By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“The stars are clearly aligning,” says Alex Abell, Founder of Lunchpool, the service that has expanded tremendously after COVID-19 safety measures cancelled most in-person events for the past year.
The start-up conducted 316 separate events from March, when the pandemic began to shutdown offices and meetings, to the end of 2020. During the two-week period before Thanksgiving, Lunchpool handled 45 different events, more than three a day on average.
“I’ve been so busy managing our growth and onboarding new team members and partners, I sometimes don’t even get to attend the events we organize,” Abell says, something that might seem foreign to our readers. After all, from the outset, he was that familiar face on most events, but as the company has grown to 10 full-time employees and six contractors, the entrepreneur is focused on pushing the start-up into new, uncharted waters.
“We’re hiring event support professionals – primarily college students and stay-at-home parents,” he says, adding, “Each member of the team has been wearing many hats.” Abell has recently made a few key hires and promotions. They include Eric Romoff, Vice President of Growth & Operations, based in San Antonio; DeAnn Rivera, Director of Operations & Administration who is from the St. Petersburg, FL area; and Mary Vamvoukakis of New York as the company’s Director of Client Experience. Lunchpool has employees distributed across the country, and the current hiring surge is focused on Tennessee, with an emphasis on Knoxville jobseekers.
How did Lunchpool grow so fast? “Luck has a lot to do with it,” Abell explains. “I quit my desk job in late 2018 and set out to solve the problem of social isolation and loneliness. When circumstances made it impossible to gather in-person, we had a solution ready to go. From the start, I wanted to build a B2C (business-to-consumer) platform, but we got pulled into the B2B (business-to-business) space because event organizers needed our help. My focus has always been helping people connect for profound and meaningful experiences.”
Abell adds that “I was lucky enough to have found under-the-radar global technology partners like Remo.co, Veertly, SpatialChat, players in the new category I call ‘Empathy Tech,’ and utilize them in novel ways that people love. We are proving that we can innovate and build tech solutions that actually connect humanity. That’s the core of my goal and the passion that drives me.”
In fact, that passion was captured in the headline about the start-up in our first teknovation.biz article: “Lunchpool is all about helping people get to know others outside of work and over lunch.” Three months later, an updated article captured the dramatic change as a result of the rapidly emerging pandemic: “Expansion of Lunchpool concept now offers way for people to connect amid coronavirus restrictions.”
Abell explained that the core vision when he launched the company and how the year-long focus on virtual event plays into what he calls “The Social Experience Network.” He was particularly excited when he went over details about how Lunchpool can help the region that he now calls home capitalize on the opportunities outlined in the recent Techstars assessment.
The energetic Founder is a keen observer and student of trends, and one has captured his attention. He’s been closely watching Clubhouse, described by Abell as “an exclusive invitation-only social networking app that is a hybrid of conference calls, talk radio and a continuation of what Twitter started.” It became a Unicorn (value of at least one billion dollars) in less than a year.
What’s Clubhouse’s secret? Abell says it is drop-in voice chats with celebrities and others or what he describes as “spontaneous social bump-ins” resulting from the reality that individual schedules have opened-up more because of the pandemic. He thinks that one-to-many presentations are taking a back seat to smaller group discussions, and Abell predicts that there is a wave of tech platforms that focus on harnessing the power of small groups to organically build and strengthen communities and bring people together.
Could Knoxville develop and/or use something like Clubhouse in light of the Techstars assessment that called for greater awareness of activities underway and connection of people across the region? Abell believes it could, so he’s leveraging existing technologies to pilot his “Social Experience Network” with a virtual version of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and creating public and private “pools” for local organizations like the Knoxville Technology Council, Maker City Initiative, and KnoxDevs.
Abell plans to continue Lunchpool’s hiring surge for the virtual event services operation while piloting the invite-only app that he believes will make Knoxville the “Collaboration Capitol of the Southeast” and “The most lunchable place on the planet.”