Over the past year, I have truly enjoyed getting engaged in OutBüro, a very robust social media platform for LGBTQ professionals and entrepreneurs. Here is a recent discussion with OutBüro’s founder, Dennis Velco.
STAN: First Dennis, can you tell us a little about yourself?
DENNIS: Sure, Stan. I grew up in a lower middle income family. I knew for me to get a college education my best option was to join one of the US military branches for their GI Bill. So before I graduated from High School I enlisted and just 3 weeks after graduation I was off to Army Boot Camp. The US Army took me to Germany. I took it upon myself to learn to speak German and got to the point of thinking and dreaming in German. At age 18 my first boy friend of 2 years was German. In the name “OutBüro”, Büro in German means Office. So, it is Out “Office”.
Fast forward to April 2008, I started one of the first LGBTQ+ professional groups on LinkedIn, today it remains by far the largest LGBTQ+ group on that platform with as of today over 47,600 global group members. The next largest group is around 15,000 members. The reason I believe is my dedication to moderating the group daily.
STAN: What inspired you to start OutBüro?
DENNIS: Great question. Every entrepreneur has a spark. It’s a question I too ask all of the guests on my video/podcast show too. It’s fascinating.
So, for me, after a divorce from my last 17 year relationship, I did a lot of soul searching. Leveraging my past entrepreneur experience and software product management experience, I began to sit every day for around 3 months and ponder, meditate, think about what I want to do in this chapter of my life. I questioned how can I leverage my years of building my LinkedIn group and merge that with my passion, skills, and how I wanted to design my future while being of service, change, and impact. So, with my past Scrum Master experience, every day I sat with a pile of Post-it notes and colored pens and markers. As I evaluated what was currently out there, past conversations with group members, and ideas I would quickly jot down words or short sentences to captured the thought. Then I organized the collection of Post-It notes and began to conceptualize a solution – an opportunity that didn’t yet exist in the world.
STAN: What exactly is the mission of “OutBüro” What do you hope to accomplish?
DENNIS: OutBüro’s mission is to connect the world’s LGBTQ employees, professionals, and entrepreneurs with opportunities to grow in their careers and grow their companies. We strive to connect companies and organizations that support LGBTQ Corporate Equality with quality candidates while providing a voice and insight into workplace culture and LGBT workplace issues.
I like to share my what I call my 5-second elevator pitch which often receives giggles. If you are aware of what LinkedIn and what Glassdoor.com is; OutBüro is like Glassdoor.com and LinkedIn meeting at a Summer pool party, falling in love and having a queer baby.
It obviously is not as robust as either, yet has many features of both of those sites mashed into one specifically for the LGBTQ+ entrepreneur and professional community along with employers of any size, any legal formation, and anywhere in the world.
STAN: What kinds of programs and resources does “OutBüro” offer?
DENNIS: Currently, there are not specific “programs” for the LGBTQ+ professional and entrepreneur, but I am in the early stages of reviewing and consider online educational programs and in the future open to offer much more depending on desire and demand. That might include virtual, local, regional, and global meetups and professional certifications through partnership. These are all very early in development, and I need to get good traction on what is currently offered before going broader.
Currently, the main “program” is offering employers the ability to utilize the site as an employer branding platform as part of their talent acquisition strategy. Employers who opt-in may have a very robust employer branding pages listing all they do for their LGBTQ+ employees and customers. It goes WAY beyond just indicating Yes or No to having LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and benefits. It offers employees the opportunity to anonymously rate/review their employers – even if the employer is not yet an active member of the site.
For employers who opt-in, they also have the opportunity to have all of their active job openings listed on the site. This will allow LGBTQ+ job seekers to research an employer, see all they do, see current and recent past employee reviews right alongside the current job openings of that employer. So that’s the Glassdoor.com-like side.
On the site that is like LinkedIn, site members have a professional profile. Completing at least 30% of the profile unlocks all site feature including the ability to connect/friend other site members, then direct message those connections, and join/create groups. Currently there are over 240 groups on the site ranging from city, regional, state, country group, to professional topic groups and some lifestyle groups such as Trans:Action, Out-Sports, Out-Techies, Out-Gamers, Out-Foodies, Out-Gardening, etc.
Note that unlike most LGBTQ+ sites, on OutBüro all content must remain office safe. Images or links displaying images of hot go-go boys in jockstraps are not allowed. There are plenty of other sites for that content. There is built in self reporting abilities. Anytime anything is flagged by a user for any reason it comes into a moderation queue. If just 3 users flag the same content, that content is automatically removed from public view awaiting moderation.
STAN: Would you like to share an example of a positive impact that “OutBüro” has had?
DENNIS: Well, the full impact is yet to be realized. But so far almost weekly I’m contacted by a user who thanks me for the site and they often say something to the effect of how refreshing it is to have an LGBTQ+ networking site that is office safe and how much they appreciate that difference. The general positive impact is the ability for professionals of all levels to connect, engage, and share. Currently our largest group is Out-BizOwners. The ability for entrepreneurs to connect in a safe space dedicated to LGBTQ+ and great allies allows for the ability to get support, find mentors, find new business opportunities all while knowing the other party is going to be open and accepting of who you are as a human.
One of the other impacts, is as of around 3 months ago, the site is now available in 103 languages. All site articles and the site interface auto-detects the site user’s browser language settings and automatically displays the site in their language. They can choose to change the language to any other. This has opened the doors to persons around the globe who may not have otherwise visited the site and viewed its content. I’m very proud of this and know that from the data analytics that it is now reaching people in countries who have limited LGBTQ+ resources. One of my articles is a listing of resources for global LGBTQ+ immigrant, asylum seekers and refugees. That article gets daily hits in languages other than English.
STAN: Do spend full time with “OutBüro,” or do you have another vocation?
DENNIS: OutBüro is more than full time for me. For the past 18 months I have worked on average 10-12 hours a day 7 days a week.
STAN: How can people learn more about “OutBüro” and how can they be in touch with you? Are there ways people can support this work?
DENNIS: The best way to learn more is to visit www.OutBuro.com. The site is free to join as an individual. Complete at least 30% of your profile and jump in connecting with others and joining/creating groups.
I can be contacted either through the site’s Contact Us page or directly at [email protected]
Learn about the site, tell your friends and co-workers about it. If your employer has an LGBTQ+ employee resource group, share it with the group leader, and share the site with your employer’s Diversity and Inclusion director.
STAN: Is there anything else you would like to share?
DENNIS: On a personal/humorous level, I love other people’s cats, I’m a dog person, my favorite color is orange. I’m a hobbyist fine art finger painter who has sold most of my works through interior designers, I love exploring world food, I love to cook and entertain, I drink at least 3 large cups of coffee a day, love hiking, walk around 1 ½ miles a day, I love Mid-Century Danish Modern furniture and décor, and have been single for about 4 years in no rush awaiting the right guy to settle down again.