A former GE Capital associate with a fuchsia handgun on his $185 lilac tie gave out his business card near a Danish man twirling a Turkish woman. An American International Group Inc. (AIG:US) employee left out his firm’s name when he said he works in risk.
They had come to a lower Manhattan classic-car gallery April 18 for what Philipp Triebel, co-chief executive officer of IvyConnect, calls a new “private members club for the most inspiring people.”
A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. associate in the Special Situations Group, which invests the firm’s own money, Triebel started IvyConnect last year with ex-Morgan Stanley (MS:US) investment banker Beri Meric, 28. They threw their first party in November.
Members are “intellectually curious risk-takers,” said Triebel, 31. “We want the hedge-fund guy the same as we want a painter or a yoga instructor. We also want a lawyer, because we believe there’s value to bringing them together.”
With banker and trader pay about half its 2007 total, according to an Options Group report, and the six largest U.S. banks announcing plans in the year’s first three months to cut 21,000 jobs, IvyConnect shows the lure of social media. Young Wall Street alumni are tacking closer to Facebook Inc. (FB:US) CEO Mark Zuckerberg than Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd C. Blankfein.
In March, twins and Goldman Sachs partners Paul and Peter Scialla left for Delos Living LLC, which designs luxury homes with a “wellness” focus. Last year, Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn’s chief of staff, Robert Reffkin, resigned to start hyperlocal search company Urban Compass, and colleagues Andy Pickens and Moses Soyoola departed to build Jamplify, which pays fans of brands and bands to promote them.
Post-Goldman Sachs startup life isn’t easy. IvyConnect is competing with the Ivy Connection, the Ivy Plus Society and IvyLife for Ivy League-themed dating, drinking and networking.
IvyConnect has approved 2,000 members, who attend events a la carte or pay $45 a month or $500 a year, according to Triebel. After three members at the party said they paid less, he said rates are discounted to $200 for certain applicants, “like someone who’s right out of college and works in the creative space.” More than a few have been rejected, he said without elaborating.
Meric and Triebel, who met at a 2008 dinner for new Harvard Business School students, have raised $2.6 million, according to a filing last year with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Investors include SecondMarket Holdings Inc. CEO Barry Silbert, whose firm runs an exchange that helps investors trade shares of closely held companies.
The founders, who share an apartment in Chelsea with a friend, started website DateHarvardSQ in 2010 to link single women with university men. It grew into IvyDate in 2011, and the company announced in June that almost 30,000 people had joined. That site is now IvyConnect’s singles platform, which the two bachelor founders said they don’t personally use.
IvyConnect members aren’t all Ivy League alumni. The group borrows part of the conference’s name “to leverage the Ivy brand heritage,” said Meric, a 2006 Brown University graduate.
“I’m happy they’re diversifying, because now their focus isn’t really on dating,” said Alex Furmansky, president of invite-only singles site Sparkology and a former analyst for investment bank Evercore Partners Inc. “They have this more-diversified thing, where they’ve shifted into deals and experiences and excursions and philanthropy.”
IvyConnect, now based only in New York, plans to attract 10,000 “fascinating individuals” in each of 50 global cities, according to its website. Facebook, whose free social network began in February 2004 in Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room, had 1 million users by that December, according to the company. He’s worth $13.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after an initial public offering last year.
“There’s definitely a shift, not to say that no one’s interested in finance anymore,” said Frank Rimalovski, a former Bear Stearns Cos. banker who oversees New York University’s Innovation Venture Fund, which invests in student startups. Rimalovski, 47, who was drawn to finance after seeing the 1987 Oliver Stone film “Wall Street,” said falling technology costs and cultural fascination with social media create a groundswell.
“We have thousands of followers and friends, but a true companion and a real conversation are more and more eluding,” said Arya Bolurfrushan, 28, an IvyConnect investor and the founders’ friend at Harvard. He left Goldman Sachs in 2008 and is CEO of his family’s Dubai-based Bolurfrushan International Group, with insurance and petroleum holdings.
“It’s a nice platform that bridges the gap in the lives of people who are very driven and don’t have time and circumstance in the universe to meet,” he said.
Triebel, raised in Dusseldorf, Germany, received a bachelor’s degree from the London School of Economics and a master’s in economics from the University of Cambridge. His twin brother Toby went to the same schools and also worked for Goldman Sachs.
Jamplify founders Pickens and Soyoola left the New York-based bank last year after deciding that “we’d rather intensely work on something closer to our personal passions,” CEO Pickens said. Starting Jamplify has meant “building something that we’re proud to call our own,” he said.
IvyConnect has led a ski trip to Vermont’s Mount Snow, held a dinner at Gemma restaurant in New York’s Bowery Hotel, hosted a reception at an art gallery and a Paris-themed Meatpacking District cocktail party and put together a Soho talk featuring five members.
“It helps bring together a community of smart, fun people around this age in the city who otherwise probably wouldn’t meet,” said Andrew Kallem, 30, a member who’s on leave from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to develop a mobile game. The $200 he pays for IvyConnect is “well worth it,” he said.
The group wants to transcend “associations with the ‘Ivy’ word that can make it seem a little more stuffy,” Meric said. Those associations received national coverage in March after the Daily Princetonian published alumna Susan Patton’s letter to Princeton University’s women in March, advising them to pick a man from the college’s “virile plains” as soon as possible.
IvyConnect’s application asks would-be members to label themselves as either policy influencers, entrepreneurs, artists or distinguished professionals. They can use adjectives including eloquent, sincere and driven.
“If they are organizing a group of people aspiring toward transformation, that’s fantastic,” said Jennie Enterprise, founder of the Core Club in Manhattan, which costs $50,000 to join. “This concept of elitism is not really relevant in our world, because it really is about hard work.”
IvyConnect investor Philip Renton, chief operating officer of Sakonnet Technology LLC, which makes risk systems for energy trading, said members aren’t elitist, “just inspirational people who are motivated, and engaged in the world, and looking to have an impact and make their own personal statement.”
Triebel said the group could sell one day to “companies interested in our demographic,” listing magazine publisher Hearst Corp. and WPP Plc, the world’s largest advertising company. “We’re not in it for a quick flip,” he said.
IvyConnect membership perks include “preferential table reservations” at the Dream Downtown hotel’s rooftop lounge, according to the group’s website, plus discounts to the Guggenheim Museum and Juice Press, which sells unpasteurized smoothies and cleanses. An online philanthropy page lists “curated social-impact projects,” and its section on ideas features links to NYU journalism professor Clay Shirky’s TED talk and New York Times columnist David Brooks’ foreword to a book titled “This Will Make You Smarter.”
At the April 18 IvyConnect party, which cost $40 for a la carte members, purple lights bounced off parked Porsches in Soho’s Classic Car Club until about 11 p.m. The DJ who had played a “Pumped Up Kicks” remix packed away equipment as Triebel watched the crowd disperse.
“I think there’s something to be said about building your own business,” he said. “It’s a more touchable impact that you have on other people’s lives than on Wall Street.”
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