This startup makes networking hard… but in the best way possible

By Erin Griffith , written on January 16, 2014

From The News Desk

For most busy professionals, a brunch with seven strangers is not high on the list of ways to spend their Saturday, let alone one that requires jumping through many hoops to do so. But now that I've experienced an Amusemi meal for myself, I can say it refreshing. It may never scale, but it is a fun twist on normal forms of networking.

Founder Alex Shapiro started Amusemi as a way to make networking more meaningful. Going to parties never resulted in real connections, and if you don't already know anyone, it's hard to just go up and strike up a conversation. And going to Meetup events felt similarly hard to find signal from the noise. Taking his big data background, he started Amusemi, a sort of matchmaking service for professional networking. He calls it a cross between the now-defunct Grubwithus, co-founder dating, and Meetup.

The idea is that if you make people work a bit harder for their connections, the connections will be more meaningful. Amusemi hosts small dinner and brunch gatherings every two weeks, breaking its networkers into groups of eight. In order to attend, you must be a member of Amusemi (which requires at least one of your Facebook friends to already be on the platform).

You must then look through the site's profiles and pick several people you'd like to meet. Members are identified by their job, and whatever description they give when they sign up. It feels a bit like online dating, down to the "percentage you're likely to meet someone." Users become more desirable based on how often their profile is clicked on and how frequently they sign into Amusemi. Since I was new to the platform and simply signing up as quickly as possible to get the brunch into my calendar, I struggled to find matches. The platform purposely forces you to be thoughtful about who you'd like to meet.

"We're convincing people that good is hard," Shapiro says.

And that's basically it. You show up to a dinner (or brunch in my case) with eight interesting strangers who are vetted and matched with each other. Amusemi is currently focused on startup and tech-related professionals and will expand beyond that eventually.

Since networking is a huge part of my job, I expected to be inundated with pitches from founders, but the experience was actually just a pleasant way to connect with eight new people. We didn't "talk shop" the whole time, though there was some of that.

Shapiro says his goal is to make the connections in networking less transactional. He knows of a few Amusemi connections that have led to jobs, roommates, and friendships. "The best result is if people begin working together for months and years, not hours," he says. For that reason, recruiters and real estate advisors are discouraged from using the platform by getting low match scores.

The logistics of Amusemi's meals are a still wonky -- users reserve a spot by paying in advance, then pay with separate checks at the restaurant and get a refund from Amusemi afterwards. Not to mention, the company must schedule these meals each time with a new set of restaurants. It's not quite scalable yet. (More than 40 events have taken place in two years, Amusemi has over 1200 active users.)

The brunch I attended occurred during three simultaneous brunches at different restaurants. Afterwards, most of the participants gathered at a bar to meet the whole group. It felt relaxed and organic, which is the exact opposite of most corporate conferences, with nametags, caterers, keynote speakers and breakout sessions. It took a bit of work to put together and actually attend an Amusemi meal, and it may never scale to become massive, but in its own small way, it's worth the effort.

[Image via Random Night Out]