Investor Evan Nisselson, founder of LDV Capital, understands how important it is for entrepreneurs to connect into the right networks of investors, advisors and peers in the emerging technology eco-system. As a serial entrepreneur who has built four visual technology businesses, Evan has over the course of his 20+ year career in technology, attended countless meetups, conferences, and networking events plus scheduled more coffee dates than you can imagine, all with the aim of making the right connections to advance his ventures. He's been successful both with his ventures and perhaps more importantly, his networking, building an enviable global community of influencers.
Today, leveraging the power of his community is core to every business decision Evan makes. Evan's LDV platform includes LDV Capital, LDV Vision Summit, LDV Vision Book Series and the linchpin, the LDV Community. LDV Capital, a venture capital fund investing in people building companies with a horizontal focus in Visual Technologies across all business sectors. The annual LDV Vision Summit addresses subjects ranging from the future of cameras to augmented reality, artificial intelligence to medical imaging. The LDV Community is Evan's secret sauce. At these monthly dinners, Evan assembles a curated table of investors and entrepreneurs to inspire, have fun and most importantly help each other succeed. The dinner format from seating to introductions may stay the same the guest list however, is always unique. Since starting these dinners, Evan has brought together over 500 investors, entrepreneurs and advisors, one 30-person 3-course dinner at a time.
I sat down with Evan, to break bread and discover how his powerful business network really works.
When did the dinners start?
I have been organizing entrepreneur gatherings since the mid 1990's in Silicon Valley. When I lived in San Francisco we used to meet every couple of months at Tosca in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. I started organizing the monthly LDV Community Dinners in New York City about 4 years ago and we rotate restaurants downtown in New York City.
How often do they occur? How many people are invited?
The attendees are curated by primarily by myself but also by the community. Each dinner includes an eclectic mixture of 30 fantastic entrepreneurs and investors with the goal of an equal balance of half female and half male attendees. It's always interesting when people email to say that they are available but frequently the available 15 male or female slots are filled quickly so I offer them an invite to a future dinner. I strongly believe that the gender balance adds tremendously to the serendipity of our gatherings and it is the right thing to do.
We sit at one long family style table with seating mixed female/male plus my key requirement for each dinner: you cannot sit next to someone you know. We rotate seats after each food course so you can meet more people. These dinners typically last four or more hours and often people say that they are amazed that most of the group stays until the end.
What was the igniting moment which caused you to start the dinners?
I was born in Manhattan and lived in San Francisco from 1995 until 2002. As a serial entrepreneur, I learned the intense challenges of building businesses and it's always helpful to be part of a vibrant community that can help each other at anytime. I also learned firsthand about the tremendous “Give Forward” nature in Silicon Valley when I lived there. Helping others and having friends of friends or even strangers help you without directly asking for something in return. It is amazing! This “Give Forward” nature is not historically in the blood and DNA of New Yorkers but over the last four years it seems to be improving. I wanted to bring aspects of what I learned in Silicon Valley and evolve it to my small part in trying to help the New York City technology entrepreneur ecosystem flourish.
What is the mission of the dinners?
The Mission is to create a community who inspire, have fun and help each other succeed. Hopefully we can also work together to improve the world we live in. After happy hour, we sit for the first course and go around the table giving brief introductions. I typically say that one of our goals is to inspire a “Give Forward” attitude to our Community and NYC so “if you don’t help one person tonight. You Fail yourself and Fail the rest of us. Now let's go around the table for brief intros. Tell us your name, one sentence of what you do? Your favorite word. How can we help you without asking for money because everyone is always fundraising?”
It’s amazing that sometimes during the intros – others around the table shout out that they can solve that "Ask" and then others purposely sit next to people that they can help when switching seats. Carpe Diem!
It's energizing to hear and feel the buzz of the attendees after intros. The next day we gather those 30 asks from those that attended the Dinner and add them to newsletter plus photos from a professional photographer who make pictures at our dinners and we send that newsletter to our growing 500 person community so that they all can try to help solve the "Asks" of those 30 guests. I then receive emails from individuals listing the people that they can help and the solutions are what make all of the hard work – worthwhile.
Describe the community of guests. Who gets invited and why?
Attendees are an eclectic mixture of first time entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs who have raised funding, serial entrepreneurs who have had multiple liquidity exits, some big company execs and some investors. The eclectic mixture delivers a lot of serendipity which I believe delivers the success of our community. I go to many networking events and many are business vertical specific such as an E-commerce Dinner or a FinTech gathering and these can be valuable. However, we invite people across all business sectors and all say this is part of what makes our community unique. This mixture helps people find solutions to their challenges from a variety of perspectives and expertise. It's always fascinating to see a first time entrepreneur sitting next to someone who has founded companies that have had IPO's. They can always help each other and they do.
Most of our community is based in New York City and we mix it up with other unique guests from around the world such as successful writers, comedians, among others from Tele Aviv, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Milan, San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Stockholm, Boston, San Francisco, and New York. Entrepreneurs from Europe and the west coast frequently email saying they helped someone in our community recently and are thinking about passing through New York City soon – when are the next dinners and is there any room? About 50% of the attendees at each dinner are first time guests and the other half are repeat attendees. Attendees can join another dinner in the future only if they help others in the community and refer other great additions to the community. The community filters out those are not a good fit. Sometimes it seems like a lot of guidelines but it the community says it works.
What’s the ethos of the community?
The goal of LDV Community is for the attendees to have fun, meet new people, help each other succeed and hopefully improve the world we live in. Members are added to our newsletter mailing list after they join their first dinner which is sent out after each dinner with photos and the "Asks" from each at the previous dinner. This newsletter is sent to the entire LDV Community so they can all try to help solve the "Asks" of those who attended the last dinner. Frequently these solutions help the giver and the recipient and on average, about 25% of the asks are solved which seems to be a great percentage.
What tangible outcomes from the dinners can you share?
One of my portfolio companies was looking to enhance diversity in his company asked for recommendations on a great Developer Evangelist – with a preference towards hiring a woman – and made an amazing hire through an introduction at the dinner (yes, that developer as well as his next technical hire, were women thanks to the dinner connection). Author, Tucker Max started his next business: book in a box and pop-up architect, Melissa Gonzalez, published her first book, thanks to a dinner last year. Several high profile and accomplished female founders subsequently raised money from investors they were seated next to at a dinner, proving once again importance of getting to know people. An angel investor and early employee at Linkedin wanted to get connected with New York Tech ecosystem and the dinners have helped him accomplish this defined business networking goal. I could go on and on, but I suspect you get the powerful idea behind these dinners.
I do. And cheers.