Bread and Startups: A Call to Action

South Africa Summer 2014 Blog

Written by: Kai Zau

July 8, 2014

Family Dinner with David Hauser and the Grasshopper team

A 2010 "family dinner" with David Hauser and the Grasshopper.com team.

 

When I first landed on Boston's startup scene in 2009, I was clueless. I had dropped out of university a year prior and knew nothing of customer development, product design, or venture capital. There were no online courses, no active meetup.com groups, and no place to turn for advice.

Yet, my timing couldn’t have been better. I fell in with a group of young, entrepreneurial go-getters — Cortland Johnson, Jake Cacciapaglia, Alexa Scordato, Aaron O’Hearn, Jason Evanish, and too many others to name. Together, we pooled our resources and pulled each other up.

Every Thursday after work (we all had day jobs at the time), we met at a local bar, gave feedback on each other’s side-projects, and had a great time in the process. It was incredible to see so many talented, ambitious people in the same room.

As the weekly ritual gathered steam, our outings began to attract 20, then 50, then 100 people at a time. Friendships were cemented, ideas were shared, and companies were born out of these simple get-togethers.

Suddenly, prominent people in Boston started noticing the newfound excitement around entrepreneurship. We began hosting informal "family dinners" with local angel investors and successful CEOs — Dave Balter of BzzAgent, Robin Chase of Zipcar, David Hauser of Grasshopper, and many more.

With the help of Flybridge Capital's Victoria Song and prolific local investor Bill Warner, Family Dinner became a rallying point for the community and scored major wins for Boston.

In two short years, dozens of events and initiatives had joined forces — the CIC’s Venture Cafe, Greenhorn Connect, the Microsoft NERD Center, and MassChallenge — all helping to bolster the city’s startup economy. Visit Boston today, and you’ll find a vibrant startup scene that’s friendly to newcomers, fertile for veterans, and with more events, resources, and potential than anyone could've imagined in 2009.

***

I tell this story because Johannesburg right now feels a lot like Boston did to me back then. Between Start with 7, Founders Institute, the Tshimologong Precinct, Microsoft App FactoryThoughtworks, joziHub, Innovation Hub, and any programs I’m not yet aware of — the pieces are in place for a startup renaissance.

My theory is simple: Good things happen when you get the right people in the same room. 

So on behalf of MIT GSL, I'll be inviting various members of the Johannesburg startup community to dinner this Wednesday — and every subsequent Wednesday.

This is an informal get-together for founders, investors, mentors, and everyone in between. The goal is simply to share what everyone's working on and explore how we might help each other out.

A few details, so you know what to expect:

  • The group will be small and intimate — any larger than 6 and people tend to split into multiple conversations.
  • The setting will be informal so that folks can let down their guards and connect as people, not business titles.
  • Everyone pays for their own meal — it reaffirms that we’re all there to contribute and allows the event to run with minimal overhead.

If you’d like to get involved, get in touch with me at zau (at) mit.edu or better yet, fill out this form. Excited to see what comes next.