Why Breaking Bread
Beats The Hell Out Of Business Networking
It took me 6 years and 2 failed companies to learn the value of surrounding myself with smarter people. I started my first technology company when I was 18, developed the whole site myself, sent out some direct mail and actually got people to send me cash in an envelope to get their cottage listed on my site www.maritimevacation.com. That company failed because I chose too small of a market.
My next company was a web hosting company. That company failed because I was one guy trying to keep a couple dozen customer emails, databases and websites up 24/7. I had no clue what I was doing.
When I finally created a business that could make money, it almost failed because I didn’t understand how to scale a business. It was only out of desperation of being near bankruptcy that I had the courage to email the former premier of the province I lived in for help. He quickly replied with 3 names. Those 3 people changed my life forever.
It led me on a path of connecting and learning. I would read books and just do what the books said. One book that changed everything for me was Keith Ferazzi’s book: Never Eat Alone. It just made so much sense and at 24 years old and trying to sell CIO’s of fortune 500 companies, I had no other choice than to try anything.
That’s when I discovered the power of organizing lunches with other people that would find value in the conversations. Since then, I’ve hosted over 100+ meals per year with entrepreneurs, creators and leaders in our community. The goal is to connect them to each other and be helpful wherever I can.
In business, everything is driven by people. Who inspires your ideas? Which people will you hire? Even your relationships with banks and with business partners who can help you with funding. Business IS people.
Using the approach outlined below will help you create a habit of connecting with old and new people that can help you solve your biggest business challenges.
Outline of eBook?
WHY HOST FOUNDER LUNCHES
The best way to increase opportunities in your life is to spend time with others who share your same enthusiasm for business. Serendipity comes at the intersection of people and conversations. It’s the epitome of luck. That is why bringing together founders or creators (anyone who creates projects, non-profits, events, businesses or even artists), is a great way to expand your knowledge, your network and opportunities.
When I look back on my life and all of the amazing opportunities I have had, from spending a week with Richard Branson at his home, getting life advice from Marc Ecko, or raising money from Mark Cuban for my startup (no, not on Shark Tank), I realize that they all came from relationships that started over a meal.
Bringing people together to break bread and share stories is one of the most highly leveraged activities I do with my time. I get to help others by connecting them with other successful entrepreneurs, share some of the best solutions to challenges that they may be facing and create new friendships that will allow everyone to dream bigger and succeed. By spending time with other successful entrepreneurs, I also ensure that I’m always aware of the top marketing tactics, new companies and business strategies.
Benefits of hosting a lunch vs. other “traditional” business networking g
- Allows you to offer value for attendees
- Reduces the amount of pressure on you to carry the conversation
- Increases opportunity for serendipity
- “One to Many” vs “One on One”… the value is exponential as there are more opportunities for help and connection
- Build new friendships
- Motivates you to dream bigger
- Solve your biggest business problemss
- Feel a sense of belonging and growth
- Meet key business contacts
- Introduction to key partners
- New customer referrals
FINDING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Keep in mind that you are the curator of the Founder Lunch. Your role in organizing these dinners is to create the most value for others. It’s about finding the “right” people and less about numbers or just inviting anyone to fill the table.
Entrepreneurs who should know each other: I always curate the lunch with people I believe should know each other. In many ways, I’m playing matchmaker. To do that, I’ll think through each person I would initially like to invite and then find at least one person I know that they would really enjoy based on: potential partnership, personalities, passions, life goals, etc. I never tell them so, I just let it happen organically. I don’t like forcing the relationship, as I hate being on the receiving end of “Oh, you’ll like this guy, you’re very similar” or “You need to meet this guy cause you should be working together” – don’t do that.
50/50 split: The best meals are when 50% of the people I have met before and/ or who know each other (have met once or twice), and the other 50% are new people that I haven’t met, but feel they would be a good addition to the group. This provides familiarity as well as intrigue as to who the new people are, and provides a lot of opportunities for topics of discussion. It accomplishes both the ability to keep in contact with founders you haven’t seen in a while, and the opportunity to make new relationships as well.
Business Partners: My rule of thumb is that if you have a business partner, don’t bring them. The preference for invites when there’s a company with two or more founders, is that I only invite one person per company. It’s the same reason I typically don’t suggest inviting people who are great friends. If it’s likely that they saw each other within the past couple of weeks, then occupying 2 spots that could have been given to someone new is not advantageous. It would be more valuable to both the founders and the group to have a new person. The most value is created between new or weak connections.
Guests: I do not allow attendees to invite guests. The core message that I use when I invite someone is that I’ve curated a lunch of founders and everyone is there for a specific reason. I usually don’t tell them who or what, but that there is one. There’s always a risk of allowing someone to invite a friend that could ruin the whole vibe of the lunch. This has happened a dozen times to me in the past decade, and it’s always an unfortunate situation.
Searching for and identifying the right people: I suggest researching 10 entrepreneurs in your city (or the city you will be travelling to), who are a few years ahead of you in business achievements – as they’ll be more accessible and relevant than someone extremely notable.
Although determining the right people to invite can be a challenge, there are a bunch of neat tools that you can use to accomplish this:
- Searching Magazines / News / Awards: I’m always paying attention to local news and other sources for when they profile interesting people in the community. Ex: TEDX speakers – I might watch their talks and add them to my list. Awards winners, I’ll add them to my list as well.
- Asking Others: You can post on Facebook or email friends individually for names of people they think fit a certain criteria. When I do this, I specifically just ask for names – no email or intro – if I need that later, I can always follow up. Initially, I want to research them on my own so that I can decide if they will be a good fit for the group and are relevant to the theme.
- Search Tools:
- Twitter Bios
- Industry Social Networks
- Emails – To guess email addresses you can either:
- Use something like Rapportive to identify a valid email for someone
- Search for the company format online (example:[email protected]) and use that
ORGANIZING A FOUNDER LUNCH
The 3 things I focus on (in order of importance) are:
1) Great people
2) Great conversation
3) Great food
Prep Time: I like to organize my events 10 – 14 days prior and have even waited until the morning of, to pull off a lunch. It really depends on the amount of potential attendees I have emails for on my list of invitees.
Most business people are actually willing to move plans around if they feel your lunch will provide a unique opportunity to meet like-minded people, so don’t worry about being too close to the date. What happens more often is that people are travelling, so they may not be around.
I’ve learned to send out invites 6-7 days beforehand, so I don’t have last minute cancellations.
Frequency of Lunches: When I’m home, I do a lunch at least once per week with a minimum of 4 people. When I’m on the road, I leverage this opportunity as much as possible. I will even organize 3 per day:
- Small breakfast (4 people)
- Lunch (6 people)
- Bigger lunch (8 people)
Choosing a Day of the Week: Thursdays are best, but any date you’re free will work. Keep in mind that most Founders front load their week (Mon-Wed) to get the big things done, and then Thursday and Friday are typically open to investing in longer term and less pressing opportunities like a group lunch.
Length of Lunches: I always do lunches at 12 (noon) and plan for 1.5 hours. Even if people arrive late, they will often stay till 1:30pm.
Themes: Every lunch has a theme. It may be that everyone is at a similar point in their business (venture backed), or they’re all in the same industry (market place), or maybe it’s a shared passion (bio hackers). I sometimes share this in my outreach for the lunch (ex: Marketplace Founders Lunch), to help increase the perceived value of the event.
“Selling” the Lunch: I always assume that the people I’m inviting are super busy and have 100 other things they should be doing, so my responsibility is to present the lunch as one of the most valuable activities they could be doing. With that in mind, I always ensure to:
- choose a great location that they would love to eat at, & that’s easy for everyone to get to
- ensure they know it’s highly curated and all about creating value for them
- make it easy for them to say yes
- create a sense of excitement
Choosing a Restaurant: Having a low-key type of setting allows everyone to lower their barriers and just enjoy the meal for what it is – a great opportunity to enjoy great food and have great conversation.
I always suggest going to the restaurant beforehand, or at least checking out the reviews and photos online to get a sense of the atmosphere and the placement of the tables.
Keep these tips in mind:
- I don’t believe in booking expensive or fancy places, so I would never book a restaurant with a dress code
- select a place that has at least decent options for vegetarians as many more people are either vegans or eating gluten free – most decent restaurants will have a solution
- don’t reserve a restaurant that has a live band playing
Table Set Up: I’ve always preferred rectangular table setups, or worst-case scenario, a booth. NEVER use round tables. They provide way too much distance between guests and make it tough to build a strong rapport with someone who is 8 feet away from you.
I believe email is always best for inviting guests because people live in their emails. Very few founders I know check LinkedIn, or have notifications turned on. It also shows that you’re lazy in your outreach if you weren’t able to get their email address. I never use LinkedIn InMail, but as a last resort, I will message them on Facebook or Twitter.
I like to get commitments from others by being precise in my invitations. Here’s my framework:
1) Send A Short Email Asking If They’re Free
- I keep it super short, providing one date and time both in the subject and body, so it’s easy to review.
- I purposely avoid mentioning the location or who else is going because initially I’m just looking for a commitment.
- Finally, I end with a simple, “Are you free to join?” Don’t add anything else – just a question. It reduces the amount of back and forth that can come from it.
- Also worth noting, I add my cell number to the signature (by default it’s not there) so that a) if they have other questions they can quickly call, b) in the future if they’re running late or can’t make it, they’ll be able to reach me. Most of us search our emails to call or message someone and it’s a pain in the ass if there’s no number.
- If you want to add other information like a key guest, do it as a “P.S.”
Example: P.S. I’ve also reached out to the President, and it’s likely that he’ll be there. Let me know.
Sample Email Invitation:
Subject: Founders Lunch / Mon (8 Oct) @ 12pm
I’m in town next week and I’m hosting a founder lunch w/ a few friends (8 total) near Union Square.
Monday (Oct 8) at 12pm
Are you free to join?
- Create an Event in Your Online Calendar
Next, I create an event in my online calendar (any calendar app works, however, I prefer Google Calendar as most progressive founders use Google) and make sure to uncheck “allow guests to invite others” and also uncheck “see guest list.”
The goal is to restrict any person to invite a co-worker or a friend that you haven’t vetted, or to see who else is going. Many times, I’ll have a notable guest and I would rather that be a nice surprise versus the motivation for the person to attend.
Not seeing the guest list keeps things interesting and avoids folks making negative judgement calls based on who’s attending.
People should want to go because they value connecting with other like-minded people – not because they just want to spend time with successful entrepreneurs. They should just trust that it’ll be awesome.
- Add Guests to Calendar Event
I only add guests to the event AFTER they have replied to the email invitation, confirming that they are able to attend. I then add them to the calendar event so they can receive the details and reconfirm. It adds a second level of commitment.
4) Send a Reminder Email the Morning of the Event
At 10 AM the day of, I always go into my calendar and send an update to everyone who’s on the list, reminding them of the time, location and include my cell number again incase anything comes up.
THE FOUNDER LUNCH
One of the main objectives of the Lunch is to ensure that everyone has an amazing time and walks away feeling that it was time well spent. Here’s how I ensure this happens:
Arrive early: I always want to be there first and greet everyone. It’s always best to show up 10 minutes before the start time to speak with the waiter, check on the location of the table and be able to handle any other minor issues that could come up.
Table seating: I do my best to seat the most interesting and outgoing person in the center of the table so that everyone can easily hear them. I also sit in the center position so that I can act like a conversation facilitator to pull people into the conversation.
Make 1-on-1 intros to people: I always ask if people know each other, and if not, I introduce them in a “huge social proofing kind of way.” This means mentioning some of their accomplishments that would allow someone to find them remarkable. Maybe it’s a recent award, an achievement in their business, or accomplishing a personal goal like running an ironman, etc. This is one of my favourite things to do for people and probably the most valuable part of the whole meal. I’ll mention their company, key numbers, recent accomplishments and why I like them so much. Even if I’ve never met them before, I do my homework to be able to provide a strong personal “referral intro” when introducing 2 people. I do this for everyone at the table.
Opening Introductions: After everyone has sat down, I suggest we all get our orders in to the waiter before doing intros (I’ve had intros take up to an hour for 8 people). After we’ve ordered, I’ll then suggest we do quick intros.The ideal time for an intro is 1-3 minutes. It should only cover what they’re working on now, and maybe 2-3 accomplishments in business or life so that the whole group can learn more about their background. It’s not meant to be a reading of their professional career.
I always start with the person who I believe will provide the most open, authentic and energizing introduction so that it sets the standard for everyone else. As the conversation facilitator, I’ll also ensure to keep this moving along if someone starts telling their whole life story. For example, I will briefly interrupt them and ask, “So what are you working on now? I always love hearing about it. Please tell the rest of the group, cause it’s really great.” Most people will get the hint and move to where they’re at in their career now.
Discussion Topics: I let the conversation flow but will definitely seed them with relevant anecdotes to spark this, for example, current business events, controversial topics like founder salaries, or firing key employees. Ideally, I will always go first and share something personal and not well known to the guests, so that everyone else can get a level of comfort to share at a deeper level. If you want the conversation to be honest and authentic, then you (the host) need to go first and set the tone.
Taking Photos: I always get a feel for the table first, then get permission from the group to take our picture. I ask the waiter to help by taking a couple of pictures, so I am in the photo as well.
Taking a photo gives you something to share with the group later. It also allows you to tag them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter which makes it a natural connection for them to friend request with the other founders. I’ll also add the link to the photo shared on social media in my follow up email to the group.
Posting the photos also helps you tell a story to your followers that you value conversations and connections. Maybe a friend that follows you knows someone who was at your lunch – that just helps provide more context to your relationship.
Follow Up Email: During the lunch, I’ll ask if it’s cool that I share everyone’s contact information in a follow up email to connect everyone. It helps to avoid the emotionless activity of passing around business cards and gives me another chance to add to the event.
In this email I will include:
- Links to articles, videos, any news mentioned and any pictures that have been shared through social media
- Each person’s email and personal social media links with a personal note of how I described them, which gives context to any guest that may not have had a chance to meet them.
Building Deeper Relationships Outside of the Lunch:
What NOT to do! Here are some things I’ve unfortunately made the mistake of doing in the past:
- Using someone’s name who hasn’t confirmed in an invite: If you want to disclose someone noteable that will be attending the lunch, then ensure they’ve committed 100%. If you use their name and the other person knows them and calls for background info, it’ll be embarrassing to say the least. Essentially, don’t overplay your hand.
- Choosing a table that’s WAY TOO BIG: As I mentioned above, be sure that the table is rectangular. One time I didn’t specify and ended up at a 10 person round table – which was huge – for 6 people. So not only were we sitting 8 feet away from the person in front of us – but there were empty chairs. It really messed with the overall atmosphere.
- Messing up an introduction for someone else: One time I invited a friend Pablo to a dinner, but I accidentally invited a different Pablo. When people were arriving, I was making intro’s and Pablo felt so uncomfortable that I was describing someone else, that he didn’t even correct me till half way through the meal. Pay attention to the details.
- Inviting people that don’t like each other: This one is really tough to avoid, so I don’t put too much thought into it. But I did once invite the founder of Friendster + the lawyer who screwed him over and got him kicked out of his own company to the same dinner. That was uncomfortable, but made for a great story.
- (I could add so many more .. will do in the future.)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Should everyone you invite be in the same role at a company level? i.e. All CEOs, or similar?
“People tend to like people like themselves; or people who they would like to be like”
The short answer is yes. I’ve found that it’s important to curate individuals who are pursuing similar initiatives (ie: Executives, Marketers, Entrepreneurs, Non-Profit leaders, Government officials, etc.) The key is to ensure rapport can be created quickly. It can be really weird and uncomfortable to have someone who doesn’t share the same values at the table and who provide argumentative suggestions because of that.
Q: What if someone asks who is attending the lunch?
Reply outlining the theme of the lunch and the filter that you’ve used to curate the group. Ask that they trust you and that you guarantee it’ll be a great time.
The other option is to reply and don’t answer the question – or just not reply and add them to the invite to see if they accept.
Q: How do you deal with someone who you invited to the lunch and turns out to be a complete asshole (argumentative, combative or controversial)?
Mention something as soon as the conversation / comment / response goes down that path and remind them of the “spirit” of the event which is to be helpful to others as a primary objective and for them not to correct or dispute someone’s feedback. If they choose not to self-correct, then obviously do not invite them to any further lunches.
Q: Who is responsible for the cheque, the host or the individual guests?
**add this under speaking with waiter,
**if separate cheques, ask the restaurant ahead of time as not all restaurants permit this
We should have this above in the main body about “Who Pays?” … then I’l add my 2 cents there.
Q: Is alcohol advised/ permitted during the lunch?
It’s permitted, but it doesn’t happen often. As a host, I wouldn’t order anything to drink as that will set the tone.
Q: If you are pre-planning the seating, is it a good idea to have name cards at the table?
Nope, there shouldn’t be assigned seating. The only 2 people that should be “assigned” seating are the most notable attendee (sometimes called the Anchor Attendee) and the host. Everyone else can sit where they decide, but ideally NOT in front of someone they know well. That’s the only thing I try and enforce.
Q: Why is lunch more preferable than breakfast or dinner?
Most founders are super successful and have many commitments on their time. I’ve found that lunch is the one that provides both flexibility (they all need to eat and many times don’t book this), and is “time boxed” so they know they’ll be done within an hour or so.
Breakfast usually interferes with many productive founders morning rituals and always gets cut short because of business meetings first thing in the morning. I do host breakfasts but only when I’m travelling and trying to fill my whole day.
Dinner is great but is a much bigger commitment. If you’re trying to curate others who are further ahead in your entrepreneurial journey, it maybe tougher. I host many dinners but usually with my peers.
Q: If I am hosting a breakfast or a dinner, what are the suggested times, and are they still 1.5hrs in length?
I’m only focusing on lunches right now, but if you must organize a breakfast / dinner then I would use:
Breakfast: 1.5 hours max.
Dinners: 1.5-2.5 hours max.
Dinner always runs longer because there’s dessert and many times drinking involved.
Q: When inviting guests that you do not know, do you need to include additional information in the email invitation (ie, your last name, company, etc.) or reach out to them first to introduce yourself?
I typically don’t add any more information about myself than what’s included in my email signature. You should be “google-able” to begin with and if they want more information to make a decision, they’ll ask. The key is to convey the value of the curation you’re putting into the lunch.
Q: How do you end the lunch gracefully?
The best way is to say to the group… “I hate to do this, but I have another meeting I have to run to … feel free to continue your conversations, but I have to go. I’ll be sure to follow up with everyone’s contact info so that you’re all connected. Thanks again for making the time!”
Then just stand up and shake hands with everyone, or run out the door. Everyone understands busy people have a schedule to maintain. Don’t linger there till everyone is gone.
Q: In addition to the initial follow up email to the group, is there any other type of follow up encouraged or expected, either to the group or to each individual?
In regards to the lunch, that is the only follow up I do unless I’ve offered to be helpful to someone specifically. Most of the time that will come up during a conversation, for example, maybe you offer to make an introduction to someone who can help. So I always do these follow up emails the same day. It’s important to be someone who does what he says he’s going to do.
The other kind of follow up is future invites. Ideally, if you like someone and you feel they’re a contributor to the lunch, then invite them 2-4 times a year to future lunches to keep in touch.
FOUNDER LUNCH CHECKLIST
- 2 weeks before Founder Lunch
- choose a date (ideally a Thursday)
- determine theme of lunch
- research 10 entrepreneurs who would fit the theme and location and get their email addresses
- research the ideal restaurant (great food, fair price, great atmosphere)
- book reservation at restaurant
- 1 week before Founder Lunch
- send out initial email invite to 1st 5 entrepreneurs (then wait a day)
- after a day, if there are still openings, send out next 5 invites
- set-up calendar event (“uncheck” seeing guests and inviting guests)
- add people to calendar as they confirm
- 3-5 days before Founder Lunch
- do research on everyone before the lunch (personal and business accomplishments, awards, etc.)
- prepare possible discussion topics
- decide on first person to give introduction
- Day of Founder Lunch
- send a reminder email by 10am
- arrive at least 10 min early to the restaurant
- ensure good table set up and location
- check-in with waiter (ie. cheques, picture, etc)
- make 1 on 1 introductions for everyone as they walk in
- seat notable guest in center position (and host as well)
- order lunch
- personal introductions
- take group photo
- permission from group for you to share everyone’s contact details in follow up email
- After Founder Lunch
- post pics to social media and tag attendees
- send a follow up email to the entire group with contact details, link to pics, etc.
- follow up with any guests that you have committed to helping and/ or connecting with others