To some, the idea of a young, unknown entrepreneur attempting to create a network of high-profile company founders would seem preposterous, but Elliott Bisnow has never concerned himself much with naysayers. "Everyone has an 'I thought Elliott was crazy' story," he says.
As a young co-founder (along with his father) of a niche industry e-newsletter business called Bisnow Media, Bisnow had a long list of unanswered questions about how to run a company. The best advice, he decided, would come from other young entrepreneurs. The obstacle, of course, was getting well-known company founders to speak to a relative unknown.
So Bisnow did what any good salesman would: he got on the phone and started making some calls. Right away, he reached out to Josh Abramson and Ricky Van Neen, founders of CollegeHumor.com, the popular InterActivCorp comedy site that has spawned a big following, thanks in part to a related MTV show. Bisnow's pitch was simple and, as it turned out, hard to turn down: Come out to Park City, Utah, and spend a few days skiing, hanging, and networking with other successful young entrepreneurs. The kicker? Bisnow agreed to pay their way. They were sold. Thrillist's Ben Lerer (also featured on this year's 30 Under 30 list) and others followed.
Bisnow spent $15,000 on that first trip and $50,000 on a follow-up event in Mexico, which he charged on credit cards.. From the positive feedback he got, he decided he was on to something, and he just might have a business on his hands. But a real business doesn't give away a great product -- in this case, the opportunity for top young entrepreneurs to connect with their peers in an idyllic setting, which Bisnow would ultimately call Summit Series. So after the Mexico trip last November, Bisnow decided that he would start charging for two invite-only main summits each year, while establishing a non-profit arm to help the group contribute to charities. Sponsors such as GQ, Staples, and Goldman Sachs have helped support the events.
"We want to be the opposite of Allen & Company, which is a quiet, private event," Bisnow says. "We want to take our message to the world. We want to tell everyone about what we do and change the paradigm of what's cool."
That message has thus far spawned some fabulous audiences. In March, Bisnow organized a day of meetings with Obama administration officials at the White House for a group of about three-dozen young entrepreneurs, including Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Evan Williams of Twitter, and Aaron Patzer of Mint.com. And in July, a similar group met at the New York City home of Russell Simmons to hear from former President Bill Clinton and to raise funds for the Clinton Foundation.
"The only currency isn't money," Bisnow says. "For me, it's about how can you build a good business that's also a social business."