The new power brunch: A $40 way to network with execs

Twenty floors above long weekend brunch lines and closed Wall Street offices, several dozen people packed in on a Sunday morning in May to get advice from Lyft's senior operations manager Seth Melnick and Deep Fork Capital Venture Capitalist Adam Besvinick.

"The worst time to get to know someone is when you actually need to know them," the venture capitalist told the crowd of young professionals, many of whom were eager to advance within the start-up world.

Leonardo Patizi | Getty Images

They then separated into eight groups to tackle the day's challenge: developing business ideas to improve their commute. With just a minute to present and another to answer investor questions, attendees participated in a mock pitch session that ends the two-and-a-half-hour event, and one group won with its idea for a Lyft subscription service.

Welcome to networking on the weekends, in which a $40 ticket, on average, to brunchwork buys you brunch and insights into what it takes to succeed in the entrepreneurial world.

Brunchwork is one of the latest entrants in a networking industry increasingly focused on alternatives to the traditional cocktail party and trips to the golf course. Instead, the internet has built new communities through Meetups, boutique fitness classes and exclusive meals. Brunchwork tries to stand out in that crowded space by teaching skills and not just providing connections.

For someone new to the start-up process, Lyft's Melnick said brunchwork's business pitch challenge gets "the creative juices flowing for the type of ways you're going to have to think in situations like mine."

Catering from a Greenwich Village start-up is integral to brunchwork's focus on building a valuable community, said Jon Levy, a human behavior analyst and the company's co-founder.

"We separate every aspect of an event down to specific action and intentions. … How do we give people guidance (as) they're learning how to lead," he said.

Each month, the firm holds two events in New York City and one in Washington, D.C., at venues, such as WeWork and Lower Manhattan collaboration space LMHQ. Since launching early last year, brunchwork has sold nearly 2,000 tickets and forecasts six-figure revenue for the year, including sponsorships.

If brunchwork maintains its structured programming with scale, it can keep its edge in the networking events space as weekend mornings will draw only the very motivated. The firm also cultivates a following with its "Very Important Brunchers (VIB)" loyalty program.

Finding the right groups is key to good networking, said Judy Robinett, author of "How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Network into Profits."

"If there's not people smarter in the room or (people who) have resources you can use, you're not going anywhere," she said. "It has to be focused on quality people."

For the first brunchwork speakers, Levy tapped his own well-established network, which he's developed in part through "Influencers," a dinner networking series he launched in 2009 to connect leaders from across industries. Past guests include Nobel Prize recipients, scientists and music artists.

In the year and a half since its launch, Levy's new venture, brunchwork, has hosted executives from Seamless, Hinge, and Casper.

The speakers also benefit from hearing the audience's ideas and watching attendees interact, especially if they're looking for new employees.

"It's really great to be in a room of people so interested in the start-up space because that's what I want to hire for," Lyft's Melnick said.

Now that brunchwork has built a community reaching into the thousands, the challenge is figuring out what's next, its co-founders said. The company has hosted hiring events, and is offering a crash course Saturday on launching a start-up.

"We out-deliver all the competitors out there," Levy said. "How can we out-deliver ourselves?"

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