For Dominic Bortolussi, CEO of The Working Group, community building is built on getting people together to drink wine.
When the entrepreneur started his Web development and design firm in Toronto 11 years ago, he was happy to fly under the radar. Self-described as “refugees from the agency world,” Bortolussi and his two co-founders were happy doing grassroots projects and were happy to lead a comfortable life style by working with their small team. But around 2009, The Working Group (TWG) felt the itch of aspiration. The team wanted to go bigger, building more complicated projects and do more sophisticated design.
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A visit to the Unspace job fair at The Gladstone Hotel provided the inspiration Bortolussi was looking for.
“We realized there was a pretty large, but spread out community of developers in Toronto,” he recalls. “We learned how much fun it was to hang out with them and swap stories.”
So TWG decided to host its own event for developers. Calling the first event Good People Drinking Wine and Talking to Each Other, the team invited their friends and reached out on social media to drum up interest. It organized three 10-minute presentations around technology, social, and design. The whole thing was designed to be easy for people to attend, an after-work stop off before getting on with the rest of your evening plans.
“At the time I was really into wine, I still am,” Bortolussi says. “I thought I could introduce people to a wine, tell them a story about it and get them warmed up.”
The event was a hit. About 60 people or so attended, and many followed up with TWG after the fact. Developers wanted jobs. Businesses wanted design and development services. It all worked out well.
“I first thought it was more coincidence than anything else,” Bortolussi recalls. “But reflecting back on it I realize it wasn’t an accident. They thought we had a nice space, were doing good things, and had a really good bunch of people.”
Today the wine events are still a feature at TWG. It also plays host to other events like #nerdlearn, designed to be educational sessions for developers, and Startup Stories, which recently featured Katherine Hague of ShopLocket. The events have become a method for TWG to build community, which has proven good for business. Bortolussi now gets a couple of e-mails per day from designers or developers interested in working with TWG, so he doesn’t have trouble recruiting talent. He says the events build trust, and that leads to more projects for TWG.
“A number of our business relationships were likely solidified after they attended an event,” he says. “There’s a big difference between going to pitch to a client on their own turf and coming into our own space and seeing that our developers and designers love what they do every day.”
TWG landed one big U.S. online retailer client, Everlane, after hosting founder Michael Preysman for a Q&A session. It has also met many startups through its events that it has since taken a small equity stake in, and provided accelerator services to.
Not bad when you consider TWG founder Bortolussi describes himself as someone that wants to avoid the limelight.
Bortolussi will be speaking at Accelerator U’s Summer Speaker Series July 31 at the IBM Innovation Center in Markham. ITBusiness.ca editor Brian Jackson will be moderating the event.