General Assembly Co-Founder Matthew Brimer On Creating Communities with His Pre-Work Dance Party, Daybreaker
Whether in the classroom or on the dancefloor, entrepreneur Matthew Brimer is always looking for ways to bring people together.
Some of the most fascinating people in today’s culture are distinguished not just by their craft, but also by their passions. We call them the New Alphas.
It was one of those typically cold December days in 2013, and Matthew Brimer had decided to invite 300 or so of his friends to what sounds—on paper at least—like the worst idea ever. He was launching Daybreaker, a midweek crack-of-dawn dance party, replete with lights and booming DJ but with the Red Bull vodkas and bottle service replaced by green juice and espresso drinks.
“We had over a hundred and fifty people buy tickets and show up to that first one,” recalls 28-year-old Brimer. “It was an experiment to see if people would wake up before dawn and come out and dance their faces [off] before work, and then start off their day with a big smile and feeling energized, invigorated.”
And boy did they dance. Then Brimer went to his (later in the) day job.
Brimer is one of four co-founders of General Assembly, a network of campuses for learning key entrepreneurial skills like coding, design, web design and data science. Since launching in 2011, General Assembly (or GA for short) has expanded to 13 IRL campuses worldwide that provide physical and virtual classes for the next generation of start-up talents. As head of Global Partnerships and Business Development, Brimer has set his eyes on making GA into the kind of real world, they-don’t-teach-you-this-in-college tool needed to take budding entrepreneurs to the next level.
On the surface, a sunrise dance party and an international cutting-edge professional education concern seem like wildly disparate concepts. But to Brimer, they are cut from the same cloth, with their relative successes not the sort that can be easily charted on a spreadsheet. “I really love bringing people together and creating compelling experiences that push people in a positive direction and create serendipity,” says Brimer. “Ultimately, the greater mission is to have a positive and lasting impact on the world.”
As a freshman at Yale, Brimer first put his entrepreneurial impulses to work buying old library card catalogs from the school’s surplus and flipping them on eBay to collectors at more than 20 times the price. By his junior year, he was scoring thousands in venture capital for GoCrossCampus, a Risk-like social gaming platform that, despite boasting more than 100,000 users, went belly up in 2009. “We really weren't generating any revenue to speak of, which kind of is important for a business,” says Brimer with a sheepish laugh. “You know, making money.”
Oh yeah, that. Somewhat unique among his entrepreneurial brethren, the Sociology major’s instinct for start-ups and innovation comes less from making bank (though that would be nice) than bringing people together around shared passions. “I've always been fascinated by community building, by social dynamics, by how people organize and come together and associate with each other,” says Brimer.
That was certainly the motivation behind General Assembly. “Having been through the trenches, we understood what to do, but just as importantly, what not to do,” says Brimer, who was one of the four founders of General Assembly, including his former GoCross partner Brad Hargreaves.
“General Assembly sort of began as a social experiment or concept,” says the New-York-based Brimer. “In the very early days, we thought, ‘What if we could create a place that could bring people together, a place of entrepreneurship, collaboration, and shared learning?’ We wanted to create a place for the community to really grow and become something larger than itself. Out of that came the business and global institution that is General Assembly.”
Now the four-year-old company has slightly loftier goals than, say, making a few bucks off old library furniture. “General Assembly is truly out there to change the world,” says Brimer. “I'm not saying that in the Web 2.0, every-little-app-is-out-there-to-change-the-world [way]. I actually mean the mission of the company is about transforming people's lives for the better. If you look at what we do, it's about finding people with skills, and opportunities, and jobs, and communities that can help [people] pursue work that they want to pursue. That's a very noble mission.”
But even with GA’s initial success, Brimer’s thirst for community was hardly sated. Hence what led the passionate live music fan to co-found Daybreaker. A year in, and the social experiment-cum-dance party is now held every two weeks in New York, L.A., San Francisco, and Atlanta with plans to expand overseas later this year. A typical event might feature yoga, musicians, spoken word poets, and inspirational aphorisms amid the thumping beats. Sometimes you’ll see mascots dressed as vegetables, or a Big Glowing Jellyfish that was once a main attraction at Burning Man, or the team will bring in someone called ‘a laughing coach.’ “You never really know what you're going to get,” explains Brimer.
For Brimer, Daybreaker captured that social energy and community building buzz that the self-described “serial entrepreneur” had been chasing since he was a kid in St. Louis. Watching his parents start their own graphic design and architecture firms played a key part in it all. “They infused a lot of that creative and entrepreneurial in me from a very young age,” he says. “That creative spirit, that maker mentality— it's just always been in [my] blood.”