It is not every week that I can say I’ve had dinner with a TED speaker and entrepreneur, but this week I can! I sat down with Laurence Kemball-Cook, who founded Pavegen. Laurence and I have a lot in common, which we had no idea about until we actually had a chance to chat over a meal. No, I did not Twitter stalk him to find out where he was dining and crash a party for a chance to meet him. It was far more dignified than that, thanks to Table Crowd. Joining us were 8 other like-minded entrepreneurial types from various industries. Plus our Table Crowd host, Claire.
I didn’t come to think of Table Crowd as a networking opportunity until Claire mentioned it. In the context of how different it is from “traditional” networking events. If you think about it, any networking expert would agree that to forge useful connections you need to find some common ground and actually build a relationship with someone. Events with a hundred people in a room pushing business cards at each other like it’s going out of style does not promote being memorable. My desk drawers are a testament to this: stacks of business cards that eventually end up in the trash because I can’t remember their owners or anything about the conversation we might have had.
With Table Crowd it was quite the opposite. The table was big enough to comfortably hold 11 of us, but I had to go back and count it was actually that many because at the same time it felt small and intimate. We were seated in a private dining room, so there wasn’t a lot of noise to make conversation difficult or anyone across from me hard to understand. Little details that often make all the difference.
Laurence has a personality that stands out, and he was immediately easy to talk to. As was everyone else. I’ve never been to a dinner with complete strangers where conversation flowed so easily, and so quickly. Between starters and the main course, Laurence gave his talk, which didn’t feel quite like a talk in the traditional (more academic) sense in which I see it. It was just someone with an amazing story, telling it to a group of people at dinner. And amazing it was… Pavegen has gone through all the imaginable ups and downs you’d expect from a start-up, and then some. Laurence relentlessly pushed on, and if there was nothing anyone would take away from the evening, they would at least take away this: always keep going. If you really believe in something. He also shared some “don’t Tweet this” type stories, and kept us laughing throughout. His sense of humour is infectious and instead of a wooden Q&A at the end, it turned into a conversation where we all exchanging good stories from our respective career and business trenches.
The best part of Laurence sharing his experiences was his candid honesty about the difficulties he went through. It is easy to forget, or want to, when success starts to hit. But for the rest of us it was inspiring to know that when the going gets tough, it is ok because it’s just part of the journey.
I came with an open mind, thinking I’d enjoy dinner and an interesting talk. I left with new friends, and feeling massively inspired to pursue the things I care about.
Why I loved Table Crowd
- Great food. No seriously… no cold and crappy hors d’oeuvre. just good food. Two courses, and wine. I had a lovely superfood salad as a starter, and chicken with vegetables as a main course (gluten free, dairy free, yeast free, etc).
- Dietary restrictions are taken into account. Not just that, they are taken very seriously. Without having to have the awkward few minute explanation to the waiter why you are not eating dairy/gluten/meat/fruit/younameit. You are asked in advance for your restrictions by Table Crowd, and you never say a thing at the restaurant, so you don’t have to feel needy or like a weirdo. You just enjoy the food, no explanations necessary. Only those with several dietary restrictions will truly understand what a big difference this makes in the experience!
- Awesome people. So cliché, but so true. An opportunity to make a connection with real people who share similar interests but work in different industries is not as common as we would like to think it is.
- Great conversation. Come for the people and stay for the food, or come for the food and stay for the conversation. Regardless of what you choose, you will be in good company.
- Even if you forget your business cards, or your new ones are still being printed (as in my case), you can message people through the Table Crowd website afterwards. Super useful!
- It’s a great idea to attend a Table Crowd event anyways, but it is even better if you are looking for good food and great company if you are traveling for business. Dining alone can be fun sometimes, but this is way better.