Nextdoor is many things to many people. To investors, it is a growing San Francisco tech company. To employees, it’s a hyper-local social platform. And to its many millions of users, it is a community hub at a time when a pandemic has forced many people into isolation at home.
As the former vice president of finance and strategy at high-flying business software maker Salesforce—then the CFO of payments company Square during its highly publicized IPO—Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar knows a thing or two about sudden growth.
On the July 21 episode of Fortune’s podcast Leadership Next, Friar tells cohost Ellen McGirt about how she’s navigating the sharply increased usership that her company is experiencing in the wake of the coronavirus. Between February and March, the number of active users on Nextdoor increased 80% each week.
“There’s never been more need for local and the power of proximity,” Friar says, adding that the power of social trust is growing during the pandemic and that people are increasingly choosing to get their news from local sources.
As more people use the service, opportunities grow for local businesses to advertise and share information. Friar hopes the trend will help small businesses that have been hit hard by stay-at-home orders.
McGirt notes that as Americans battle simultaneous pandemics—COVID-19 and systemic racism—many Black neighbors have not felt welcome on Nextdoor. To combat that, Friar says her company has made battling racism and hate speech on the platform a top priority. She also notes that the structure of the service allows users to speak to people very different from themselves—unlike some other prominent social media platforms. With kindness reminders, moderation, and the following of community guidelines, Friar says Nextdoor can create real change.
Besides, “Black Lives Matter is a local conversation,” Friar says. Unlike many national issues, it has a place on Nextdoor and should be discussed. “We felt it was time to really say, this is something that, at a community level, we need to want to talk about, be able to talk about, and be able to talk about in a constructive way,” Friar says.
Changing gears (at about the 18:30 mark), McGirt and Friar discuss representation in technology and in the broader world of business. “I’m a natural optimist but a frustrated optimist when it comes to diversity,” Friar says, citing the fact that only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
In the year and a half since taking the reins at Nextdoor, Friar has seen the company’s board of directors as well as its senior executive teams shift from including mostly men and very few women to near parity in terms of gender. To accomplish such chase, Friary says leaders must be very explicit in their goals and then hold themselves and their teams accountable. Corporate leadership should openly talk about these goals and make clear that one of the criteria they are grading their talent on is supporting diversity, she adds.
Friar closes out the conversation by sharing what she has learned about building community.
“The neighborhood is the unit of change,” she says, “and I think the only way we will solve these big societal problems is by starting at a grassroots level.”
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