Summer is here and Lunch 2.0 is starting up again. There are two events scheduled already, and from two of my favorite Web 2.0 startups to boot!
The first one will be at LinkedIn. Which is important because their founder is on the board of the company that pays my salary. We’re the second entry in their newly-born corporate blog! Next step: get Mario to blog about my LinkedIn Haikus (they really work, honest!).
The other one will Ning on June 14. Little known factoid: Ning was our very first Lunch 2.0, even if they didn’t know it. (Ahh, back in the good old days when Lunch 2.0 meant sneaking into a company’s cafeteria and sticking our Lunch 2.0 flag in the ground… or fork in their cake.)
The what and wherefore of lunch-two-point-oh
Lunch 2.0 is about participating in an interesting conversation over a free lunch.
If you are interested in being a diner, going to a Lunch 2.0 is really easy. Just say you’re going to attend and our hosts will deal with the fallout. Afterwards, write about it in your blog, post some photos, or produce a video. (Send us an e-mail so we can link it.) While that’s not a requirement, it’s that sort of buzz is what pays the bills when our hosts have to justify this craziness to their corporate overlords. Or, if you are a corporate overlord, host one yourself…
If you want to host a Lunch 2.0, it’s really easy to become an “eatery.” Just send Mark or me an e-mail. We really want to eat your lunch. Honest! Mark explained our philosophy best:
Lunch 2.0, much like Web 2.0, is all about being open. We welcome any companies that are interested in hosting Lunch 2.0 events
C’mon Lunch 2.0 has got to be hipper than that moleskine that you carry around to keep your lo-tech creds up.
Lunch 2.0: Taste the buzz.
Warning: A long and inconsistent story ahead
Speaking of waxing nostalgic, I think it’s about time I finally post this article about the Lunch 2.0 story. The first time I tried to write this was in response to a query by FutureWorks back in October of last year. The second was in February to celebrate the first anniversary of Lunch 2.0. This will be the third attempt, so it’ll be a long one…
It’s about time I got my story straight about this Lunch 2.0 thing (or at least, my lies consistent). What follows is the honest-to-God truth (uh, sort of).
[How we created Lunch 2.0: The True Hollywood Story after the jump]
If you talk to four people about something you’re going to get four different stories. And there are four people at the beginning of this one. You can read the others, but my story is going to be the most interesting, and therefore it must be true.
Just ask Kay:
It begins with Lunch 1.0
For me the story begins in 2000, when another Lunch 2.0 co-founder, David Kellogg, was about to graduate in laser physics from the University of Illinois. He just had to fly out to visit me because I’m such a great guy (that, and he was interviewing for a job at SDL).
Among other things, I showed Dave my nasty habit of sneaking into corporate cafeterias. In particular, we snuck into Novell’s cafeteria: this was the Novell before SuSE.
There was a trend that we noticed in graduate school: As graduate students who had an amazing flair for the cheap, we’d eat lunch at various places in Champaign-Urbana until they, soon after, went out of business. That’s a pretty cool superpower and we couldn’t wait to unleash it on the South Bay. (It obviously worked on Novell’s cafeteria. Due to the economic swings that form the closet thing Silicon Valley has to weather, that cafeteria is now part of eBay’s headquarters.)
If Dave took a job in the Valley, we’d start up a secret moveable feast where we’d sample the crappiest food at all these corporations.
He did. We didn’t.
Lunch 1.0 really sucked.
Fast forward to January 2005. Dave is now working at Yahoo! and I’m working at Plaxo.
Haiping hangs up the phone. Out comes these words in his wonderfully stilted Chinese accent that reminds me of the professor of my Linear Circuit Analysis class: “Man! I was just going to have lunch with my friend at Google. and he got fired!”
(Lunches at Google are legendary. They’re like the Lunch 2.0 questing beast—we’re destined to hunt them.) “Huh?” I ask.
“He and I worked together at Microsoft and he just got hired by Google two weeks ago. I call to say I’m coming over today and he says he got fired today!”
“How does that happen?”
“He got fired for blogging!?”
That rang a bell in my memory. *A quick (and ironic) google search later* “Is his name Mark Jen?”
“How do you know him?”
“I don’t. There was just a lot of buzz about this guy who was blogging all these ‘company secrets’ of Google (like how the Mountain View shuttle bus is crowded and their comp sucks compared to Microsoft). I figured he must be the one.”
The joys of schadenfreude
I lean over to my co-worker, Joseph Smarr. “This is going to be great.” I tell him how it’s going to go down.
Do you have someone in your company who seems to follow every piece of gossip, every trend, every buzzward that goes out around here? It’s like they have a direct brainfeed to ValleyWag, digg and BoingBoing at the same time. You mention something and it’s always that they read it earlier and they enjoy telling you something you won’t find out for for another week. They’re like a walking metafilter.
Well ours was Adam Lasnik. He wasn’t there that day and I had been itching for some payback for all the spoilers he’d given me the previous year, plus I had to sit through all his stories of various swing dancing exploits. (Just so you know, apparently I’m nobody unless I can do a proper “8-count swing-out in the Savoy style.” )
Sure enough, two weeks later it leaks to the press that the “one less zero” guy got fired for blogging. That day, Adam pipes up: “Hey that Google blogger got fired.”
I yell back loud enough for Joseph to hear and enjoy, “That’s so two weeks ago, Adam!”
The waiting was so worth it.
(Adam would later work for Google.)
I meet the last founder of Lunch 2.0
Joseph and David I knew, but not Mark. By the time the Adam event occurs, Plaxo is already actively trying to hire him. I meet him after the deal is done.
Mark has achieved some notoriety. After all, it isn’t every day a guy gets fired for blogging from a post-IPO, soon-to-be-legendary corporation that bought out the company that invented blogging. In fact, he accounts for more press about Plaxo than our highly viral product.
Having some appreciation for irony, Plaxo makes it his first task at the company to write the Plaxo Blogging Policy. This is one of the first examples of a corporate blogging policy and still the gold standard for transparency and openness. (An openness that would cause me to create an unintended Plaxo-TechCrunch run-in.)
For some reason we become fast friends. (Mark, you know we’ve worked together for two years and I think Lunch 2.0 is the only project we ever worked together on at Plaxo.)
Mark’s 15 minutes means he’s invited to all the bay area shindigs. One of them is a startup networking event run by some colleagues of mine from a world outside work. Mark asks me why I never went to it, or asked to be invited. And in a display of frankness, that is the uncharacteristic of my normally reserved nature, I say:
“Yeah, just what I’d want to do. Watch a bunch of people go listen to another bunch of people whose only trait is they got lucky on the off chance that some of that luck rubs off in the form of a pearl of wisdom that none of us has?
“Perhaps, networking is the stuff that happens by accident (like me meeting you because you got fired the day Haiping called for a Google lunch). I’d much rather happen to talk to people who are interesting because they’re are actually interested in the stuff that they’re talking about—and that’s not talking about making money (having money is nice; talking about it is boorish). It could be about anything.
“Maybe it should specifically not be about networking or creating a tech company. Maybe over food, like lunch or something.”
“The lunch” (or something)
Summer approaches and Mark gets a phone call from a friend who is interning at Google. He and another friend (interning at) Microsoft Research are going to have lunch at Google. He’s a bit nervous and asks me I’d like to tag along.
Sneaking in to Google with a guy who just got fired from there and a girl working for their arch nemesis? That’s too good to pass up.
I register at the front desk:
Name: Terry Chay
Location: Next door
Mark jokes with me. What should he put down? As he muses on what to type in for his badge, I sit down in the main lobby and continue my bad habit of reading anything in front of me when I’m bored, which this time happens to be an issue of the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s a Monday. Something in the corner catches my eye…
“Hey Mark, you’re in the Chronicle,”. I blurt out before my eyes finish reading. It says to see section C1 or something: the front page of the business section.
By this time, the other two join Mark with me as we rifle through the paper looking for the business section.
There I am, my first meal at Google, sneaking into Google, sitting in Google’s lobby, reading Google’s copy of a newspaper with a business article about how Google fired the guy standing right next to me for blogging about Google.
So. Fucking. Glorious.
I wish I brought my camera that day. (I would bring my camera to every Lunch 2.0 thereafter.)
That was a great lunch. The first among many, though I didn’t know it at the time.
Since before my time, Plaxo had lunch brought in. Joe would pass around a menu so you can list your choice on Waiter on Wheels. That was back when Plaxo was small, it was formalized into a regular Tuesday and Thursday thing ordered well in advance.
Free meals on Tuesday and Thursday. By this point we always had leftovers.
One such Tuesday or Thursday, my friend Dave invites himself to my standing invitation to restart our moveable feast at Plaxo. Mark, by coincidence, invites two of his friends. We now have a quorum so we break off from the rest of Plaxo crowd and do the regular sort of conversations that occur over food. A great time is had by all. I got to tell the Google Lunch story and the Novell story.
Joseph points out that it’s a shame that we’re so close to all these companies. You pass them every day and it doesn’t register until you read about it in sites like Ajaxian. But you can’t make connections like this one because you don’t know anyone there. You always seem just two degrees separated.
And then someone (not me) says, “We should do this more often.”
Terry Chay, venture capitalist
We need a name for this craziness. Joseph comes up with “Lunch 2.0” on a lark.
The next day, Mark comes up to me, “Terry, the domain name is available. You have to buy it.”
“Fuck that. Why don’t you buy it? You’re the one making all the money off your blog.”
“I would but I already bought plaxoed.com with it and Yahoo! only allows you to buy once per account at that $5 for two year domain name deal.”
He had me with that one.
Five minutes later. “Okay, I bought the domain and pointed it to your Dreamhost server. Have at it.”
As the only founder who actually plunked down any of his own money on this insanity, I can say with all honesty that I was the VC who funded Lunch 2.0 and none of the others can gainsay this claim.
(Thanks, Yahoo! Small Business. If back then, you charged $10 a year like you do now, Lunch 2.0 might never have been born. Once, I overheard Chad Dickerson recounting to someone about how he bought the domain name for Yahoo Hack Day on Yahoo! Small Business and pointed it to his Dreamhost account to set up the blog. It sort of makes you wonder how many good ideas started with this one-two combination.)
Lunch 2.0 is born
Lunch 2.0 A social phenomenon referring to a migration of web 2.0 company employees to other offices around the Silicon Valley area; characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share food and ideas, and “the lunch as a conversation.”
(Aside: I don’t know where Mark dug up the theme for the blog, but that ubiquitous watermelon soon becomes the symbol of Lunch 2.0. Since Dave is reading about favicons that day, he makes the icon for it.)
Dave invites us to sneak into Yahoo! Dot’s as turnabout for the Plaxo “invite” marking our first official Lunch 2.0.
We meet some of his co-workers. We talk about getting a face full of buckshot. We talk about that snowboarder who crashed right before the finish line in the Winter Games. Somewhere in there we talk about the internet.
It was fun. It was irreverent.
This is not going to last. This will never work.
Thankfully, Mark managed the next day to find the two components that make a great Lunch 2.0. What a great guy!
The first component is diners. Preferably ones with stones to sneak in to some place uninvited. He found them at the TechCrunch party the next day. Among them were Mike, Holly, Dennis and Hasan. (Hasan managed to get into our Google lunch without a pass and I think he sold his company to someone—but it was in Europe so it doesn’t count. Holly would become our unofficial video blogger. Her videos get more views than God.)
The second component was someone other than Plaxo to actually sponsor one of these officially. Again, Mark’s firing comes to the rescue.
There is a cool new Web 2.0 startup/job-site called SimplyHired which is running a contest on their companion site, SimplyFired. There people share their worst firing stories in order to win a cruise with the people who got fired from the Apprentice.
Who better to promote the contest and judge the entries than Mark Jen?
One memorable moment is when Kay is demonstrating how SimplyHired mashes up job data to create interesting things like a salary estimator. Dave and his co-workers are asking a bunch of questions. Somewhere Kay realizes they’re Yahoo!’s vertical search team: a competitor. “Hey!” Joseph asks if they ever worry that their own employees are using their own tool to find a better job.
Coopetition. That’s the Valley for you.
Apparently, we haven’t wrecked things too bad, because we get invited back for a second time (Indian food this time). Mike and Holly launch GoGhetto.com there.
It is an oddly appropriate first website Lunch 2.0 launch: there is nothing more ghetto than a free lunch at Lunch 2.0.
Visiting the collective
Joseph and Mark tell Bubba Muraka that he should get Microsoft to host one. The last time I got a Microsoft lunch was when OSCON lunches were sponsored by MS. (That was great because then open source could say that they got to eat Microsoft’s lunch.) It was nice to do so again.
Joseph always claimed he was a big MacAddict as a kid. I don’t know. (He owns a frickin’ Windows Tablet PC for christ-sakes.) In any case, Joseph introduces a new innovation: Lunch 2.0 badges.
On the way back, we’re pretty surprised on how it turned out. Joseph hits the nail on the head when he says:
You know when we started this, we said if we managed to get one free meal out of it, it would all be worth it.
Two more favorites
The first Meebo Lunch 2.0 was so mellow, we even had some leftover Meebocake to deliver to the founder’s boyfriends:
That was okay because Hitachi’s Lunch 2.0 blowout was just that.
When I showed up (late), I had to spend all my time talking about Plaxo because our company understaffed our section. They didn’t anticipate over two hundred people showing up.
Jeremiah Owyang had an idea. Since Hitachi isn’t really known as a Web 2.0 company, he’d invite 10 startups to make makeshift booths at a Lunch 2.0 hosted by Hitachi Data Systems. Scoble thought that only 10 geeks would show up, but he forgot that he is a pretty good draw also, as well as other prominent other A-list bloggers and photobloggers:
“We’re a bit overwhelmed by all the in person responses today.”
—Thomas Hawk on Lunch 2.0
Even a vlogger, Holly:
One year later
I’ve moved up to one of those new startups in San Francisco and no longer live in the Valley. It’s been a year since we’ve started this Lunch 2.0 thing, half-jokingly, and it’s long surpassed the expectations any of us had.
This particular Lunch 2.0 I’m going to Yahoo! Mission College Campus where my friend Dave works.
Last year, I snuck into this very same building for Lunch 2.0. This time they have a badge ready for me at the door and the Yahoo! Pipes team which just got leaked on Digg is going to present. According to Upcoming, 70 people are attending and 74 more are watching this event.
I’m late as usual. My stomach is in knots as usual. What if nobody showed up? Will this be the last one? Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail.
I make idle chitchat on the elevator with another Lunch 2-0er and our Yahoo host. This is his first Lunch 2.0. Enough badges are gone that I know it won’t be a complete disaster so I brag to them that I’m the VC of Lunch 2.0 because I sprung the five bucks for the domain name.
I meet Jeremiah just outside. He’s got his Canon SD600 and is snapping away. The guy is the best thing to happen to Lunch 2.0.
Upstairs and the lunch is in full swing. Most of the people who’ve registered have shown up. Some who haven’t have been snuck in by friends. I spy Dave and Mark (I could already hear Joseph’s voice from the hallway.) It’s like coming home. I don’t eat; I just catch up with old friends.
I thank our gracious hosts; they thank me. I’m dumbfounded.
Over a boxed lunch and a coke, I overhear someone at another table talking seriously about their “Web 3.0” idea, or maybe it’s “Web 4.0.” I can see some of the others uncomfortably roll there eyes. Web 2.0 is bad enough. And I have that same thought a year ago: This will never last. This will never work.
Just as quickly I have my answer. I go because I’ve not seen my friends and colleagues in a long time. The “Web 4.0 guy” goes to pitch his new idea. Someone else goes to score a free meal. Some go to hire for their new startup. Some go to be hired. Most want to hear the developers talk about Yahoo! pipes, MyBlogLog, and YPN. (When Scott asks, “How many people have heard of MyBlogLog?” everyone but me raises their hand.) We’re all peers, but we’re not all engineers. And the lunch is really a conversation; this room really is a community. Dave McClure mentions Web 2.0 Expo. In the back, the the bub.blicio.us folks are interviewing people.
The whole thing is chaos. It’s wonderful. And that’s Lunch 2.0 because it really is like Web 2.0: just what you make of it. Our creation has passed me by and it’s now in “Joseph territory” which is what I call the sometimes crazy idealism that powers the new internet. As another blogger once put it:
After spending an hour at Lunch 2.0, I was reminded of the internet bubble. Not because I think these companies are going to die out, but rather the energy in the air was inspiring. To see all these twenty-something techies so excited about what they are working on and engaged in really cooperative dialogue reminded me of the startups I was involved way back when.
I rationalize to myself: This has got to be the best P.R. that seventy sandwiches and soft drinks can buy. One blogger speculated:
[Lunch 2.0] looks like a great idea for starting up grassroots meetups. Not only does this look like a great deal for attendees (free?), I can imagine the captive audience of happy, full bellies is great for the companies presenting.
Yes, this is Lunch 2.0 and it’s not half bad.
I would rather like to have a few more of these…before “Web 4.0 guy” replaces them with Lunch 3.0.
Without Mark, this thing would have never gotten off the ground. I tease him about this, but getting fired from Google worked out really well (for me, at least). Mark makes the best “face man” a company (or a movement like this one) can have. Here is what Mark said about the key to Lunch 2.0’s success:
Web 2.0 as a movement is heavily focused on the community, whether it’s technology focused on community contributed content, or leveraging the power of social networks. Gathering communities together for events is a natural outcome and yields even stronger communities. Thus, events like Lunch 2.0 naturally resonate with our audience.
Lunch 2.0 is a little different than some of the other big budget, high production Web 2.0 conferences that have sprung up over the past few years. Lunch 2.0 is a grassroots effort at heart and one of the things that attendees like most about it is how accessible it is.
Without Joseph our little movement wouldn’t have a name. He was very big on the networking aspect while I hid in the shadows embarrassed by our creation. He’s a true believer who really embodies the spirit of the tagline “Lunch as a conversation.” (Those of you who’ve sat next to him at Lunch 2.0 know what I mean.) Here Joseph talks about why Lunch 2.0’s other tag line could be “you are now free to eat around the valley”:
I think the best thing that’s come from Lunch 2.0 is that we’ve met so many other great people in the valley, seen how they work, and they’ve met us in return. I feel more connected to what we’re all doing here, and I feel that I’m taking better advantage of the time and space in which we’re all living.
Without Dave this whole thing would have been just three guys at Plaxo hosting an engineer for lunch. By sneaking us into Yahoo! and bringing his co-workers to events, he expanded it to more than just being about ourselves to being about the entire community. Dave’s take on Lunch 2.0:
I always thought I was the lucky guy that was along for the ride of Lunch 2.0. In a way we all were. We all scored free food. We all found cool companies and great conversations. And the companies loved to get their message out. The great irony is that we work on the bleeding edge of the internet using a very low tech way to get together. It’s another Forum. It’s as old as speech and bread.
Without me? I’m the VC. So, like any good venture capitalist, I make sure we run at a loss until we sell out.
But most importantly…
But most importantly, without you, there’d be no Lunch 2.0.
First, the companies that host and the individuals behind them.
Thank you so much for being there and feeding us:
- AOL, Mountain View Campus
- Hitachi Data Systems
- JotSpot (Now that you’re bought out by Google, does that mean we get an invite?)
- Microsoft, Mountain View
- Yahoo! Santa Clara Campus
Then there are the others who dined, blogged about this and got the message out. Many of you had a vision that this could be more than just a bunch of geeks sharing a lunch. Your experiences and observations were a big help: whether it was the writing by the likes of Brian Solis and PR 2.0 and Dave McClure; or the great event photography by people like Scott Beale and Thomas Hawk (because you showed up at a Lunch 2.0, I’ll forgive you two for shooting Canon); or the vlogging by Holly and bub.blicio.us.
Finally there is everyone I forgot to mention who I’ve met over lunch. All those conversations (and the countless more I missed)—I don’t think I’ve ever actually had time to finish a meal at Lunch 2.0 because the talk with you was was so filling!
I thought I’d take a parting stab at some Lunch 2.0 “marketing” lessons:
- Hire the guy who gets fired from Google for blogging.
- It’s about the food (as a conversation).
- It’s not always about growing virally, sometimes it’s about growing organically. (Even if it isn’t necessarily about eating organically…unless, of course, you’re sneaking into Google.)
- It’s much cheaper than you think: $5, an opportunity, a bunch of luck, and great people willing to turn this into something better than itself.
Sure, you might not have the first criteria, but if you look around, you can find the others. Maybe you can make a Lunch 2.0 in your area or a network inspired by this story. We’d love to link you.
I guess that brings us full circle. I began this article describing our next two Lunch 2.0 eateries: One is LinkedIn, the premiere business networking tool, and the other is Ning, which enables you to build your own community-driven social network.
What better embodies and enables the spirit of “the Lunch 2.0 story so far” than those two companies? What better way to build the “next Lunch 2.0” than with those two tools?