When you meet Danny Beckett Jr., you must know: He is 29, he is a dad, he has seven startup companies, he was in motocross and he wants to feed you lunch.
Beckett is one of those guys that you thank the good Lord above has a connection to Detroit. He’s got family from Michigan, and he likes to make that family happy. So they visit a lot. And that is why Beckett’s “Free Lunch Friday” launched one of its inaugural locations in the city.
We’ll talk more about Beckett later. Here’s what you actually need to know. If you’re a dreamer, a doer, a business-minded thinker, an entrepreneur or just someone who wants to know exactly what’s happening in this fishbowl called Detroit, you need to check out Free Lunch Friday.
It happens on the last Friday of every month. This thing went live in January 2013 with our little city, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Next month, it will invade Phoenix and then New York City and San Francisco. That’s right – although FLF is based in California, we got it first. In your face, Golden State! But I digress.
The non-profit organization has one main goal – to find the startups and small business people of the world, give them some grub and let them meet. Because when you get a room full of Big Thinkers, chances are something good will come of it. At the very least, everyone walks out with a belly full of beer, tacos and ideas for the future.
This Friday’s particular event was held at Atomic Object, this sweet custom-software company on Randolph just outside the theater district. They fed us what they called “walking tacos,” or putting a mess of taco toppings inside a bag of Doritos or Fritos, your choice. And there was great beer from Rochester Mills Beer Co. And it was all free.
Who was there? No one I knew. And that was the best part. You cannot sit alone at Free Lunch Friday. No, sir. No one will let you. Don’t try to hide behind your Instagramming. Because someone will see that you know how to use an iPhone, and they’ll sidle up to you and ask all about your apps. Or they’ll find out that you write for a blog, and they’ll want to talk about the state of media today. Or they’ll introduce themselves just because they’re friendly. But you won’t be allowed to watch from the sidelines. And that’s good.
After lunch, there are these fast rounds of who’s doing what. There is an official name for this segment of the lunch, and there was an agenda. But to me it was more like a great organized shouting match with those who had announcements standing up to tell everyone that they’re looking for employees, they need money to start a great business or they need some ideas to get their butt out of their chair and into the executive office. We found out about a woman who wants to start a burn clinic. There’s a guy who would willingly clean your offices. And there are a bunch of businesses, including Atomic and Digerati, that are hiring.
Then we got to the speaker. Mike McGee the Co-founder of The Starter League told his story, explaining how he went from a college guy at Northwestern to a code writer to a business owner, launching a thing called the Code Academy in Chicago (it eventually became The Starter League). He could have gotten a gig working for soon-to-be President Obama, but the draw to follow his own path and create a school teaching software and code (because there really wasn’t anyone else doing it yet) was too strong.
Back to Beckett. He says the point of Free Lunch Friday is to connect the vendors to the innovators to the creators to the workers to the public. Everyone wins because business cards are exchanged. Friendships are made. Partnerships are born. And, as Beckett pointed out to me, that one deal in a million might happen, resulting in the both of us becoming rich like Warren Buffett or Jay-Z and starting something like “Free Lunch Friday” because it is cool, fun and the right thing to do.
“The last Friday (of the month) is a day to celebrate and a day to connect with one another,” Beckett said, in between proudly showing off photos of his 5-month-old son. “This is my passion. I’m a family guy, and I look at all of these people as my family.”
You mean this gang of oddly attractive yet nerdy tech people are your family? You want these 60 or so smart-looking folks as your kin? Yes, indeed. Beckett may not be our native son (few motocross professionals in the Motor City, I’d guess). But we could take him on as our own. In fact, I think we better make the offer now just to make sure he sticks around. Not too many co-founders of something this unique actually show up to attend the meetings. This guy, me thinks, is a keeper.
Detroiters love their meetups. We’ve got Creative Mornings. We have Free Lunch Fridays. There are Mobile Mondays and there are Social Sushis. I’m all for getting together, thinking things through and making things happen. And if you see me there, hiding with my iPhone, come over and introduce yourself. I may not know how to write code (for now), but I’ll sure share some Fritos with you.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a friend of a friend, completely stolen off of Facebook. It has no connection to anything, but it just leaves you feeling good. And it seems fitting after a long day that included a snowstorm, a walking taco and a beery lunch. It goes something like this: “Detroit is not for the faint of heart, but it is awesome.”