San Francisco-based LetsLunch recently announced the launch of their services in London and the Netherlands, and debuted version 3.0 of their networking platform, which originally launched in February 2011. The company is looking to transform how professionals network by connecting them over lunch, and providing a platform to pair people and help arrange in-person meetings.
Founder and CEO Syed Shuttari stumbled upon the idea while working in downtown San Francisco. “For five years, every day I was eating out at lunch…I saw a lot of smart faces and a lot of people with whom I could seek advice from or start a business with or exchange stories or something on a more professional level,” Shuttari said in an interview. I thought there’s no system out there in the world that rotates your lunch partners every day so that you could get your lunch match decided and go, and in case you don’t like the person, you can always cut it short.”
LetsLunch users connect their LinkedIn profile and other social networks, then select additional interests, all of which lets LetsLunch determine which other professionals would be a relevant and good lunch match. Users outline how far they’re willing to travel and which days they’re available, and the platform, which is integrated with Google Maps and Yelp, then pairs two individuals for lunch and confirms with an email two days prior that includes details about the other person and a selection of restaurants convenient for both parties. After the lunch, users have the option to leave feedback, which then builds an online reputation in the LetsLunch community for others to browse when they’re deciding on potential candidates.
To coincide with their international launch, the company also announced a new sponsored lunchers feature, which lets users pay to have their profile promoted to other users. The feature was created with freelancers, designers, consultants and other service providers in mind. Payment options include a $1 per warm lead basis, or a monthly fee. It also released additional widgets users can embed in their blogs and websites to display their lunch availability, with firms like RocketRecruiting using it to meet potential candidates. In terms of additional monetization strategies, the company has also been approached by restaurants to do cross-promotion or be featured as a go-to place for lunch, however, Shuttari said the company’s focus is exclusively on people matching and they’ll be slow to move in that direction.
There are an increasing amount of professional networking apps that take advantage of the user’s location and other public social data to match people. Recently we covered the launch of ambient social discovery app CanWeNetwork, which analyzes users’ LinkedIn profiles to suggest other professionals in their area who match their interests. Other apps like Hachi scan a user’s social profile across multiple networks to find the best person to introduce them to a desired professional contact. Other services like social dining startup GrubWithUs parallel the concept behind LetsLunch, however it focuses on connecting people over a meal for a wide array of topics, whereas LetsLunch has a more professional focus.
Shuttari said the company sets itself apart by helping professionals take advantage of what typically is an idle hour and turning into something more productive. “It doesn’t cost you money, in addition our focus on one-on-one lunches, other websites lump people together, where you just go and chit-chat with people,” Shuttari added. “Our lunches are very focused, to ask someone for lunch, you have to choose a business purpose and let them know why you want to have lunch with them, giving it a very focused networking goal.”
The company is planning to launch in additional European cities in the future, and they’re currently focused on promoting the service in the Netherlands, which has one of the highest penetration rates for LinkedIn and other social networks. The company will be looking raise a round of funding in the next few months to continue scaling their service. LetsLunch has become a popular way to increase what professionals get done in a lunch break in the U.S., but they’ll need to prove it’s a concept that can work across the pond.