Last updated: December 7, 2023
Melissa is not just creating a networking event; she’s building a founders community.
Her goal is clear: no sales agenda, just a space for like-minded individuals to connect, share experiences, and foster a sense of friendship.
Why you should listen to me: Hi! My name is Nick Gray. When I moved to NYC, I didn’t know many people and I wasn’t good at “networking.” I learned how to host parties that people wanted to be invited to. Now I’ve hosted hundreds of events all over the world and made lots of new friends doing it. New York Magazine once called me a host of “culturally significant” parties.
Meet Melissa in Houston, TX
Meet Melissa, a cheerful Houston local who’s all about soaking in the city’s vibrant vibes. She loves learning and growing, especially in the cool world of AI innovation.
She is the co-Founder of Craiyon– formerly DALL·E mini, is a research group building generative AI models focused on text to image AI art.
Melissa comes from a mix of Latinx (Brazilian) and Pacific Islander (Filipino) backgrounds and loved growing up in Houston’s diverse melting pot culture. Food holds a special place in Melissa’s heart, and she’s always on the lookout for tasty discoveries.
Beyond her own adventures, Melissa helps bring technology founders and entrepreneurs together in Houston’s tech community, making connections and building bridges.
From Event Planner to Community Builder: Melissa’s Inspiration
In an exclusive interview with Melissa, she shared the inspiration behind her unique events. A few years ago, she attended a party in Austin that left a lasting impression.
“I went to a party in Austin with my friend Maddie, and it happened to be Nick’s party! I saw what he was doing, and thought, this is so smart!
I was impressed by the name tags, icebreakers. I loved the flow of the event and the ability to mix up the group,and talk to a lot of people in a short time. I was surprised there wasn’t a big focus on food or drinks.
I was like, oh, I love this! One day, I’m definitely going to use this style for my own events.”
Melissa’s Founders for Founders Event
In the big world of tech networking in Houston, Melissa felt really disappointed with how things were.
According to her, “Networking for tech founders in Houston sucks.”
Melissa’s frustration stemmed from the common pitfalls of traditional networking event for tech founders in Houston:
- “Networking” event had a sales goal
- I would get bombarded by sales people
- Would not meet other founders
- Vapid Conversations
- Only met 2 people because I got stuck talking.
This is a sentiment many can relate to: the sales- centric approach, incessant pitches, and the struggle to connect with like-minded individuals.
Because of that, she took matters into her own hands.
Together with her co-host Chad Spensky, they started the “Houston Tech Founders” event series.
A carefully curated gathering exclusively for Tech Founders, entrepreneurs, CTOs and CEOs.
Advice for Aspiring Event Hosts
For those inspired by Melissa’s journey, she offers practical advice. The key lies in the following:
1. Curated Guest List
Melissa is particular about who she invites to her Founders to Founders events.
She focuses on Founders, CEOs of Tech companies, aiming for a group that understands the challenges of building a tech business.
Her decision to curate the guest list comes from her desire to connect with fellow builders who share similar struggles and experiences.
2. Find a Unique and Consistent Venue
She hosts her events at a stunning rooftop speakeasy in Downtown Houston.
The best part is that the owners don’t charge her to use it! The owners are happy to host because they like the idea that these events bring in growing businesses that might need office space in the future.
The place is extra special because you need a password to get in.
This adds a unique and exclusive vibe to the events. Melissa keeps things interesting by not telling anyone the address unless they RSVP.
She only sends the address two days before the event.
“This way, people get excited every step, creating a sense of anticipation and making the whole experience a lot more fun!”
3. Maintain a Personalized Approach
When organizing something for CEOs and founders, she believes that a personal touch really matter.
For instance, if she sees some folks haven’t RSVPd, she doesn’t just send a generic message. She takes time to send a personal message to each of them.
Why? Melissa thinks that if another founder is taking the time to send you a personal message, you’re likely to feel good about it.
4. The Power of Icebreakers
What sets her events apart is the deliberate inclusion of icebreakers. These activities facilitate meaningful connections and conversations, allowing attendees to engage in IRL (In Real Life) brainstorms.
She points out a common problem at other events- being stuck talking to the same person and feeling like there’s no escape. She keeps things lively and mixed up thanks to the magic of icebreakers.
The biggest feedback she gets is that she might be mixing things up too much because people are having such awesome conversations.
Melissa’s favorite icebreaker is asking mid event “What is something you’re working on that you need help with?”
Melissa has successfully hosted five events, and something pretty cool happens each time—they’re not even done, and her guests are already excitedly asking when the next one is going to be!
Now, let’s dive into what she has to share for anyone thinking about hosting a gathering of their own.
Q: Reflecting on your hosting experience, what valuable lessons would you like to share?
A: In a curated event, have a really good grip on the guest list and who comes. In my case, it’s founders, CTOs and CEOs of tech companies here in Houston. I found when you allow outside people who don’t quite fit the profile, it changes the dynamic a lot. For example, I wanted to experiment with the event and I included a few people who were not founders but investors and VCs. I learned when you have a VC and founder dynamic, the founder feels like they have to focus just on the positives and growth of their business vs being vulnerable and relaxed.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to do differently in your future events?
A: Yeah, I thought of having a harmonica for the longest time. I actually bought one but I never used it. I used it with the last event and realized how much easier it made getting attention!. Nick was right. It was better, but I fought it for so long. I really didn’t want to do it. But now I’m converted!
Melissa Abrantes’ journey from event planner to community builder exemplifies the power of thoughtful and curated networking events.
In a world saturated with generic meet-and-greets, her focus on genuine connections and meaningful conversations sets a benchmark for those looking to build communities in their own cities.
As Melissa continues to host her exclusive gatherings, she’s not just organizing events; she’s shaping the future of Houston’s tech ecosystem—one founder at a time.
Hello, My name is Nick Gray. In my book, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party, I provide helpful guidance on how to host a great party for any event. I wrote this book to support anyone attempting to meet new people and develop closer bonds with their community.
When is your party? Send me an email and I will give you some bonus tips, including a pre-party checklist that you can print out. Plus I’ll answer any question you have, free of charge. I love talking about parties and I’m on a mission to help 500 people host their first party.