The Business of Meetings – Episode 203 – The Journey of Belonging: An Immigrant’s Path to Nine-Figure Success with Dan Berger
We are thrilled to engage in a discussion with Dan Berger today!
Dan is an industry legend and a true entrepreneur! After a successful exit a few years back, he is now writing a book called The Quest, where he focuses on the theme of belonging.
In our conversation today, we dive into Dan’s journey, discussing entrepreneurship, the post-sale depression that often happens after selling a business, and the need to belong. We also explore emotional intelligence and how to apply it.
Stay tuned for some valuable insights from Dan’s experiences.
Dan’s journey was shaped by the challenges of coping with childhood traumas. Managing his own trauma led him to understand that people’s stories are often woven from the fabric of personal hardships. Dan’s early-life adversities included being adopted, his parents divorcing, and immigrating, all of which happened before he turned nine. Dan credits his current success to the opportunities and support he found in the United States.
Arriving in the US
Dan arrived in the United States in the summer between the third and fourth grade. He was initially filled with resentment toward his mom and stepdad for uprooting him from Israel and he struggled to adapt to a new language, culture, and school environment. Although the first few months were extremely tough as he navigated school cliques and language barriers, they provided the foundation for what he now refers to as “belonging intelligence.”
Belonging Intelligence and Resilience
Dan explains that his concept of belonging intelligence is similar to that of emotional intelligence. He emphasizes the importance of high-risk tolerance and embracing failure in the quest for belonging.
Transition to the US Education System
Dan transitioned from a private school to a public high school, and then to City College within the City University of New York system. Influenced by his experiences in Israel, where the military plays a significant role, he felt a calling to public service. That led him to work for a member of Congress and later pursue an MBA. However, his disillusionment with government work during a summer internship at FEMA altered his career trajectory, steering him away from public service.
Dan’s entrepreneurial journey began with a web design agency during college and culminated in the creation and eventual sale of Social Tables for $100 million.
Post-Sale Reflections and Coping Mechanisms
After selling his business, Dan did not experience outright depression. Instead, he became bored. His post-sale plans included the potential acquisition of meetup.com, which fell through. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he diverted his attention to focusing on ways to navigate the global crisis collectively.
The Quest: A Definitive Guide to Finding Belonging
Dan’s book is a guide to help people achieve a sense of belonging. The book is research-backed, citing around 100 academic papers and literary works, and contains the three-step process Dan developed during the halftime of his life while finding ways to belong. The process involves awakening to your essence, discovering different paths to belonging, and then fueling that belonging effectively.
The Halftime Concept
Dan’s concept of halftime was inspired by Bob Buford’s book, Halftime, in which he explains the first half of life culminates in a liquidity event, and the second half requires a halftime, a moment of reflection, strategy, and re-evaluation.
Business as Belonging
Dan’s sense of belonging was intricately tied to his business. As an adoptee seeking to create togetherness, he found fulfillment in bringing people together through Social Tables. However, his halftime led him to question whether true belonging should be derived only from one’s professional life or if a balance with personal life was necessary.
The Wolf and Belonging Strategies
Exploring belonging strategies, Dan uses the example of a wolf persona to describe someone who enjoys both interpersonal relationships and moments of solitude. He highlights the importance of tailoring strategies to individual personas to provide a nuanced approach to fulfilling belonging needs.
Challenges in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
Dan is concerned about how DEI initiative programs are executed in corporate America. He argues that while diversity and inclusion are crucial, the current approach may alienate some high performers and undermine the true purpose of belonging. Instead, he suggests implementing a more balanced and thoughtful strategy to avoid exclusivity.
Backlash and the Pendulum of Culture
Dan’s perspective prompts us to consider the delicate balance between personal and professional sources of fulfillment. He compares workplace culture to a pendulum that swings between extremes, anticipating a potential backlash in the future. He highlights the importance of finding a middle ground and warns against the potential pitfalls of overemphasizing belonging at the expense of diversity of thought.
Dan Berger (pronounced Don) is an American-Israeli entrepreneur, investor, and forthcoming author.
As the Founder of The Belonging Project, a multi-pronged endeavor to address our country’s loneliness epidemic through multiple ventures, including the forthcoming book, The Quest: The Definitive Guide to Finding Belonging.
Previously, Dan was the Founder and former CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Social Tables, which was acquired in October 2018 by Cvent (NASDAQ: CVT), a Vista-backed company, for $100mm.
Founded in 2011, Social Tables was a software company that served hospitality and event professionals. The award-winning platform has been used to organize millions of events annually.
At the time of sale, the company had $20M in revenue, 120 employees, and over 6,000 customers. Backed by Bessemer Venture Partners, amongst others, Social Tables raised over $20M.
Dan has been the recipient of many hospitality industry accolades, including the Pacesetter Award from the Events Industry Council.
Dan has started multiple community-based organizations in Idaho, including The Idaho Supports Israeli Coalition, which garners support for Israel and fights antisemitism in the state. He has been an active member of YPO since 2014.
Before Social Tables, Dan worked in management consulting, served a member of Congress, and ran a boutique web design agency.
Dan has a BA from CUNY Hunter (’04) and an MBA from Georgetown (’08). He lives in Boise with his wife, Jen.
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