I got busted today. I was hoovering down bites of salad out of a plastic container while finishing a project at my desk. In my defense, I was in a groove and didn’t want to break for lunch, but mid-bite, two prospective members dropped by to talk about jumping on board at Rising Tide Innovation Center. While touting the benefits of our coworking space, I was probably harboring shreds of lettuce in my teeth. Embarrassing.
More embarrassing is who the members were: part of the development team at Lunchpool, a St. Petersburg-based start-up whose mission is to break people like me out of the “Desktop Dining Epidemic.”
Turns out, I am not alone in my bad habit of eating-while-working. An estimated six out of 10 of today’s workers lunch at our desks, a trend so pervasive that a photographer even did an entire series on it for New York Magazine to shame us into changing our ways.
Lunchpool is taking a different approach. Instead of forcing focused people out of their work mindset in the middle of the day, the company is developing an app to combine business networking with lunch.
“Everyone’s busy these days,” says Alexander Abell, co-founder of the start-up. “We are all trying to fit more into less time, but as a result, we are becoming less productive and more siloed – that’s not good for people and it’s not good for businesses.” As a busy executive himself, Abell also understands that not everyone wants to completely shut off during lunch. “I know that taking a break is beneficial,” he admits, “but I often struggle to get back in the groove after a long, just-for-fun lunch. I understand the value of keeping your brain at least partially in ‘business mode’ while still taking care of your body by eating.”
Abell and his team are developing an easy-to-use social app that not only gets people away from their desks, but utilizes lunchtime for connecting with like-minded professionals for networking. It works like this: users create a profile of general interests, workplace, job type, and skills, then they mark themselves as available for lunch. The app, currently in beta within Tampa Bay’s top culture-driven companies, then matches users based on geography, interests, and job type. From there, the ball’s in the individuals’ court to decide on a place and time to meet. All communication stays within the app, i.e., users don’t have to give out personal info if they’re not comfortable.
Future iterations may include tie-ins to area restaurants and food delivery services. The developers at Lunchpool even visualize selling a B2B Lunchpool solution to large corporations to foster cross-department relationships via lunch meetups.
Sound a little bit like Tinder-meets-LinkedIn? Alex gets it, and he predicts my inevitable question of why any of us needs yet another app to connect with people. “I totally get it,” he says agreeably. “I completely understand the irony of creating another thing to draw us into our phones in order to get us out connecting face-to-face with people.” He goes on to explain the modern challenges of interpersonal communication in a real-life setting using scientific-sounding sociological jargon, but what it boils down to is this: We are really bad at talking to each other anymore. (We all know this.) Meeting people is just hard these days, and it is exacerbated by everyone being glued to an electronic device seemingly every waking moment. (We also know this.) And a lot of us are not natural extroverts, so spontaneously walking up to a stranger in another department or at a restaurant feels … scary. (Some of us innately know this, even if we don’t understand why.) Lunchpool seeks to overcome this natural discomfort and take care of what is the hardest – ergo the scariest – part of meeting new people: the introduction. Considering 60 percent of us eat at our desks despite all the apps we already have, apparently, we do need another one.
Lunchpool is finalizing its revenue models and will be shopping for investors within the year. For now, they are using Rising Tide Innovation Center as their home base, and taking advantage of all the member benefits – business address, conference rooms, meeting space, collaborative work space, and office supplies – as they build the business. Abell plans on holding focus groups and meetups at Rising Tide as well, as they test out interfaces and features. Another draw for Lunchpool – the “Expert in Residence” program launching at Rising Tide, offering free access to Investors, lawyers, CPAs, pitch consultants, and entrepreneurial mentors – services they can capitalize on while ramping up to their product launch.
“We couldn’t ask for a better spot than Rising Tide,” Abell says, adding that he became familiar with the coworking space at Tampa Bay Startup Week. “Not only is the office gorgeous, but being there adds next-level legitimacy to our company. Now it feels real.”
Find out more about Lunchpool at http://www.LetsLunchpool.com