When entrepreneur and Inc. 30 Under 30 alum Nikhil Arora received an email from the White House last Thursday to attend a small business meeting, he didn't know exactly what to expect or even who from the Obama administration would be present.
He said it was only "one or two days" before the now highly publicized meeting took place Tuesday that he found out President Obama himself would lead a conversation on how to avoid the impending fiscal cliff with a group of 15 entrepreneurs.
"I didn't expect that level of engagement from the administration," said the co-founder of Back to the Roots, a company that makes mushroom growing kits from recycled coffee grounds. "This was not a presentation, it was an active back-and-forth discussion."
Here's how he said it happened: When the group arrived at the Roosevelt Room in the White House, they took their seats across from President Obama and senior White House staff members. Then, after water was served, they got down to it. The group launched into a conversation that covered a cross-section of topics, including capital gains taxes and middle class tax cuts to minimum wage and exports.
Because the 15 entrepreneurs at the meeting came from both venture-backed businesses and mom-and-pop stores across different business sectors, they each had specific economic points to recommend to the President.
"I got the sense that the President was eager to get our honest impression of what were seeing day to day in our jobs," Daniella Yacobovsky, co-founder of e-commerce jewelry start-up BaubleBar, said.
Yacobovsky had a broad recommendation for the President: "I told him that any clarity he could provide on the tax rate before the fiscal cliff deadline would be helpful. It would get people out shopping and spending and give a vote of confidence to employers to be able to hire new employees."
His response? The President didn't say when a potential resolution over the fiscal cliff would happen. Instead, she said he offered that any deal would need to include a two-phase process that would extend tax cuts on middle class incomes under $250,000 before more changes to more complicated issues could take place.
Dave Bolotsky, founder of online gift provider Uncommon Goods, said he advised the President to increase the minimum wage index relative to inflation and provide federal leadership on the issue of Internet sales tax. Meanwhile, Arora said he emphasized the importance of government-organized small business programs such as San Francisco's Jobs Now! hiring program for local employees.
Despite the diverse representation in the room and the informal vibe, Yacobovsky said that "there was not a tremendous amount of debate in the room."
White House press representatives did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.