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30th August 2023 · The Clay Team

Why We Built The Digital Rolodex for 2023

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Why We Built The Digital Rolodex for 2023

We built Clay, the digital Rolodex for 2023, because we were struggling to cultivate and strengthen meaningful relationships with our existing tools. Relationships are the most important things in our lives – people help us enjoy the good, endure the bad, look forward to the future, and make sense of our lives. But we were falling short in maintaining and building relationships like we wanted to. We lost touch with old friends, missed birthdays, and dropped the ball on deepening new connections. We tried numerous apps and customized spreadsheets, but nothing worked. It felt impossible to achieve the benefits of strong relationships.

Technology has permeated every realm of our lives, including how we develop and manage contacts, connections, and relationships. Not only has technology helped us digitize and streamline our existing contacts, but it also gives us new contacts to manage as we meet and collaborate with many more people online than we did a few years ago. Think about the hundreds of people across thousands of interactions you engage with online in your ever-changing year: people you correspond with via personal and professional emails, new connections you make on social media, new Facebook friends from an interest group, and many more.

Despite technology's overall positive impact on and benefits for productivity, communication tools, and information management, the tools that it has given us for digital contact management are insufficient. We found that existing contact managers were either too complex (CRMs, or tools lightly adapted from CRMs), limited to one domain (see all your email contacts, but not your LinkedIn or Facebook contacts), or lacking in tools to help deepen relationships after organizing them. Finding the perfect tool for us was impossible.

Salesforce contacts are powerful, but often much more than a person needs to build a deepen relationships. Source: ScienceSoft

We knew there was a better way: a tool that could take the best parts of a digital contact management application, like powerful search and portability, and combine it with the tools of a more traditional approach, like remembering essential details about someone's hobbies. We knew we weren't the only people in need of a tool like this. We knew if we could pull it off this system would be incredibly useful to individuals and businesses.

As we were creating Clay we turned to a predecessor of the Rolodex for inspiration: David Rockefeller's contact management system. We've written extensively on David's contact management system, as we were impressed by his accomplishment of deepening relationships over a long career. This led us to begin thinking of Clay as a digital Rolodex, the evolution of the personal Rolodex.

David Rockefeller kept notes on everyone he met. Source: WSJ

We became inspired by what the personal Rolodex used to stand for in a person's work and life: a single place that held all the important relationships and interactions. The personal Rolodex symbolized meaningful effort toward creating a life that was full of meaningful, purposeful relationships. Relationships that involved work, care, and effort. There was no digital tool that evoked the same meaning, and we wanted to build that tool.

And so we set out to build a powerful application: a digital Rolodex of contacts usable by individuals and businesses. This Rolodex of contacts would solve the problems other contact managers presented, empowering people to strengthen their relationships and deepen their interactions.

Why the Rolodex mattered and how it disappeared

The physical Rolodex was once an essential part of any office or home, providing an easy way to store and access contact information for business and personal use. Everyone from corporate bosses to employees to small business owners to individuals used it to streamline their relationships. Even more important than contact information, it often also held personal notes about each contact.

As computers and the internet slowly became more and more prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, the Rolodex became more unjustifiable. Physical cards were a little harder to search, could become damaged, and took up space – security and compliance were also factors. Slowly the physical Rolodex was replaced by digital address books, email managers, and contacts applications. Eventually, social media like Facebook and LinkedIn made even digital address books less necessary. Social media platforms oftentimes held contact information and personal details like location – and it was all updated automatically by the person themselves.

Sadly these new platforms were too focused on organizing contacts and relationships. They did not do a good job of replicating the chief purpose of the Rolodex - to deepen relationships. Contacts became more fragmented, and people lost a primary tool to strengthen relationships.

We gained portability and more storage capacity – but we sacrificed design and the personal touch.

The need for a digital Rolodex

Relationships are important, but we lack to proper digital tools to manage them. This causes unnecessary stress as we miss important birthdays and events, lose touch with people we really care about, and even feel lonely.

It was time for a better tool. It was time to return to the spirit of something that was the backbone of relationship management for generations. It was time to build a digital heir to the Rolodex.

We wanted to build something digital, but more human, more intimate. Source: Reporter Times

Our approach to building a digital Rolodex

When we decided to build our digital Rolodex, we knew that we wanted to focus first on a personal Rolodex. We knew that we would adapt it for businesses eventually, but to start we wanted to make sure that it was a powerful tool for individuals first. We designed it around a few principles. First, we wanted you to see all your relationships in one place. So, we built integrations with email, calendar, iMessage, Contacts, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Once you import all of your contacts we try to deduplicate them, and then we build a beautiful profile for them.

Next, we wanted to make sure that our digital Rolodex allowed you to remember important things about the people in your life. So, we added a powerful notes feature so you can remember details from your conversations. Much like scribbling on a physical Rolodex card!

We also wanted you to be able to set reminders for key dates so you could reach out to your friends and colleagues. So, we added an intuitive reminders feature.

Finally we wanted to use the magic of digital to add something the original Rolodex didn't have: serendipity. We wanted to help resurface old relationships that you had forgotten, so we added Reconnect, which prompts you to get in touch with people you haven't talked to in a while. We also added a feed of life updates that show you when someone has been mentioned in the news or had a birthday.

More than anything, we built Clay to capture the spirit of the Rolodex and bring it into the digital age better than it ever was. We'd love for you to try it!

Getting started

Getting started with Clay is as easy as signing up for our free plan, connecting your accounts, and importing your contacts. From there you can search, take notes, set reminders, and much more!

See everyone you know in one place, take notes, view upcoming meetings, and much more with Clay.

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