Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I put on my best professional attire, hopped in my beater of a car, and tottled into a semi-fancy, networking event at a beautiful LA rooftop. Excited that I might actually network my way to my dream job, I wearily, and in excruciating detail, explained the ups and downs of my life’s journey to the first person who actually approached me to talk. When I finished, I was exhausted (It takes a LOT to condense all 30+ years of your life into a five-minute soliloquy). And the poor woman who’d deigned to talk to me was shell-shocked. As we backed away from each other slowly, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was approaching networking very, very wrong.
Thankfully, I’ve since become a lot better at navigating such events. But that doesn’t mean that networking necessarily comes easily to me. And I know I’m not alone. Networking can be intimidating for many of us. And yet, it’s often a very necessary part of expanding our reach while looking for our next job opportunity, searching for new clients, or seeking out industry mentors.
Which is why I was so excited to stumble upon the website and app, LunchClub. Launched in 2017, the free platform facilitates one-on-one meetings with people based on their interests and goals. The meetings take place virtually through the website itself and have, so far, created incredible connections that I would not have otherwise made. As Lunchclub investor, Samantha Quinn, wrote in her 2020 Medium article about the platform, “The beauty of LunchClub is its simplicity.”
And simple it is. The sign-up process is quick and straight-forward. You provide your name, a little bit of information about yourself and the types of people you’d like to meet. Once you add your availability for a video call, the AI gets to work matching you with incredible, interesting people across the globe.
My first meeting was with a sales director out of Boston. Not a match that I would have chosen for myself. But, after checking out his LinkedIn profile (this is usually provided when you’re matched with someone), I discovered that his company develops mobile voting apps to increase voter participation and combat voter suppression laws. Once we connected for our LunchClub meeting, I was beyond excited to learn more about the work that his company was doing in various communities and how he became a part of the start-up. Our conversation flowed pretty effortlessly as we discussed the value of working with a financial planner, the struggle of living in places with harsh winters, and exchanged recommendations for our favorite business and sci-fy podcasts.
My subsequent meetings through the website only got better. For example, I met with a General Counsel in the Bay Area who was eager to share her knowledge and advice with me as we talked about everything from living in the Midwest to the best way to conduct a job search in today’s market. This particular match ended up introducing me to no less than four other people in her network that she felt would be helpful to me in my career and entrepreneurial pursuits.
Indeed, that’s part of LunchClub’s magic. The more you use it, and the more feedback you provide on your matches, the better the AI becomes at pairing you with people that you’d like to meet.
My most recent LunchClub meeting was also my first in-person one as the site offers in-person meetings as an option now that Covid restrictions are relaxing. Excited and also a bit nervous, I quickly made my way to West Hollywood for our lunch at Bottega Louie. As my kitten heels click-clacked against the sidewalk, I wondered how I’d even recognize my match, since we hadn’t exactly exchanged pictures prior to our lunch. (The website did connect me with her LinkedIn profile which, thankfully, came with a small profile pic.) As I waited in line to speak with the hostess, a woman with a cute pixie cut and even cuter sunnies, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked “Are you Palanda?”
Minutes later found us walking and laughing as we talked about our experiences moving across country during Covid. She’d moved back from NY, while I’d returned from Michigan. She shared her glorious college experience of Semester-At-Sea, a program that I applied to work with no less than THREE times after law school. (I’d say I’m not bitter about that, but I definitely am.) It was quite the match as she explained some of the challenges of opening her new restaurant, while we both fawned over our delicious lunch and a gigantic Bouvier named Luca that graciously allowed us to fawn over him.
By the time we said our good-byes, we were hugging and making plans for a beignet meet-up in the valley.
And this, for me, is what makes LunchClub the magnificent platform that it is. More so than any other website, app, or in-person event that I’ve attended, LunchClub excels at promoting meaningful personal connections with people outside of one’s usual spheres of friends and colleagues.
By making the meetings one-on-one affairs and providing your match’s LinkedIn profile and LunchClub bio in advance, it takes some of the awkwardness out of meeting someone for the first time. In fact, all of my matches and I have talked well past the usual meeting time allotment that the website gave us.
And I appreciate that the platform always connects me with interesting people doing interesting things who are interested in meeting other interesting people doing interesting things. After all, networking shouldn’t be a chore. It should be an exciting opportunity to connect with people that you wouldn’t otherwise meet. And, with LunchClub, you’re sure to have that experience time and time again.