An ongoing series of potluck dinners has been bringing seasoned and aspiring tech entrepreneurs to Daly City, where they're exchanging ideas and forging new connections.
The events are facilitated by Potlucks, an app created by Daly City-based tech startup company inthis. Founder Kevin Adler says providing a tool for organizing and hosting potluck dinners is just one part of a larger vision.
Adler is interested in shared experiences, and said he hopes to combat the loneliness and isolation aspects that tend to be fostered by social-media giants such as Facebook.
"Facebook is a double-edged sword," Adler said. "When you have 2,000 friends, suddenly the meaning of friendship is lost."
Adler, 28, did his undergraduate work at Occidental College before earning his master's degree at Cambridge University, where he explored how natural disasters and traumatic events bring people together. He said he hopes to use what he learned to bring people together without disasters.
"Disasters are these moments where everybody's experience is shared. We're looking at ways to use technology and innovation to break down the silos between people," Adler said.
Adler is no stranger to personal disaster and isolation. When he was 23 years old, his mother died of breast cancer and he returned to his childhood home in Livermore to get her house cleaned out. He said being alone in that empty house was a moving experience and something that influenced his current endeavors.
"Brokenness is what makes us human," Adler said. "The potential to rise above that brokenness is what excites me."
Adler acknowledged that because the Potlucks platform is not about collecting "friends," and users participate by hosting or attending potluck dinners, the online community's growth is not anticipated to mimic the explosive expansion of Facebook. However, Adler said Potlucks has the potential to capture and monetize the data that Facebook misses.
"Facebook was able to monetize connections," Adler said. "Instead of tracking your connections and your 'likes,' we're able to say, 'Here's what you've done, and here's who you've done it with.'"
At a recent potluck dinner hosted by Adler, tech entrepreneurs at various stages in their careers shared advice, anecdotes and homemade food. Startup execution specialist Prabhu Soundarrajan told the group they should never be afraid to "declare failure," and that savvy angel investors value the experiences of people and companies who know what failure is like.
Artkick Vice President Raman Frey said people should stop scrambling to find the next billion-dollar idea.
"I would encourage you to build a $20 million-per-year company," Frey said. "If that happens, you will be wealthy."
Not all of the participants were from the tech field. Dominique Rose, who runs a nanny business, is in the process of starting a charity and launching her own line of baby products. "I'm an entrepreneur and a mentor, so this kind of environment works well with my life," Rose said.
Mental health professional Suzan Song got a big laugh when she said, "I have a concern from a psychiatry perspective about the people who run startups."
Song said there can be enormous pressure on startup professionals to always be relentlessly optimistic, and that may lead to stress and loneliness.