For the boot-strapping founders out there, the idea of paying nearly $500 to join a fancy-pants, exclusive club of entrepreneurs may sound a bit antithetical to customer-first, lean-startup ethics. Credit card benefits, miles, and Gilt will do just fine. For others, a membership program that brings executive-style perks, like discounts on hotels, airfare, LegalZoom, TripIt, StubHub, not to mention parties, has some serious appeal.
So in 2009, Eric Kuhn created FoundersCard for the latter group as a way to give entrepreneurs the same kind of elite programs and networking opportunities traditionally reserved for execs of Fortune 500 companies.
Over the last three years, founders have bought in and FoundersCard continues to grow. We took an in-depth look at the community when it turned two earlier this year. At the time, it counted 5,000 members among its flock, with the largest contingents in New York, San Francisco and London.
However, hoping to avoid being seen as overly cliquish or exclusionary, the company opened its admission policy from invite-only to one that now allows any entrepreneur to apply (though it continues to pick and choose from its applicants.) Today, FoundersCard has a 70 percent acceptance rate, and the community has grown to over 8,000 members.
Of course, there are many services that claim to have elite users, who are the leaders in their field. FoundersCard is one of those, but until now it’s been unclear who one might expect to find at a FoundersCard party or using its card when checking into a hotel. We’ve learned from a few reliable sources that members today include craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Digg founder Kevin Rose, Lowercase Capital founder and Twitter investor Chris Sacca, TechStars co-founder David Tisch, TaskRabbit’s Leah Busque, co-founder of Obvious and former Twitter Product VP Jason Goldman, LivingSocial co-founder Aaron Batalion, Simple’s Alex Payne, Box co-founder Dylan Smith, Jon Steinberg of Buzzfeed, Ben Lerer of Thrillist and author and investor Tim Ferriss — to name a few.
Why? We’ve learned that one of the bigger draws for the FoundersCard community is its AT&T deal, which allows members to receive 10 percent off standard rates on all voice plans (and on data plans of $30 or more in value). The company is also officially profitable today, thanks to the fact that it doesn’t pay for these deals, just negotiates them, and parties are sponsored by member companies, allowing them to run a relatively lean operation.
That being said, it’s easy to notice that FoundersCard perks skew heavily in favor of male founders, which seems to run counter to the company’s mission to be beneficial to all of its members. Kuhn says that as a result the team is aggressively going after deals with brands that focus on women, from fashion products to gadgets.
FoundersCard also recently launched a few new perks, including Hilton HHonors Gold elite status for any members, something that usually requires 36 nights or 60K points to secure. They’ve also added six months of MailChimp for free, along with 15 percent off any plan thereafter, as well as a discount on the Dropbox for Teams package.
So, while some may bristle a little bit at becoming part of an exclusive entrepreneurial community, considering the benefits include stuff that’s actually relevant to the startup lifestyle (at least for those who travel), it makes sense. Along with the perks mentioned above, the membership includes discounts on Virgin America/Atlantic, Lufthansa, Cathay, Apple, UPS, ZipCar, Gilt City, TaskRabbit, Retrofit, a number of hotels and now Dropbox and MailChimp.
FoundersCard has also offered to give TechCrunch readers a discount to celebrate its new deals. The service usually costs $495 a year, but you can use this coupon to get in for life at $295 a year: FCTECH13. To get the deal, just use the code when you sign up here.