This Bangalore-based entrepreneur seems to think so.
Think for a moment how a bank issues a loan to you. They want to know whether you are a “good guy” or not. Or at least, financially a good guy or not. For this purpose they have invented a tool, the credit record, that tells them your history of making good your dues.
Now think you’ve moved into a new city or just got hired into a new company. Naturally you are looking to connect, and with the right people. You, too, are looking for the “good guys” — perhaps not necessarily financially good guys, but good to hang out with, good of character (however that may be understood), good of heart.
Is there a goodness-record, akin to a credit record, that you, newbie to company or city, can refer to? No, there is not. There is a facebook wall, which says all about your new neighbors’ selfies, hobbies, revelries, vacations, political opinions, but only vaguely hints at their character. There is a linked-in profile, which makes self-proclaimed claims of your new colleagues’ prowess in various technical fields, but says nothing of their heart.
Now, is it even possible to measure things like “character,” “heart,” “goodness” etc.? Aren’t we entering subjective, digitally immeasurable territory?
Priyaranjan “Priya” Panigrahy, 36, thinks he’s found a way to not merely measure individual goodness, but also do so reliably, and do so in a continuous, public way, much like a credit record. “You are a good man (or woman) when people find reason to thank you,” he once told me. A somewhat reductionist approach to measuring character, I told myself, but I couldn’t find a suitable counter-argument. Priya has a tone that is at once gravely important and preternaturally cheerful, so it’s a bit hard for me to separate the banter from the business. “OK, but thank you for what?” I ask. Is the thanks a teacher receives when at last you’ve understood the profundity of Pythagoras Theorem the same as the thanks a surgeon receives when he saves your life? “Both are important. The everyday thank-you, and the life-changing,” says Priya. “Both deserve to be shouted out from roof tops.”
And you may not know the importance of your own works. It may be a small suggestion, an astute observation, one that cost you nothing, but one that changes someone for the better,” he continued. “Shouldn’t the recipient of your random acts of kindness get a chance to record their gratitude?”
Fair enough, I said. But how is Priya going to enable all of this, this recording of gratitude of all and sundry, towards all and sundry?
And here it is, Priya’s Larry-Page-moment: The number of thanks a person receives is a proxy for his value to society. And why not? Do we not measure the importance of a web-page by the number of links that point to it?
Priyaranjan Panigrahy is an effervescent character. He can infect you with enthusiasm for his latest ideas. A wheat-complexioned father of a two-year old, he has the look of a fresh college graduate embarking on a voyage to change the world. But let not looks fool you. Priya is already a successful entrepreneur, having created a software team serving the financial and healthcare industries. A team with real clients and a real cash flow. He also has on the anvil file-storage and cloud-data-security products. He knows all too well the challenges and the charms of setting off on your own. He talks as a strategist but works as a logistics-man. To see Priya is to see the energizer bunny.
But to say that he is a flinty businessman wrapped in a warm-and-fuzzy veneer does him no justice. I once asked him his goal for wannathankyou.com, his web-site that allows folks to record their thanks on another’s wall. “A billion dollars?” I offered helpfully as an answer. “Not a billion dollars, but a billion users,” he answered. You could say, in today’s valuation mechanisms, that there’s not much difference between the two, but still, it shows that he wants people to acknowledge the immense positivity that is still left in the world.
After his initial successful venture, he had occasion to ponder over his new-found wealth. He had not come from a spectacularly rich family, nor did he come from a region known particularly as hot-bed for start-ups. (He hails from Odisha.) His conclusion was that he owed his success less to his own talent, and more to the countless well-wishers and strangers who knowingly or unknowingly helped him along his way. That epiphany was the genesis of his latest venture, wannathankyou.com . He wanted a way for him to record publicly the gratitude he felt towards his teachers and friends and uncles and aunts and mentors.
His infectious enthusiasm for wannathankyou.com has spread to his team. Only eighteen months ago comprising just himself and his wife, his team is now thirty strong, not counting a hundred-plus volunteers. To be in the team’s whatsapp group (as I was, briefly) is to get carpet-bombed by messages competing to take ownership of tasks. Isn’t that a business-owner’s dream? And in the end, Priya still somehow manages to emerge from the playful yet chaotic jungle of consensus-building to channel a coherent creativity out of his team. From what I can see, the team, too, is having fun.
I am fairly confident of Priya’s execution. Sooner or later, he’ll have a web-site and an app up, one that will allow you to thank someone on his or her wall. The app will be chic, it’ll be easy to use, and it’ll serve as far more than a technical recommendation letter. It will be a cumulative statement of gratitude-credits that society owes you. The entrepreneur is experienced. The business case is solid: yes, there is a need to quickly, reliably and authentically assess the gratitude-record of the real-nice-looking fella you just met at the bar. And yet, it all depends on adoption. I, for one, hope this idea succeeds.