Jess: Well, I just finished business school and, toward the end of it, was putzing around for something to do that was entrepreneurial and would help others. I settled on Down4Lunch.com and have spent much of the last year planning for it and working with web developers to create it. What I’ve set out to do with Down4Lunch is to connect professionals who don’t already know each other for face-to-face networking over lunch, during other breaks in their workday, or while on business travel.
GTJ: So why is this particularly well-suited for DC?
Jess: Having lived in DC now for almost two decades (I went to college here), I’ve learned that DC is all about relationships. DCers crave influence and access. Some even forego family time after work just to rub elbows with new contacts at some cocktail hour. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen two people having lunch at some restaurant alone and thought, “Those two guys should be having lunch together. I bet there’s a lot they could teach each other or helpful connections they could share.” We all have free time to meet more people that we’re just not using efficiently. It’s called lunch, or I’m-going-down-to-Starbucks-to-grab-a-coffee time, or Happy Hour. Down4Lunch is a free-of-charge tool to help people use this free-time more wisely to improve their career and business opportunities.
GTJ: When I first heard your site’s name, I assumed it was another dating tool. Do you get this a lot?
GTJ: Why did you choose this instead of, say, a job with a consulting firm or government analyst?
I worked in government for about seven years, and got bored. And, what’s more, I was actually even a terrorism analyst which, for many, sounds cool. But, still, I had trouble really seeing the impact I was having, and simply punching the clock each day wasn’t satisfying – even if government benefits are awesome. I think a lot of us have something we’d rather be doing. I was at a time in my life, just finishing b-school, where I could take a risk on something new.
GTJ: Have you ever done anything before like this?
Jess: Well, sort of. A few years ago, I created and launched a website called ClearedCommunity.com, which educates people about how to acquire, maintain, and retain a Federal security clearance. A clearance is required for hundreds of thousands of Federal jobs, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding about how to get one. People wonder, “I smoked pot when I was in high school. Am I ever going to be able to get a clearance?” Well, the answer is yes, it’s possible. So ClearedCommunity.com is another way in which I had set out to help people by eliminating some of the myth and mystery about security clearances and helping some otherwise very qualified people bring their talents into government.
GTJ: What else do you think people should know about you?
Jess: Well, I would just encourage people to try to always appreciate every day that they’re alive and those people around them. You know, a few years ago, I lost my brother and only sibling, David, to cancer. He was only 38. He was an awesome guy – a big environmentalist who was definitely doing his part to protect the planet and educate others to do the same. His loss was big – of course, not only for me and my family, but really for all of us in a way. So, I would encourage people to try to help others and to educate themselves about issues that may not concern them personally but affect others, like the need for cancer research. So many people and their families have been affected by it that we should all support finding a cure.