IvyConnect, The Social Network That's Too Good For You

The global rise of social networks has been characterized by an ideal of inclusion. But that's for suckers.

For the most part, the Internet is a democratic place. It has connected billions of people, made publishers of us all, and has played a (debated) role in revolutions across the globe. The Internet still costs money to access conveniently, and the digital divide remains a reality, but few can contest that on balance, the Internet’s forces have been on the side of inclusion, rather than exclusion.

Bucking bravely against this egalitarian trend is IvyConnect, a social network predicated on the idea that you might just not be good enough to join. According to its website, IvyConnect aims to establish a "dynamic private members community across 50 global cities, with 10,000 hand-selected members in each location." Currently live in New York, with roughly 2,000 members and what one employee calls "a healthy waitlist," IvyConnect brings together a young urban professional elite for parties, excursions, and TED-style talks.

IvyConnect co-founder Beri Meric says he always liked connecting people. While working at Morgan Stanley years ago, he introduced a service called "analyst connect," which connected company analysts who didn't know each other via email and suggested a time and place to meet for lunch. While at Harvard Business School, Meric met his co-founder Phillipp Triebel. The two began spitballing ideas, and the result was something called Date Harvard Square. That service initially connected Harvard men with single women in the area; the site later expanded to allow Harvard women, gay men, and lesbians to join, too.

Date Harvard Square soon evolved into IvyDate, an elite online dating network live in multiple cities across the world. As a dating site alone, IvyDate was compelling enough for investors to cough up about $1.5 million in a series A round last summer. But Triebel and Meric soon found themselves facing the same dilemma as many other dating sites: by successfully serving its users, it loses them. "That’s bad business for dating sites, but for IvyDate it’s much worse because we have such excellent people," says Meric, who has a hand in selecting those people. The duo decided to build out the IvyDate network into a full-blown digital country club of sorts. "IvyConnect is supposed to be for life," emphasizes Meric. "It’s a way to constantly meet new people without having to go to grad school again."

Last November, IvyDate blossomed into IvyConnect in New York, where the company is headquartered; events like a midwinter "Après Ski" and a "Great Gatsby Valentine’s" have proven to be enough of a hit among members, who pay $500 annually to belong, that Meric and Triebel have plans to add IvyConnect status to new markets soon, springboarding off the IvyDate base in each city. "Now that things are stable here in New York," says Meric, "there’s lot of demand in places like DC, Boston, LA, London, and Hong Kong."

Facebook famously began its life in a Harvard dorm, and made a point of expanding to other elite schools before opening up to the hoi polloi; a lingering feeling of exclusivity was the very thing that helped it conquer the globe. Democracy is usually good for business: most technology tends to make its real money on volume, and there’s no word that gets a VC salivating like "scale." IvyConnect, though, is part of a spate of new sites and services (FoundersCard is another) that take self-restraint as a lodestar. Smaller is better, goes the logic—as with many an elite college.

Despite the name, IvyConnect does not limit its membership pool to graduates of Ivy League schools, explains Meric. In fact, the site has waitlisted Ivy Leaguers and admitted plenty of graduates of other colleges. Rather, it uses the word "ivy" as a shorthand for the elite image it wants to cultivate. The company shelled out an undisclosed sum for the URL Ivy.com; "it was worth the price," assures Meric. "It’s a word that in world culture, and not just American culture, conveys excellence, prestige, and some kind of intellectual depth," he says, adding that it stands for "heritage" and "history."

It’s a curious feature of the Internet, of course, that being so new, it has neither heritage nor history. That’s true for any startup, for reasons evident in the term itself. IvyConnect claims no official connection to the Ivy League, but it seems to have taken a page from the playbook of those schools, whose carefully crafted images remain key to their influence, even as the Internet transforms the way they do business, too.

The gothic architecture of Yale was made to look older by an architect who ordered the edifices splashed with acid, it is said. A gesture with more chutzpah, even, than conjuring an exclusive club out of ones and zeroes—and yet it seems to have worked out fine for Yale.

[Image: Flickr user haleysea]

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  • Hannah Hunt

    The only thing this group has going for it is the illusion of exclusivity. As someone who actually graduated with an honors degree from an elite school (Yale) , I'm betting that very few Ivy League alumni would be interested in this group. Most likely you'll find a lot of clueless social-climbing wannabes.

    And you know how I found out about it? I googled the name of a new neighbor, a fake blonde with fake boobs, too much makeup and a nasty personality, a West Virginia transplant who, back in her home town, had a business with two girlfriends providing hair, makeup and spray tanning for weddings, bachelorette parties and pageants. I came across a photo of her at an IvyConnect event and nearly peed my pants laughing when I googled IvyConnect and found out it was a supposedly "exclusive" network. If my next-door neighbor is the type of person who attends these parties - lawdy me.

  • I recently became an Ivy member and attended an event in Boston, and I've got to say, it was actually a really wonderful experience. Boston is not the most diverse city (lots of cultures present but very geographically segregated) and I was thrilled to encounter so many people from different backgrounds/countries/industries/schools of thought. Everybody was warm and open and nobody NOT ONE person asked what I did for a living or where I went to school. The Ivy team was extremely down to earth, and happy to be bringing some interesting and valuable learning experiences to the Boston community. Sure, it's easy to write this business concept off as elitist but what's the difference between a company like this - who seeks to cultivate a community of thought leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, game changers and people who want to change the world for the better - and a group like Summit Series or TED? They are all doing more positive than harm. And they left a great impression on me.

  • Eugene Johnson

    Kristen, I just got off the phone with a member of the Ivy team. I'm being interviewed to discern whether I'm suitable to join. I figured a do a little digging on the company and then stumbled upon this story and thread. I'd LOVE to hear more about the happenings, etc before joining (ESPECIALLY the, "overly obscene "encounter"" you walked in on. I love overly obscene encounters, lol. PLEASE, DO TELL before I end up making the worst mistake of my life (from the sounds of it).

  • Carlo Cisco

    So I can see why people would have these sentiments about IvyConnect but I'm going to come to the community's defense. These types of communities exist offline and I think IvyConnect has done an excellent job bringing it online. From what I've seen, this is one of very few communities where the membership base is truly curated. Additionally they've built up a substantial pool of members benefits and have some pretty exceptional events. One example was a private mansion pool party/BBQ in the Hamptons this summer - what other online community does that? That said they should beef up the benefits so people who can't attend all the events still get their money's worth.

  • Dryheaves Daily

    Interesting.. We now someone who works for Ivyconnect and let me tell you this person is far from elite. Too funny. Make up elites running a network for elites. Only in startup land can this happen.

  • Kristen M. Mentasti

    you have no idea. It's so sad that it's commical to watch these people "interact" with each other. 

  • Kristen M. Mentasti

    I worked the DC event and put together a small piece titled "Things Overheard While Working DC's IvyConnect Event...and then what I saw".  I will let you know this; not the group you want to hang with. 

  • Kristen M. Mentasti

    OOOh I have so much to tell you (David) about the Sept. DC IvyConnect event...

  • Kristen M. Mentasti

    But with IvyConnect; you have an "ELITE" group who are being overserved at the open bar and then they tend to get a bit...well. That's all in my short story of working DC's first IvyConnect event. If this is a representation of ELITES, then I am certainly happy to have only graduated from the University of Colorado. 

  • Dryheaves Daily

     Wow. ELites. Can I meet an elite. That must be somenone who has 500 to fork over. This startup will be gone in due time. How narcisstic.

  • Kristen M. Mentasti

    My point exactly. Ask me how many of their staff who created this Elite Group actually 1. graduated from a credited college and 2. were those of an IvyLeague school. You already know the answer--no need to ask. But if you'd like to know the scandalous and overly obscene "encounter" I walked in on while at the first DC IvyConnect Event; I'd be more than happy to share! If that's Ivy...then I'm so glad I only have a degree from the University of Colorado. 

  • Eugene Johnson

    Kristen, I just got off the phone with a member of the Ivy team. I'm being interviewed to discern whether I'm suitable to join. I figured a do a little digging on the company and then stumbled upon this story and thread. I'd LOVE to hear more about the happenings, etc before joining (ESPECIALLY the, "overly obscene "encounter"" you walked in on. I love overly obscene encounters, lol. PLEASE, DO TELL before I end up making the worst mistake of my life (from the sounds of it).

  • Dryheaves Daily

    Sites like this make me want to fill my bucket. 500 dollar entrance fee can feed many homeless children , but then again there is no fun in that , is there? and the people you would meet are of no importance. Ivy connect... An expensive meetup which one can go to for free. What a freaking concept. This too, will be history in a matter of time. Has the URL narcissist.com been taken yet?

  • OhDearodear

    Bianca, where did you get the impression that IvyConnect would foster a culture of "inclusiveness and openness"? As the above article explains, the entire premise is its exclusivity and elitism. The yearly membership fee alone would suggest a membership pool limited to ambitious social climbers with a large disposable income. I'd suggest putting that $500 towards interesting classes or a club for people who share mutual interests. Best of luck getting it back!

  • Chemical Spy

    Why would I even want to join this social network?..Don't know whether it is too good for me, but definitely has no use for me.

  • Kristen M. Mentasti

    Nor do you have use for it; unless of course you enjoy watching Ivy League grads trying to gain gumption to ask another elitist out for drinks entertaining (which I'll admit-- was beyond hilarious)...you can find far more interesting people to spend your time with!