In Defense of Corporate Cocktails

Photograph of a group of coworkers at a board table raising their glasses in a toast.

Oh no. Not like this. Literally the opposite of this.

We held a get-together for twenty or thirty friends of Aboard a couple weeks ago in Brooklyn. It was a success, in that we were able to hang and chat for a few hours and have some cocktails/mocktails and apps on a very high wet-bulb temperature evening, before a huge thunderstorm blew in and we all had to run and hide from the rain.

We’ve been in the software bunker for a few years so this was kind of a “starter” event—a rehearsal for future gatherings. (If you’re reading this you’re invited to future events, by the way. Just watch this space!) Hosting gatherings is actual work and requires craft. You’re not born with it! When I used to host parties a decade ago I would seek out a dedicated hiding place to go recharge for ten or fifteen minutes. Nowadays I can just barrel through.

A lot of people have a cynical model in mind of schmoozy cocktail events and crappy swag. That’s because they assume everything companies do is transactional. I don’t see it that way. Companies are just nodes in a bigger network of humans, and when you throw a corporate party, it only truly succeeds if your company is the least important thing at the event. You can answer questions or share interesting tidbits, but the goal of the event is not to achieve some outcome, but rather to find out how everyone else is doing, then introduce them to each other.

The reason people come to an event isn’t that they want to know what you’re doing—maybe for a few minutes. They want to see where they sit in the scheme of things, and keep their options open, and figure out what everyone else is doing. When I ran an agency with Rich, I realized that our job was to deliver software—but a big part of our job was to help our faithful clients get promoted.

That’s a big part of our future—figuring out how Aboard helps people get promoted. Not how to get people to pay us, or how to get people to talk about the brand, or anything like that. What can we do to help people get their next thing lined up? And it’s really hard to do that without talking to people first.

Also it’s just really nice to talk about something besides politics for a couple hours.