Morehouse graduates Matthew Tuffuor and Warren Jones never thought a $200 investment and several hours worth of tossing around entrepreneurship ideas would spawn a legitimate business. Nor did they think the fairly simple concept of producing parties hosted by hip-hop personalities such as T-Pain, Kamaiyah, Waka Flocka Flame and more, for the Silicon Valley crowd, could be so impactful.
Yet Toasted Life, their party series-cum-networking event, has already spread from its Bay Area origins to New York, Atlanta, and Tanzania later this year. Despite roots in the tech world, Tuffuor says that the idea of finding a moment to unwind and have a good time is universally relatable.
"Creating an inclusive space for people to relax regardless of what industry they are part of is the ultimate goal. Tech professional meets artist, artist meets designer, designer meets educator, etc. Our platform is about community building and belonging," explained Tuffuor.
Bringing together professionals of different disciplines also serves a larger purpose for those looking to make extreme career changes. Statistically, now more than ever employers in tech are seeking candidates with multi-disciplinary creative backgrounds. Toasted Life brings precisely those kinds of people together under one roof, with a dash of liquor to loosen them up.
We caught up with the two founders to discuss striking the balance between work and life, partying with a purpose, and why inclusive spaces matter in tech.
How did Toasted Life start?
Matt Tuffuor: For me, being from the East Coast and going to school in Atlanta, I was exposed to how music culture generates unmatched social energy. When we came to the Bay Area, we wanted to bring a little of who we are to our new home.
Warren Jones: The desire to create and turn ideas into reality was the true catalyst; it's a trait both of us share. Matt and I would literally sit for hours tossing out ideas on what we could do to satisfy that entrepreneurial itch. We took that entrepreneurship bug and latched it onto a gap we felt needed to be filled in the Bay Area entertainment scene.
Why did you think it was necessary to create inclusive spaces for partying?
MT: There are certain challenges PoC face in America; that is fact. Whether it’s overcoming professional or social bias, lack of access or awareness to opportunities or worse, life threatening police mistreatment - a space to be free is necessary. Providing a realm for the celebration of life and attained individual or collective accomplishment is why Toasted Life exists.
WJ: We want people to have the opportunity to connect with their peers in a fun, welcoming environment. Balance is the key to good energy and a great life. It’s important that we play our part in helping our network find that balance, taking moments to break away from the work grind, and helping them escape the state of society, government, or damaging identity perceptions.
There's a huge nightlife element to Toasted Life, how do you balance that with career demands?
MT: It's requires discipline, focus and trust, but passion is the secret sauce. You've got to be passionate enough to lose sleep sometimes. You've got to not be afraid to push back and challenge one another or sacrifice free time. Being co-founders is also a huge benefit because if one of us is head's down at work on projects, the other will step in to manage certain tasks, and vice versa. We sync daily to debrief on updates about venues, artist managers, contracts, new business opportunities and everything else that goes into planning an event.
Any tips for partying in a professional setting? After all, your events are as much about networking as having a great time.
WJ: Who said networking can’t be lit? Somewhere along the way the term 'networking' was assigned this veil of dryness. We wanted to flip that notion on its head. At any given Toasted Life event you might be exchanging business cards or LinkedIn requests one minute, and swag surfing the next. People always make jokes about coming to Toasted parties with business cards. That's because you never know who you’re going to run into.
MT: At our last party in LA there was a moment where I found myself in deep conversation with a buzzing rapper, a young civil rights activist and the CEO of a start up. Not fifteen feet away were a few NFL players from the Carolina Panthers. That's what makes TL special - its network. In terms of advice, I would say it starts with respect and awareness. We want people to have fun, let loose and be themselves, but being on someone’s live story looking crazy isn’t productive either.
How has the nightlife landscape changed for professionals since starting Toasted Life?
WJ: We've noticed a shift in what millennials want from a night out. Our peers are spending less time in traditional nightclubs. They're looking for other fun environments to meet like-minded people and build relationships. I think that's why our brand has been so successful. For every party we host at a club, we try to do something non-traditional outside of that setting.
MT: Yes, a great example is our nursing home pop-up party. We host it every year at a rehabilitation home for senior citizens. It's a volunteer experience but we bring out a DJ and a bunch of awesome people to 'turn up' with the residents. We all have a ton of fun doing Soul Train lines, 'playing' inflatable instruments and hosting dance battles. It's a dope initiative and the residents deeply appreciate the company.
What have been some of the best Toasted Life moments so far?
MT: Seeing our brand spread to some of the biggest cities in the US and reach so many people is tremendous. We allow people from around the world to join our mailing list; it's still hard for us to believe, but in Italy, Sweden and Ghana there are people who have heard about the movement and are itching for us to make our way out there. We're actually working on something in Tanzania for late November of this year.
WJ: We've also been working with some great brands which is always a treat. Under Armour brought us on to help produce a launch event for a Steph Curry sneaker in 2016. Blavity tapped us to help produce their inaugural AfroTech conference after-party, which was beyond amazing. To be around so many black innovators and creators under one roof screaming Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” was an incredible high.
For more candid conversations with creatives shaking up their industry see our post-show chat with Little Dragon here.