Is food the best icebreaker when it comes to networking? The co-founders of a gastro-themed social network think so. Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano run Grubwithus Inc., a Venice company that organizes networking meals for a discount at restaurants.
The two 31-year-old Angelenos, who had moved to Chicago in 2010 to set up a location of their Japanese cream puff franchise called Beard Papas, decided they wanted to meet people in the Windy City. So they launched Grubwithus.
“It kind of dawned on us, why can’t we meet new people over food?” Sugano said.
The service schedules prix-fixe meals at participating restaurants for less than $30. Then it advertises them on its website, helping like-minded people connect and relax in an environment as easy on the pallet as it is on their wallets. The restaurants charge about 70 percent of regular prices; tax and tip are included. It’s marketing for the restaurants and gives them business on what might otherwise be a slow evening.
“There’s no stress; all the energy is devoted to speaking across the table to the person next to you,” Sugano said.
The duo moved back to Los Angeles and opened offices in Venice. Today, Grubwithus has 14 full-time employees, with more than 40,000 registered diners in about 1,000 restaurants in about 50 cities in the United States, Canada and London.
The company makes money by charging restaurants a service fee of $2 to $3 per diner. Grubwithus is not yet profitable, but a couple of weeks ago it announced it had secured $5 million in second-round funding from a venture capital group led by Century City’s GRP Partners. The company is about to expand its staff and will offer more themed meals, such as ones aimed at people in an industry, along with last-minute and happy-hour specials.
The new efforts came from lessons Sugano and Lu have learned in their still-young careers.
“Throughout us growing as a company, we’ve learned you’ve always got to hustle,” Sugano said.