s, everyone’s personal experience exactly. As you say, everyone being resting and face. Also the fact that you’re connecting all these small businesses who are going really through incredibly tough times. Can you talk a bit about, you know, what, what next door experience during the pandemic, whether there were aspects of the way that you ran the business or communicated with your constituent, um, communities and just, um, also just what, what sort of moments of challenge, but also joy came out of the whole experience with, with some of these groups?

Maryam Banikarim (22:14):

Well, I would say, you know, like most businesses, three weeks in, like it was clear, things were bad and that they were bad in a big way. But I think for us, it’s really, when you got to see the organization begin to live its purpose, like we had a map that we had created for trick or treating. Um, it was a, basically a map that you basically could pin yourself on. So people would know that your house had candy. Right. And so what ended up happening is people needed help. They needed help quite urgently and, and in proximity to them. Right? So the first thing is everybody started working around the clock to actually enable groups so that you could find, you could set up groups and find each other easier than in the feed. So that was the first thing that happened then after the groups and I actually set up one in my own next door was called neighbors, helping neighbors so that we could find each other faster so that we could come to each other’s it.

Maryam Banikarim (23:04):

And then they actually talk the trigger treating map and made it into help map where you could pin yourself. So it was easier for somebody to say, well, I’m four blocks away. Visually there was a woman who needed help and somebody was helping her all the way from Greenwich village. And she was like, can somebody closer help? Cause it actually is a pretty big distance for me to get up there. So it was sort of seeing the product evolve at rapid speed to actually meet meaningfully the needs of neighbors. And I think all marketers, I mean, we all sort of said like, it’s not about making money or business this time. It’s about just meaning people are losing their lives. It’s about meaningfully being there in this moment and, and how can I help? And so that was really, um, you know, the first order of, and we learned things and we pivoted not just us, right? All businesses pivoted. So many people learn to be digital natives by the way that they hadn’t before. Um,

Katie Hankinson (23:54):

I feel like that hugely for local small businesses kind of overnight need to figure out how to do your restaurant menu or your cafe menu online or curbside pick up, you know, all those little details that people probably been one day I’ll get round to. It was suddenly overnight. It was a mandate.

Maryam Banikarim (24:12):

Uh, you had no choice, right? It became a matter of survival and people who’d never ordered groceries online were doing it on a regular basis. Right. I mean, there was just a whole bunch of shifts that ended up happening. Um, and then I think, um, you know, once it became clear that it wasn’t, you know, it’s not going to be over by the summer, right. It just kept going. And then you began finding other things. Now, of course, you know, there were periods that were difficult because with community moderation and you know, again, we’re not perfect system. There were times where we don’t actually, one of our guidelines is that we don’t, um, allow for national politics to happen in the main feed. If you want to type national politics, you know, it’s sort of the ideas like set up a group, move it to the side because there’s other places really for that discussion now, local politics, no, that’s very much something that’s core to next door, but in the middle of black lives matter, there were people who interpreted those guidelines.

Maryam Banikarim (25:04):

And if somebody posted about black lives matter, they’d be like, oh, this is national politics. And they took it off. And so that led to a whole cycle of like, you know, people are, um, have bad intent or the platforms not doing what it needs to be doing. Sometimes it takes 24 hours to be able to review the post and reinstate them. But in that window, that narrative begins to take hold. Um, and you know, and to be fair, sometimes somebody has bad intent, somebody, they don’t all things. That’s not like you putting your head in the sand. Every case

Katie Hankinson (25:31):

Is a specific and has to be evaluated.

Maryam Banikarim (25:34):

Every case is specific. And, you know, as the instances, as the noise was louder, there was just more instances of having to review things. And, you know, that was also a difficult period. And I think for us, you know, next door has a history of really taking this kind of thing seriously. And actually even before black lives matter, there had been a move towards something. We called the kindness reminder, which basically would, we’d worked with Jennifer Eberhardt who was sort of a preeminent scholar in this space at Stanford. And it developed this thing called the kindness reminder, which basically detects language in your posts. And if it perceives that you’re going to be unkind, it it’s basically like a moment of mindfulness where it slows you down and says, are you sure you want to post this? And just that moment of stopping you before you post actually changes how most people then end up actually finishing their post.

Maryam Banikarim (26:19):

Right. So that was something that we’d already put into place over time. We changed that, adapt it for sort of the new norm. And I think that those things, right, like the intention was always there. And I think for us, one of the things I really appreciate about the company and the leadership team is they take it all head on, right. You know, positive intent is definitely how everybody shows up to the table and they’re willing to do the work. And we spend a lot of time over the summer, not just talking about what we were doing, but actually doing so that we had something to point to because we all know actions matter more than words. And I think, you know, there was always room to do more and do better,

Katie Hankinson (26:55):

I think as well. I mean, what you’re, I think speaking so much too, is that the purpose is not just a statement. It is a tool and it’s something that you can come back to and use time and time again, to, to keep you on course and keep the trajectory of the business focus. So I love it. Um, one question on that kind of in, you know, the debate around many social platforms, so has been hotting up in recent years. When you think about the roadmap for next door and you look at some of the stumbles that other social media platforms have had around, you know, as they scale and they monetize aspects of their business, whether it’s around data privacy, fake news, you already addressed how you tackle politics. How, how are you in the leadership team thinking about some of those challenges and forces, or do you think about the trajectory of hopefully learning from other’s mistakes and, and planning your roadmap forward?

Maryam Banikarim (27:50):

Uh, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s something you’re, you’re always thinking and talking about. Right. But I go back to, we’re trying to compete with ourselves more than with other people. Like we’ve always been focused on the neighborhood and yes, of course you’re looking at everybody’s moves, but it’s also a little bit of knowing what the game is that you’re playing and staying that course. Right. And so for us, it’s always been about the neighborhood and the neighborhood ecosystem, um, you know, next door sort of where you go to plug into your neighborhood. It’s the place, you know, in my ideal world, you, you wake up, you check in, you see what’s going on, right? And so it’s not a vertical, it’s not like the only place you go to book a reservation, right? It’s the whole neighborhood ecosystem. And by the way, one of the things that we’ve changed in the product is sort of the aperture where now you can not just check in on Chelsea where I live, but you can also check in on the neighborhood outside of Boston, where my son goes to school or in Laguna beach where my mother lives.

Maryam Banikarim (28:43):

So sort of a different level of intimacy, but an aperture that allows you to go beyond your own neighborhood. I think we saw a lot of people who were either temporarily or permanently relocating. So you want to be able to look into other neighborhoods and get an insider view into different things in that neighborhood.

Katie Hankinson (28:57):

It might be about to move too. I love that. So smart. I saw that on the platform actually.

Maryam Banikarim (29:02):

Um, my other favorite stories is that I’m a woman named Sarah hartmeyer had in this predates, COVID had moved to Dallas and didn’t know anybody. And she literally reached out and I give her a lot of credit for the courage to just put herself out there. She said, I’m new to the neighborhood who wants to come for a potluck. She had 90 people show off for her potluck, right? I mean, it’s got a big house backyard, backyard. So she basically put out this backyard and she actually then started something. She called neighbor tables where she actually like creates a table for this pot. Like that gets people together. And, you know, people who’d been neighbors who had never met, showed up. Right. And so you begin to see that. I think, um, that behavior, particularly after a long period of us being isolated and disconnected, I, you know, again, I live in not a suburban neighborhood.

Maryam Banikarim (29:46):

I live in Chelsea, which is kind of a mixed neighborhood right in the city. And I see people arranging these meetups in socially distant ways that people are comfortable with, right. Somebody posted Luca posted that he had access to a rooftop. And so he arranged a potluck on the, you know, on a rooftop in times square. Somebody else did a meet up in a restaurant, right. To support a local business and also gathered. And then my favorite is that I have a neighbor who just lives in an apartment building and they just like prop up a card table. That’s big enough for 10. And they invite people and they have a dinner party on the street. And honestly, for me, that is like an incredibly magical moment because It’s like the they’re just, it’s like they’re together, right? It’s not behind a hedge or separated. It’s um, just an incredible moment where, like I talked to neighbors I’ve never even seen or met before. And in that moment you find commonality connection and hopefully community

Katie Hankinson (30:41):

Such incredible at a time when we are craving it. And really, and I’m placing newly new realization on the value of just the human connection. I feel like I’m so up in my penultimate question, you know, we work a lot with small businesses. Um, they’re very locally focused. A lot of them are, you know, very much serving a local community. They are very dose socially and digitally focused when they think about their marketing efforts. What interesting things are you seeing small businesses doing with the platform? So I’m thinking like what, what piece of advice or potential way in for leveraging next door would you give to some of our small businesses?

Maryam Banikarim (31:19):

Well, first of all, I mean, I think first of all, get on the platform, you know, you can get on for free. You don’t actually have to pay to get on to next door. I think one of the things about next door is that as a business, you can claim your page and actually have a presence. And then by the way, it gives you instant distribution to the neighborhood and you don’t have to build up a following. Right. I actually find that true for neighbors as well as businesses where it’s like, you know, the block association sort of has a list that they hold tight, but this is actually a way to communicate broadly to anybody you want to try and get a survey of what’s happening, what matters to them. So as a business, it’s a two way mechanism to be able to have a conversation with those who are arguably your most important customers, which is those that are within walking distance, right?

Maryam Banikarim (32:01):

All the data shows that people are committed to shopping local and local in a small range, right, as a way to make sure that their neighborhoods thrive as a way to make sure that their local businesses remain right, because we’ve all seen them struggling. So engage your neighbors, have a conversation with them, invite them to be a part of your community. Like I think of our communities, not just as a community of neighbors, but as a community of a neighborhood. Right? And so I’m as connected to Stefan, uh, bergamot as I am to the EMT workers who, um, you know, stepped in to help. And so that I think is sort of the secret sauce is like, there is this incredible connective tissue agencies do a really, really good job of leveraging or because it’s this instant distribution where they can communicate whether it’s a storm or whatever’s happening at a very hyper-local level.

Maryam Banikarim (32:49):

Um, they’ve, they’ve really begun to see how nextdoor can really be an unlock for them. And I think businesses can actually do a very similar thing. Now, of course you can do local deals and find a whole bunch of other ways to engage, but the baseline is just get on. Right. And I think, um, you see, you know, people do recommendations of restaurants and they post them. We we’ve been running a campaign around neighborhood favorites. We all love our neighborhoods because of the businesses that are there, parks. Sometimes it’s the bodega, sometimes it’s Joe’s coffee shop. And so giving your neighbors a way to be able to interact with you, we saw that in the pandemic, like people were like, how do I know if that store has Lysol wipes and a store that was on nextdoor could actually respond or be tied, then somebody could say like, could you let them know if they have it? So they don’t make an unnecessary trip cause people were going out surgically. Right,

Katie Hankinson (33:37):

Right, right, right. I love that. I feel like I’m purely as a, as a means of learning about your community. Like before you even begin speaking as a first piece of advice, a hundred percent, and then just seeing your name up there as a business, you know, the community is reminded that you exist in your involved

Maryam Banikarim (33:56):

Or getting the feedback. I mean, somebody was complaining about some experience they had having gone into a store. And if you’re not on there, you can’t engage and actually respond. Right. People understand to respond on Travelocity to the reviews. People are talking about the businesses on next door. And if you’re not there, you don’t get to engage in that conversation and set the record straight, or just say, you’re sorry. Right. Part of it is also knowing what’s happening in your neighborhood or being able to ask questions so that you can tailor your promotions or whatever is happening. Um, by the way, the other thing is like the number of people who, um, had neighbors actually run, go fund me for their neighbors. Right.

Katie Hankinson (34:32):

So many

Maryam Banikarim (34:34):

Just yet another tool in your arsenal to be able to, um, run your business successfully. None of it,

Katie Hankinson (34:40):

My last question, it is a tie back to the name of this podcast building while flying. And so this one is specifically for you Miriam, when you, um, when you’re building, while flying, it’s important to keep calm under pressure. So when your back’s against the wall and your face with a tough decision for whether it’s next door or one of the many other areas you’re working in, what is your internal checklist or process that helps you make that decision?

Maryam Banikarim (35:06):

Well, I mean, I think like anything it’s like, you have to find a moment of calm to be able to not be reactive, right. To, you know, I think a really, really great tool is writing things down. I find that if I have to sort of put something to paper, it forces me to slow down. I, you know, me too, I S I still have a pen and paper. I have to write it down. I have to be able to say, I have to make the argument. It forces me to slow down enough to really process and make sure that it’s, um, you know, it’s clear and, you know, just try not to be reactive. Right. And of course you have get the data, trust your instinct and get lots of input. Those are definitely three things I do. But I think that moment of synthesis where you really just get to be there and understand that decision in this clear a way as possible, and then look in the end, we’re not perfect.

Maryam Banikarim (35:54):

Sometimes we make wrong decisions and then you have to be able to recognize that and pivot and iterate. But, um, I like a lot of input. My, I don’t ask for input because I want somebody to make the decision for me. I just want to make sure there’s not something I’m missing. I always come to the table thinking I know nothing. So I do like to ask lots of questions. Um, but in the end, I sort of also know there’s a moment of what you have to make a decision and move, right? So it’s a combination of all those.

Katie Hankinson (36:20):

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for sharing some of your journey, your experience, your perception, perspective on purpose. Um, and also just some of the awesome things that have been happening on the nextdoor platform. Um, amazing stories that I come across and live day to day. So excited to see where all this is going.

Maryam Banikarim (36:39):

Thank you for having me. Yes. The whole point is for it to actually give you joy as well as utility and community. So if it does that for you, then I feel like we are doing our job

Katie Hankinson (36:50):

Well, now that we finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do Mickey and I catch up on some of the themes and topics that

Mickey Cloud (37:00):

Yes, we liken this to the post game show where we break down the key lessons we all can benefit from, including us here at the Sasha group here is the Sasha sidebar. Katie would an awesome conversation with Merriam from next door. Yeah.

Katie Hankinson (37:19):

Yeah. I feel like Marion dropped like so many amazing insight wisdom bombs in that conversation. And also just have these amazing anecdotes about some of the stuff that happened on the platform, which were really fun to hear.

Mickey Cloud (37:33):

Yeah. And that, I mean, you guys clearly talked a ton about, about purpose, right. And how her personal purpose and like how that led her to the opportunity at next door. But then also just kind of, they’ve got a great line, you know, for what their, their purposes, as, as the app, it’s, you know, cultivating kindness and making sure everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on. And she had so many stories that kind of backed up the th th that statement and kind of brought that statement to life of how users have used the app and, and have connected and been kind neighbors to one another. But I’ll, I’ll admit that kindness is not necessarily the first word I think about when I think about next door. And I think it’s, it’s great that they’ve kind of put a flag in the ground and said that we’re going to be about cultivating kindness and make sure everyone has a neighbor that they can rely on. Um, because it’s just not, I think the immediate thing you think of when you think of kind of an online based forum where people are kind of talking to, you know, grouped by their neighborhood and kind of talking about different things. Um,

Katie Hankinson (38:34):

Yeah. I mean, feel like for every one of those wonderful stories about people coming together, or like offering up their help during the pandemic for people who are vulnerable of which there were many, I remember checking out on the platform, you still have bad actors and just like human beings who want to be nothing platform. And I think it’s interesting to hear, you know, they, uh, it’s great to hear that, you know, obviously mom herself, but also she works for what she, who she described as a very principled CEO, thinking about that and trying to figure out how

Mickey Cloud (39:09):

To encourage best practices and, you know, the right types of behaviors on the site. And I, and the other challenge I think is when you are partially community motivated, you are at the whim of the, those community moderators. So, you know, that is a thorny challenge, like the next door challenges, not dissimilar to some of the ones that other platforms that are tackling right now, which is around like where you draw the line and how you kind of create protocols and encourage the right kind of behaviors on the platform. And I love the, I mean, the, the kindness reminder example I thought was such a good, like it shows they are living up to that purpose of living up to the idea that they are trying to walk the walk there. Um, you know, where it’s like, we will, we’ll detect essentially if there’s negative or nasty language being used in your posts and kind of just ask you to pause and say, is that really what you want to say right now? Um,

Katie Hankinson (40:07):

And those algorithms are tricky like that. That’s also a completely burgeoning new space, sort of interesting to see where that,

Mickey Cloud (40:14):

But I love that they framed it as the kindness reminder. Um, and, and, you know, there clearly are like, I, I’m excited for that. They, that they’ve taken that on as something that they want that platform to be known for. Um, and, and, you know, I think they’re going to need things like that throughout the experience and the user, the kind of user experience in order to deliver on it. But it’s, it’s nice that they’re not just burying their heads in the site.

Katie Hankinson (40:40):

The other thing I think that’s interesting is I feel like this is a really important point that she made that the premise of the brand was yes to leverage technology, but to enable humanity. And it was not about spending as much time as possible online. It was about spending time online with the idea of getting people to connect in the real world. Right. And if that remains the kind of the real objective, then, I mean, one would think that even as they continue to build out those values of protocols, those priorities for the platform, it’s not necessarily building algorithms that encourage people to hang out on the site for 10 more hours and comment on everything. It’s actually more about encouraging communities to be connected and go find one another in real life. And so I I’m interested to see where, where that starts to be paid off more and more as the app continues to evolve

Mickey Cloud (41:38):

A hundred percent. Yeah, no, you and, and they have so many good stories of those things that have come from the app. The, you know, where people have moved to a new city and wanting to meet people in 70 people showed up to a potluck and all those types of things where, where it is about kind of facilitating the offline connection, um,

Katie Hankinson (41:58):

Not just about commenting on the, where the dustbins are or

Mickey Cloud (42:03):

Yep. And the, and that, and that also is because they, you know, there’s, there’s different ways to monetize these types of things. Right. And so I think she even, she even kind of game gave some great pointers on small businesses that, that want to Wade into the waters, like what they can do. It’s, it’s free to claim your business and engage with, you know, your neighbors and, and kind of have this two-way conversation and just get, you know, be able to, you know, when someone posts a, Hey, I need this landscaping, you know, job done in my, in my yard. Like, you know, having people reply back and be like, Hey, check out my company, we do X, Y, and Z. You know, like that kind of thing, text me at this number that kind of like, those are the things where that’s super helpful and there’s a real utility to that.

Katie Hankinson (42:46):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. If you’re not on it already, and you are a business that relies on your local community, then at least claim your business online for free. The other thing off the topic of next door itself, but more about Mariam who is just so inspirational. I loved that she had so many really clear tools that she uses to kind of re remain on track and to determine how she even like, when she, when she came to selecting what her job was going to be, and she, she had to have full.box grid of, can I make a difference? Do I believe in the product, do I get to what we provide respect? And can I learn? My I’m like, yes, like that is, that is, those are the, the existential reasons to make moves once you’re past a certain point and, you know, like, it’s not, it’s not about just about salary or about, you know, the sexy, shiny object job it’s about whether or not you can make a difference whether or not you’re going to continue to then, so that among many others, but really, really useful tools for remaining aligned with one’s values and purpose.

Mickey Cloud (43:55):

Yeah. She, she clearly gave a lot, you know, had, had such a good vision for, if something was going to bring her back into kind of the full-time working world. Um, what, what did it need to, what did that need to require? And then that simple four box that she kind of talked about, um, was such a useful, useful framework.

Katie Hankinson (44:17):

The question, I wonder if we, should we ask about, um, what the local businesses or brands are really like, have developed a really true presence in your local community? Yeah. And how thanks for joining us for building wealth flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Mickey Cloud (44:47):

If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times tune into the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building offline, across brands, businesses, marketing, and more original

Katie Hankinson (45:02): Music by Fulton street music group.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

She’s no stranger to finding her own communities.

Maryam Banikarim currently serves as the CMO of Nextdoor, the popular hyperlocal neighborhood and community app. As her family moved around the world, she found purpose in stepping in and being useful wherever her family lived. These experiences serve her well as she leads marketing at Nextdoor and keeps the brand’s purpose at the helm of their efforts.

In this episode of Building While Flying, Maryam talks with Katie about the importance of purpose for brands—a popular topic on our podcast! Maryam says, “Purpose was never just about marketing. It’s about the north star of an organization and its business strategy.” She dives deep into what community means to her and Nextdoor, how Nextdoor helps cultivate community for its users every day, and how Nextdoor served as a crucial resource during the hardest times of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Other in-flight topics:

  • Finding and cultivating community
  • Why purpose matters for brands
  • How the pandemic changed the way people use Nextdoor
  • How small businesses can successfully leverage Nextdoor
  • …and more!

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