LetsLunch Launches and We've Got 100 Invites

Earlier I wrote about an interesting new wave of companies trying to one-up LinkedIn, by using recommendation engines to help navigate your professional life. While LinkedIn made sense of your off-line social graph and how it intersects with friends’ social graphs, these new companies are essentially trying to rank your social graph and let you use that information to get ahead. Earlier I wrote about Mixtent, which is trying to solve inefficiencies in the labor market. Another site launching tomorrow at the Founder Institute’s Founder Showcase is LetsLunch.

LetsLunch tackles another awkward and inefficient necessity of the business world: Networking. It was first pitched by Syed Shuttari at the Founders Institute, and Alain Raynaud, a mentor for the Founder Institute, was excited enough about the idea he decided to join the company as a co-founder.

Here’s how it works: People give LetsLunch a lunch slot, and its algorithms match you with people you should have lunch with and a nearby location. It grades people on a level of 1 to 10, and matches people based on similar rankings.

After the lunch, it asks the person you just met all sorts of questions to further define your rating. The company has some clever ways to make sure that score is contextual and meaningful, like asking you to compare the person you just had lunch with to other lunch dates, and allowing you to change the rating over time. Like Mixtent, the voting is anonymous, but there’s no place to enter random diatribes, and the site will discount the rating more if someone appears to just be a hater, or on the contrary, is giving everyone they meet with a 10.

LetsLunch is wisely focusing on Silicon Valley first: It’s a place full of early adopters, and networking is a challenge. So many new people come to Silicon Valley to start new companies or find a job everyday. For the most in demand investors and CEOs, finding the best coders and entrepreneurs can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. For those new to the ecosystem getting above the noise can be a challenge– and just mobbing someone when the get off stage isn’t usually a good strategy.

To jumpstart activity, Raynaud has convinced a handful of Valley “VIPs” to offer a lunch slot, including Drew Houston of Dropbox, Philip Kaplan of Blippy, David Hornik of August Capital, Eric Ries of The Lean Startup, Trip Adler of Scribd, Adeo Ressi of The Funded, Jonathan Abrams of Socializr, and angel investor Jeff Clavier. I also agreed to give up a lunch for some smart entrepreneur seeking TechCrunch love. And, in what’s bound to be a controversial move, the founders also threw Julia Allison in the mix as a “Silicon Valley VIP.”

The more VIPs, the better, and the way to get more VIPs is to set the existing ones up with worthwhile lunches. Otherwise, LetsLunch risks that early online dating problem of “Aren’t all the people who need this site losers?”

The site is invitation only, but LetsLunch is giving our readers one hundred free accounts, so go now and use the code “TCVIP” to get your lunch on. (If you don’t live in Silicon Valley, the service won’t work for you, so please save the slots for locals.)