Many people are phobic about networking events. But Jayson Gaignard’s by-application-only Mastermind Talks are different.
Entrepreneurs gladly paid $7,500 to become one of 150 attendees last May. Gaignard has gotten more than 15,000 applicants for those spots in the past.
Friendly and unpretentious, Gaignard is a natural connector who does things like send email introductions on video. His ability to wrangle speakers–such as Tim Ferriss, authors Choose Yourself author James Altucher and School of Greatness author Lewis Howes and surprise guests like Gary Vaynerchuk–has helped to draw an audience of successful entrepreneurs each year.
“People who come know the quality of the event comes down to the quality of people in the room. They have a lot of trust in us that we’re going to pick the right people to be there.”
That trust enabled him to generate $1.6 million last year at the ultra-lean, profitable business, based in the Toronto area. Running the company with help from a contracted assistant and his wife, Gaignard is one of a small but growing number of entrepreneurs running million-dollar micro businesses. In the U.S., 35,980 “nonemployer firms”–meaning those that don’t have any traditional employees beyond the owners–broke $1 million in revenue or more in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available. His story offers interesting insight into what it takes to scale revenue in a lean startup without taking on the burden of a giant payroll.
Gaignard drew some of the inspiration to start his business in 2011, after attending a by-application-only event called Opening the Kimono, an event Tim Ferriss held for authors who want to become bestselling authors. “It attracted an incredible group of people,” recalls Gaignard.
At the time, he was looking for a change of direction. “I was in an ecommerce business. I hated it,” Gaignard recalls. “I got to a point where I built the business I hated in order to buy things I didn’t need to impress people I didn’t like.” When he finally left his business, which he’d grown to $7 million in revenue annually with 15-20 employees, Gaignard says he was in a “very bad” financial position and considering bankruptcy.
Things changed after a friend invited Gaignard to see a talk by marketing guru Seth Godin in New York City, where the theme of networking with like-minded individuals resonated with Gaignard. He started holding dinners where he would invite eight interesting people to break bread. “Investing in my relationships was the safest investment I could make,” he says.
That investment proved to be smart, and a few months later he had an unexpected opportunity to hold an event with Ferriss that, Gaignard says, was almost like a TED Talk for entrepreneurs. Speakers included Howes; Ryan Holiday, the former director of marketing for American Apparel, and fashion designer and entrepreneur Mark Ecko.