Parties have meaning beyond the dictionary definition. In fact, I believe they are an intrinsic part of modern day business and entrepreneurial life. As we all know from the hangovers of student days, we are oriented into the social tradition of partying well before we enter the business world. For hormonal teenagers and middle-aged professionals alike, achievements are all the sweeter when they come with recognition and, importantly, celebration.
Working hard and playing hard (as clichéd as the term has become) also strangely go together in a more metaphysical sense - to be driven and ambitious is to put oneself under pressure and things that are under pressure also need relief.
Since the dawn of time, parties have been used to celebrate victory, memorialise leaders, build relationships, and diffuse tensions. They are a necessary vice in any successful society and have indeed played their role in building international ties (think fancy White House or Buckingham Palace dinners for visiting heads of state).
‘Les fêtes’, as they are known in French, enhance our culture and provide us with shared memories. To celebrate milestones and to share in other people’s victories helps to build a sense of camaraderie and community – essential ingredients for success in today’s business world where underlying value is often in intangibles rather than in fixed assets.
I have often spoken on the value of networking, and the age-old phrase – it's not what you know, it's whom you know – or perhaps more importantly, how well you know them. Nurturing relationships – be it with colleagues, bosses, clients, investors, or suppliers – is a golden business principle that is not taught at business school and appears to be eroding with the advent of smartphones and social media.
Having spent much of my 20s trying to expand my network on a volume basis, the wiser 30-something in me is now dedicating my time to nurturing those relationships and diving deeper in with those whom I already know and trust. Perhaps in my 40s, I will head straight to the centre of the concentric circles of my social network and my 100-strong parties will evolve into intimate fireside chats with people I’ve known for decades. Time will tell. In any case, regardless of what stage of life you’re at and how you’re planning on building and nurturing your network, the types of parties you attend or host will be critical in shaping that strategy.
The Essential Grease
Having made some expensive mistakes in building teams, I’ve found that what matters above all else is the culture and vibe you create in the workplace. Often, that intangible vibe is down to personal relationships between people that you’ve hired. It is up to the CEO to create an environment that both encourages constructive debate and celebrates different vantage points, while also creating a platform where core values are shared.
Creating that unique culture cannot really be achieved without the ‘office party’ tradition. Parties in the workplace build culture but also unblock issues - they act as the essential grease that keep the cogs in our business machinery moving smoothly. They allow us to get to know the ‘person’ hiding behind the exoskeleton of the ‘professional’ - and help to strengthen often-thorny relationships that exist in the office or the boardroom.
A Ding in the Universe
Last year I hosted a seminal ‘property technology’ themed summer party in which some of the emerging leaders in this niche gathered to exchange ideas and celebrate our early successes. Although modernising the property industry was very much the fodder of discussion, it took a backseat to generally enjoying each other's company and getting to know the key players. There was, however, undeniably a feeling that there stood in that room future leaders who would emerge out of anonymity in a few years’ time with game-changing new products and alter the course of history.
In fact, a technology platform I launched in early 2015, Pi Labs, was first discussed at this party with a partner at Cushman and Wakefield. Six months later, that hazy conversation over freshly prepared margaritas turned into a powerful partnership between a start-up and a corporate, one that has benefited both immensely.
Today, Pi Labs remains the UK's only property-tech (or ‘proptech’ for tech buffs) accelerator, creating a platform where East End techies and sometimes-snooty West End property types rub shoulders for the first time, and we are busy preparing for our third cohort in early 2016.
This is just one example, of course. Far greater business decisions have been made at parties or in places you may not associate with powerful people and important decisions. Think Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker brainstorming future Facebook features over bong hits in a Palo Alto student house, and by doing so, like the great Steve Jobs, created a ‘ding in the universe’.
I like Large Parties
‘Anyhow, he gives large parties... and I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.’ That was Jordan speaking in The Great Gatsby, in reference to Jay Gatsby himself.
Like Gatsby in F Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, it is always important for the host to let loose, but be in control. Although the party may be one of excess, the host must tread the line and concentrate on the enjoyment of everyone around him rather than overindulge him or herself. They say that one of the greatest joys one can have in this life is providing others with happiness. And… while you’re at it, why not go large?
The human race likes to party – it has done since well before the roaring 1920s – perhaps our penchant for partying goes back even to our Neanderthal ancestors. But as the savviest of businessmen and partiers have painstakingly learned, it’s best to do it responsibly.
On that note, I’d like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year – party hard and stay safe.
Faisal Butt is founder of property tech accelerator Pi Labs and venture capital firm Spire Ventures.