Why This Tech Founder Spends Time Connecting Creatives In Her Backyard
Have you ever invited 20 strangers over for dinner at your mom’s house but 60 showed up instead?
Great ideas are often accidental. And this is no exception. It all began with a simple question: What is the best way to meet and connect with like-minded creative people?
In April of 2016, Sophia Parsa, a 26-year-old tech entrepreneur hosted a dinner in the backyard of her parents’ house. She invited 20 strangers who worked in various fields, in the hopes of making a few meaningful connections and bringing people together. 60 people showed up.
Unprepared for such a large and unexpected turnout, Parsa’s mother started cooking right away. Her younger brother started setting up plastic fold-up tables and chairs that they had in their garage to accommodate the crowd.
While the event would've likely been an overwhelming nightmare for most people, the evening was a great success. “My inbox was flooded the next day with guests thanking me and asking me to connect them with someone they had met at my house,” said Parsa. “I didn’t know what to do, so I created a Facebook group. I settled on [the name] Mountain Gate, which is the community I live in. It was a total accident!”
What started out as a one-time dinner turned into a full time side hustle. Parsa is the co-founder of Toot, an ondemand mobile and online tutoring service that aims to spread greater access to education.
Now, once a month, the LA native hosts anywhere between 50 to 100 entrepreneurs, creatives, and innovators at her house for dinner, all coming together to engage in mutual learning and discussion. Her mother still does the cooking, and her brother helps out by carpooling guests up and down from the gate.
“Mountain Gate isn’t a networking event, it’s an intimate fireside chat” Parsa says. “It's a community. The word networking honestly makes me cringe! I was born and raised in LA and I care about the future and success of the city. I think by helping foster meaningful relationships, I can affect the growth of the industries that power this city."
More than 20 dinners later, the private Facebook group is incredibly active and has almost 1,000 members where people who have attended can connect online. However, to go to a dinner, you must be introduced by someone who has already attended.
“Something pretty magical happens when you bring creative people and entrepreneurs together. You see all kinds of collaborations. From friendships, to partnerships, investments, roommates, job recruitment. The most rewarding part has been watching MG grow and hear about all the different opportunities the community has brought to members.”
Each dinner has a theme and revolves around a topic or an individual. It is structured so that the first hour or so people mingle over drinks and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a talk given by either a panel of experts or a thought leader, a Q&A session, and then dinner.
Past events have covered space exploration, social impact, crypto-currency, venture capital firms, the future of cannabis, and augmented reality.
“The AR dinner was super cool because the VP evangelist at Metavision, Ryan Pamplin, came to speak and was generous enough to provide headsets," she says. "Many guests had their first ever augmented reality experience in my backyard! The entire was really crazy…I couldn’t believe it.”
Notable past speakers include Brock Pierce, Bobby Turner, Keith Ferrazzi, Nicolas Berggruen, and Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides. Getting speakers is usually about connecting the dots. Often times, Parsa meets them for the first time at the event.
“Part of the magic is that many people in the MG community also help with that aspect of planning these dinners. There’s always a recommendation or a friend of a friend who knows an expert, and it’s a snowball effect."
Bringing people together to have dinner is one thing, but building an inspiring community that fosters new, potentially powerful relationships is quite another.
Words: Bianca Heyward