Brooke Burton is the Founder of The People’s Club, a startup that makes it fun and easy to meet new people and explore your city.
A member of the 2021 Future Founders Startup Bootcamp, Brooke has spent the last year navigating the challenges of scaling an events-based startup in this post-COVID world. We caught up with Brooke to see how things were going, and to learn a little more about her journey as a young entrepreneur.
This is something that I experienced a bit when I was in my mid-twenties living in Chicago. I was just looking for a really natural, normal, not awkward way to meet people, and I felt like that didn’t exist. I felt like the options that I had in front of me were either really niche, like joining a group for a specific hobby, a really expensive social club, or awkward dating apps you can use to make friends.
I studied sociology during undergrad, and have always been super curious about how people build community. It’s kind of a hot buzzword right now, community, but I think it’s a buzzword for a reason and it’s because we’re seeking it, all of us. So what does it look like to try to build a place where young people and maybe one day older people can find community wherever they live?
I’m also a little bit of an urban planning nerd, and I think it’s really important for people to have a sense of place when they live somewhere. So, if you didn’t grow up in Chicago, I want to help you understand the city and get to know all of the different neighborhoods and what makes them interesting and unique.
So, I combined all that together and started The People’s Club
I think one thing you really have to face when you start a business is you have to not care what people think of you and what you’re doing. It’s not going to look perfect to everyone. I’m forgetting the exact quote, but there’s a quote about how when an artist first starts their art, they usually don’t like how the art turns out. And when you’re a first-time founder, that’s kind of how your first business feels.
I don’t love everything about my business. I don’t love my logo. I don’t love the website. I don’t love how my social media looks. I don’t love the onboarding process. But you have to just do it and start somewhere and not care what others are going to think of you, and over time you’re going to improve a lot. And I think one thing that’s helped me is just looking back, and instead of focusing on month over month metrics, focusing on the last 90 days or even a year. I’ve been doing this for a little over a year now and when I think about where it was a year ago, it’s incredible. But if I compare it to last month, it might feel disappointing.
I am surprised how much that affected me in the beginning and I’m still working on it, but it’s something that really is important for continuing to have motivation to work on things, especially as a solo founder.
I think it’s common for people to give away their product for free when they’re starting out and I don’t do that anymore. I just need someone to put some money down to experience the product. I think it’s important because it really helps you figure out who your customer is, because the person who’s going to put their credit card down for your product is different from the person who’s going to try it for free. And in the beginning when I was giving away things for free, I was getting confused about who my real customer was. And even though I’m not getting the same level of inflow that I was getting when I was giving things away for free, [charging for my services] is pointing me more towards the right customer and it’s helping me learn more about who that customer is.
So even in the earliest stage, I recommend that entrepreneurs charge right away.
Community is a hot space. And in my heart I do not believe that we can just solve community problems digitally. You can aid it with some digital tools, but we are humans who need in-person interaction, and there’s no company that is going to solve this problem with a purely digital product. That’s something that frustrates me. I see a lot of tech companies in the space that are claiming to solve community problems with a tech product that’s going to scale really fast and I think that those are awesome, but I don’t think that they’re going to solve the problem of helping people find and nurture connections. There’s going to have to be an in-person component.
We’ve even seen this with Bumble, which I think is a good example of a company that is trying to solve this problem. They recently opened a cafe in New York as well as some other physical pop-ups, because you need that in-person connection. It’s just a core part of solving this problem.
Something that I’m really excited about is this one thing that I focus on a lot in my business – the idea that when we learn together, we grow together. Through The People’s Club, members are learning all kinds of new skills, and we usually use food and drink as a way to facilitate that. There’s a lot of energy right now towards adult continued education and growth, and learning doesn’t stop when you finish school. Even my parents who are in their 60’s talk about how they’d love to do something like what we’re offering. I think there’s a lot of energy around this idea right now and that’s something I’m excited about.
Something has happened recently that’s been a good indicator of success, which is that People’s Club members are getting together outside of our events, and I hope that there’s more of this in the future. I’ve seen them on Instagram, people getting together on the weekend. I know there’s a birthday party coming up where someone invited a People’s Club member that I didn’t expect them to invite. So that’s been really, really cool and that to me is success. Growing not only the community itself, but also the network effects of the community.
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