Robert Lambert is a 29-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Silicon Beach L.A., an online networking community for people working in the thriving startup-tech and entertainment industries of Los Angeles. The community, which now has well over 10,000 members, took off in popularity shortly after it started in 2012, leaving Lambert loaded with business meetings.
“I was spending a ton of time each month driving out to the 15 to 20 recurring business meetings I had each month with investors and entrepreneurs,” Lambert told GrindTV. “I was spending a ton of time in my car driving everywhere from Venice to Hollywood, and it became frustrating.”
A lifelong surfer who grew up in Los Angeles County, Lambert saw the excessive commuting cutting into the hours he could spend chasing waves. He found that most of his business meetings at bars and restaurants around town lacked the communal feeling that the surf culture he grew up in fostered. After mentioning his concerns to fellow investors, he was surprised to find out many of them surfed as well.
“So I said, 'Shoot, why don’t we all meet up surfing?'” said Lambert. “They loved it.”
And so the Silicon Beach Surfers Club was born.
Founded on the principle of helping driven professionals in Los Angeles’ media, entertainment, tech and startup realms expand both their surfing and business networks, the club started gaining momentum immediately.
“It started as just seven or so people in the industry that I knew could surf well,” said Lambert. “But all of them brought three or four new people they knew, and before you knew it, we had 50 members.”
With that initial success, Lambert decided to make it official. He launched a website, created an application process and started scheduling paddle-outs for members three to four times a week. He created a private social network for those in the group, and as an avid surfer who is on dawn patrol every day, began sending out surf reports to all the members each morning.
Soon, the club had evolved into something entirely new.
-- Silicon Beach Surf (@SBSurfers) April 5, 2015
“We started at around 50 people who were pretty loose knit, and now we’re at over 450 members who are all extremely close,” said Lambert. “Any time a member is paddling out, they’re going out with anywhere from four to seven friends at a time.” (The club's been so successful, in fact, that the Los Angeles Times featured it in their Business section recently.)
The success, Lambert says, is driven by club’s focus on surfing above business, and on its stringent application process. The club was founded by serious surfers who just happen to be successful businesspeople, not vice versa, and they’ve stuck to that formula. Along with Lambert, one of the initial founders was Gretta Kruesi, a professional kiteboarder and avid surfer who also dabbles as a successful entrepreneur. Many of the initial members were surf enthusiasts working for everyone from Nike to the World Surf League who were already in the lineups every morning.
Lambert designed a 27-question application process meant to distinguish those who can actually surf and fit in well with the club’s culture from those who are just trying to join it for networking. Lambert says the club receives anywhere from 10 to 15 applications a week, but that the club accepts only around 30 percent of applicants. “We’re looking for people who are either lifelong surfers or who are looking to be lifelong surfers,” said Lambert. “So if someone who applies can’t really surf, we send them over to Gretta, who teaches lessons. After a few months, if they prove they are capable surfers, they get put back in the application tunnel.”
Weekend vibes ✌️ #tgif #bwsurf #beachvidabling A photo posted by Gretta Kruesi (@grettakruesi) on
That "application tunnel" includes a one-month trial period where applicants can come to sponsored events and prove that not only can they surf, but also that they have proper surf etiquette and can get along with members. If they can prove that, they get to enjoy all the spoils of the club.
Those spoils include weekly photography sessions, drone filming sessions, underwater photography events, custom board-shaping deals, member barbecues, organized international surf vacations and access to the club’s headquarters: a beachside house on the El Porto shoreline. The networking opportunities are just an added benefit.
“People always wonder how business and surf mix, because surf culture has always been pictured as very laid back while business culture is always pictured as the complete opposite,” said Lambert. “But it’s not like people are out on the waves talking business. The last thing anyone in a surf lineup wants to talk about is their job. It’s about making it easier to bond with and talk to likeminded businesspeople in your industry. Then, after your surf, maybe you talk shop on the beach or in the parking lot.”
And that, Lambert says, is where the true value of the club lies.
“The Silicon Beach Surfers Club forces you to get out in the water. If you want to surf, you’re going to be getting texts all day from friends who are going out at different breaks at all different points in the day. That not only expands your social and professional network, but it makes for the perfect work-life balance.”
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