I Started Hosting Founders Dinners…Here Is What Happened?

I started hosting founders dinners...Here is what happened

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I was reading a blog post many months ago and came across this quote which I thought was pretty funny.

Not sure if person leaving the comment was actually quoting someone else or it was their own. It went something like this:

If you hang around with 5 lions, you will be the sixth lion… But if you hang around 5 donkeys, you will be the sixth donkey…

It is the same as:

‘You are the average of 5 people you hang around with most’

But I like the first version better.

No disrespect and my sincere apologies to donkeys, but I would rather be a lion.

One of the first things I would be focusing on my way to building a company generating $100k/month will be to double down on the concept of Founders Dinners.

As you will read further into the post, I am sure you will agree on why I am choosing to do that. But please do give me feedback on whether I should do things differently in the comments.

Anyhow….

Looking back in the last few years. I can honestly say that most of best ideas have come from other people.

Heck the ideas that made me a lot of money even came from other people. Well…OK I will take some credit. Most of my ideas were a combination of what I learnt from people, personal learning and trial/error.

Most of the deals were due to introductions made by other successful people.

I think one of the smartest things I did was to actively sought people who were smarter and more successful than me. Even a lot of my drive and motivation came from trying to catch up with those people.

On the flip side, the chunks of time where I did not achieve much was due to the fact that I hung around people who were less motivated. Not bad people…Just not very driven. Eventually I would get that way too temporarily.

But then…

Over time as I got busy I stopped meeting people. I stopped networking full stop.

It kinda just died.

I just got stuck in the office ‘working’. Truthfully I just got lazy about it and got in my comfort zone of staying within the safe environment of familiar office.

Over time I became a ghost. All the relations I had built just vanished as I was not following up. I was not running my ideas with anyone else. I was not really getting inspired anymore.

Everything flattened in that sense.

I knew the importance of building a powerful network for growth and but I just kept putting if off. Another truth is that I did get to a point that I was really busy and casual networking was just not feasible anymore.

I needed a system to keep building my mastermind.

The Power of Founder Dinners

Here is when I stumbled upon the concept of Founder dinners.

I was watching some videos from Dan Martell and he kept talking about how he hosted over 300 Founders dinners in the last 10 years. He put that down to be the highest level task he did as an entrepreneur.

He would start by building a dream 100 list where he would identify people he would like to have as his mentors, advisers, peers. He would then start reaching out to them for founders dinners.

As simple as that…

He got that idea from reading ‘Never Eat Alone’ by Keith Ferrazzi. Great book…I went ahead to read it and highly recommend it.

So…

I took the same concept and in the last 6 months organised many founders dinners, couple of big meet ups and had plenty of one on one meetings with very successful people.

I took a very methodical approach to how I targeted the right people, approach them, convince them to attend dinners and follow up after.

I am going to break down completely easy to follow steps so you can follow and start doing the same.

How to build your network the right way?

Here is a step by step guide on how to manage this whole thing as a system:

You can copy and paste the whole system including Templates, Spreadsheets, Scripts. It is a bit elaborate for multiple reasons:

  1. I plan to keep doing it for long time so want to keep everything organised.
  2. I can delegate parts of the system to my team members to save time.
  3. It is the first version, I will keep simplifying it over time.

Founders  Dinner Process

The whole system is divided into 4 distinct stages.

  • Stage 1: Build your dream list and prospect
  • Stage 2: Outreach and scheduling an event
  • Stage 3: Event
  • Stage 4: Post Event

Stage 1: Build your dream list and prospecting

Think about all the people who could help you achieve your goals quickest and make a list.

Dan Martell calls it his Dream 100 list. The idea is to categorise the list by Mentors, Advisers, Peers.

Mentors: Very experienced and high profile people you only go to once in a while for big life or business changing issues.

Advisers: People who are far more experienced than you in a particular area and you turn to them when you need to build expertise. For example a seasoned CFO will have a lot more advice to give you than you can search online yourself. An expert in Paid advertisement will teach you more in a week than you would learn by taking courses etc.

Peers: These are people who are on the same journey as you but slightly ahead. These are the people you meet the most for sharing ideas, helping each other and general socialising.

Think deep about what kind of people you would like to have as your Mentors, Advisers, Peers. Write down the characteristics of As a rule of thumb go for 15 potential Mentors, 35 Advisers and 50 Peers.

You can add more categories if it suits you but the above three will serve you alright.

Note that filling your list of people is an ongoing process. Do not expect to fill the entire list in one go. Keep filling the sheet as you meet and get to know more people.

If you struggle to find time to do it yourself, you can easily delegate or outsource it to someone else. I myself delegate to my team members to make sure the process keeping moving.

Here is how I do it:

Step 1: Add prospects in the ‘Main Prospects Database’ Google spreadsheet.

Add prospects in the ‘Main Database’ Diagram

I start by adding all the prospects I can think of in this Google spreadsheet:

Main Database Google Spreadsheet with directions

You Can Download It From Here

At this point I quickly put in all the information I have on them e.g Name, Email,  Contact source, Social Media.

Step 2: Create Ideal candidates criteria and Delegate Prospect search to a team member

Create Ideal candidates criteria and Delegate Prospect search to a team member

I fill out an Ideal Candidate Criteria and give that to a team member to search for more prospects.

Ideal candidates criteria Spreadsheet

You Can Download The Template From Here

She then goes and searches for the candidates that match the criteria and adds them to the Main Prospects Database. Mostly she uses LinkedIn to search for prospects but also utilises any other channel such as Google, Angel list, Twitter etc.

Note: At this point she is only adding the very basic information i.e Name and Linked profile. She still needs my approval before she spends time finding contact information.

Step 3: Prospects approval

Once in a week I go into the sheet and go through all new prospects, their profiles. I then go give the candidates my approval and decide what category they should fall in i.e whether they are a potential mentor, adviser or peer.

Prospects Approval in Main Database

Prospects Approval in Main Database 2

Step 4: Find contact information and LinkedIn connection request

After I have approved all prospects, my team member goes and finds all the contact information they can on the contacts.

She then goes and sends a LinkedIn connection request and sends a Thank you message upon acceptance. The idea is to get at least one touch point with the prospect before we can start reaching out to them.

Also once they are a connection on LinkedIn, it is very easy to extract their email address. You can find it here.

Thank You Message Template.

Thank message sent in Main database

Stage 2: Outreach and schedule an event

At this stage you have all the information on the contact and they are somewhat familiar with you as you sent them a ‘Thank you’ message on LinkedIn.

You are ready to reach out to them and start inviting them to your Dinners, Lunches or just have an initial call.

Here is how I do it:

Step1: Import them onto a CRM

We use Streak CRM as it resides within Google Apps and easier to manage. But you can use any CRM, they pretty much all do the same basic stuff. Go with anything you are comfortable with.

Once it is in Streak, it looks a bit like this:

Streak CRM Home

Streak CRM Home with arrows

Step 2: Start outreach

At the start of every quarter we plan ever Founder dinner or any other lunch etc based on my travel schedule. We pre-book all the venues (mostly restaurants).

So my team member starts to send them invitations for upcoming events. They look a bit like this:

Invitation Script

She then adds a task on the contact to follow up after a week.

The follow ups include:

  • General 1 liner follow up

Follow up script

  • Custom: Something about them and remind them about the invitation. Sometimes a person does not reply even after multiple follow ups so we send them a follow up in the form of something about their current scenario e.g new post, something happening in the industry etc.

You can expect an overall response rate of 10-12%.

As we do follow ups we increase time gaps between them to ensure the person does not get annoyed.

As soon as we hear a response from the prospect whether it is positive, negative or vague, the team member moves the candidate to Initial discussion Stage.

Streak Initial Discussion

Typically responses range anything from people interested in attending your event, declining, asking more information about it.

At this point depending on the reply either the team member continues discussion with them or I take over. For example:

  • If they agree to coming to the event, she goes ahead and sends them Calendar invite, venue information and other guest lists etc.
  • If they decline which is typically because they have other commitments, she puts a follow up task in streak to invite them at a later event and leaves the prospect in the same ‘Discussion started’.
  • If they want more information, she tries to provide it but if it is beyond her then she assigns the prospect to me and I take over from there. Typically I have found that after few back n forth, they agree to come to one of the events. At that point I assign the prospect back to my assistant to send calendar invites etc.
  • Very rarely they instead of coming to dinner, want to have a phone call or meet up for coffee. Mostly it’s because they are not in the same area etc. In that case my assistant goes ahead and books a call or 1on1 meeting respectively.

Once an event is booked

  • The prospect is moved to the ‘Event Scheduled’ stage.
  • The event type column is updated with whether the prospect is attending a Founder’s dinner, lunch, call, 1on1 meeting.
  • My calendar is updated so I know who I am meeting for the upcoming events.
  • A task is set to send reminder 24 before the meeting.

Streak Event Scheduled Stage

Everything is set now for the Founders dinner.

Stage 3: Event

This one is fairly simple. All the leg work has been done already. I mostly keep my Dinners/lunches quite small with 6-8 people.

That is to keep everything deliberately casual and informal. Its good size so I get to speak with everyone and there are good conversations going.

Anything bigger, you will find that small groups form and there are too many conversations going around the table. What I have found is that smaller the group, better conversations you get to have with your guests. The whole experience is more intimate.

Needless to say as I am the host, I make sure everything is all set. Table is comfortable in a quiet area, I am keeping an eye on the phone in case someone is late or can’t find the place etc.

I mostly make small talk and let other speak most of the time. It is amazing how much you learn when you get like minded people talking around a table.

I am taking mental notes on what issues my guests are facing in the day to day. What can be done to help them out?

After the event, my immediate actions are to:

  • Send thank you email to everyone who attends.
  • Write notes on everyone who attends on the CRM. The notes include what I learnt from them, what can I help them with, any other interesting thing they talked about.
  • Add Follow up tasks on each guest. The tasks could include anything from follow up to resolve any issue they are facing, do an introduction, ask for a referral or general follow up.
  • Move them to ‘Network’ stage and put Minutes of the dinner and Notes to the columns in streak.

Streak Notes and Feedback

Stage 4: Post Event

Once they are part of my network, I assign them a priority based on the follow up tasks I assigned them.

Prioritize on Streak

Priorities:

0: Follow up few times in a month

1: Follow up Once a month

2: Follow up once a quarter

3: Follow up once a year

The priority you assign to each member of your network changes over time based on how you get along with them.

Finally diligently follow up with your network based on priorities in the form of:

  • Birthday emails
  • General catch up
  • Small presents
  • Send them advice, articles, small tokens on what they do.
  • Invitations to future events
  • Coffee meetings
  • Connect them with other people.
  • Generally try to help them out wherever you can.

Again you can divide this between yourself and your assistant.

80% of it is staying in touch all the time. You have done the hard work, now you just have to be very tenacious with follow ups.

If you do this enough, you will find that wherever you are traveling  you always have people to meet up and network with.

Here is what happened when I started organising these events:

Influx of Introductions:

Even without me ever asking, whoever attended the dinners or meet ups felt like they owed it to me to do introductions.

I started getting introductions to many great people.

For example I got introduced to an MIT grad who ran a big 3D printing research lab. I met up with that gentleman and we hit it off immediately.

I got introduced to a very experienced entrepreneur who had built and sold multiple companies using leveraged buyouts.

You just never know who you will end up meeting:

I am hosting this dinner and there is guy sitting among others at the table… We had spoken but never met prior to then. He is very quiet and looks a bit scruffy..

Then eventually he starts to join the discussion and I am thinking ‘This guy seems a bit smarter than normal’

Turns out…He is an inventor with 14 patents under his belt. Previously ran a research lab funded by Nasa… Also another MIT grad…

I did not expect that.

Few other people I ended up meeting included someone who ran European offices of a multibillion dollar company, a lot of people with very academic background etc

So you never know who you are going to end up meeting…

Got to know mentors:

Met few people who were running really successful business and had lots of experience. Got them to meet me again for coffee and give me advise on few things.

Became an Influencer? LOL…

I am far from an influencer and do not aspire to be one. However funny thing happened.

As I started organising these events, people started to come to me for advise on their businesses. Somehow being the host makes you look like an authority.

Best of all…Brain went on overdrive and got tons of ideas…

There is something magical about hanging around with smarter people than you.

I got plenty of value and will continue to get it. But at the very least I realised that just by hanging around smarter people, forced me to think a lot more. I got so many ideas just talking to them.

Conclusion

This is a direct quote I read on ‘Never Eat Alone’

‘Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in Isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone’.

-Margaret Wheatley

Here is a Workflow of how everything comes together:

Workflow of Founder Dinner Process

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