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Join the Club: Founderscard Members Schmooze and Booze

imag0305 Join the Club: Founderscard Members Schmooze and Booze

Betabeat arrived at the Classic Car Club on Hudson and Spring just after 8 p.m. last night, where a group of about 60 entrepreneurs were milling about the Bentleys and Ferraris, sipping Bulldog London dry gin and Innis + Gunn Oak Aged beer, some of which had been sitting in ice in the back of one of the antique vehicles–was it a Porsche 911?

Most of the founders present knew about as much about cars as we did. The crowd skewed tech–Betabeat ran into Roger Wu, organizer of the Stamford Tech Meetup; Zeb Dropkin, currently working on a crowdsourced rent database; Andy Thompson of Fast Society, who was there with a friend; Noah Dinkin of Fanbridge, who was on his way to the opera; and the jet-setting Courtney Boyd Meyers of The Next Web, who of course uses her Founderscard for discounts on hotels and airlines. The dress code varied–some came in suits–but the most common outfit was that independent CEO standby of collared shirt + jeans + blazer + dress shoes. They were there because they were all members of an exclusive group–well, somewhat exclusive– savvy enough to own the gray, metallic, indie analog of AmEx Black for the self-employed, Founderscard.

Founderscard founder Eric Kuhn was in and about the crowd in a dark blazer and light blue collar. He started the company after the rollercoaster ride of his first company, VarsityBooks, which he launched in the dot-com era, grew to 225 employees, raised a bunch of cash and had an IPO, then got delisted from the NASDAQ six months later when the market crashed. He whittled the company down to 14. He was able to turn it around by pivoting the business to work with schools instead of selling discounted textbooks directly to students, and got re-listed and sold the company three years ago.

“I remember during our IPO roadshow, we were staying at these crazy nice hotels using rates our investment bankers had,” he said. “And I remember thinking, this is crazy, founders should be the ones getting these rates.”

Now Founderscard offers discounts such as 10 percent off your AT&T bill and 10 percent off American Airlines flights plus “elite” status. Mr. Kuhn pitches Founderscard to potential partners by pointing to the value of the American entrepreneur and how hard that customer is to reach. “The pitch is that they can reach Goldman Sachs fairly easily by picking up the phone. We’re offering access to the founders whose companies are average size of 15 to 20 and the growth trajectory of some of those companies gives someone like American Airlines an opportunity¬†to get in with rockstar tech founders.”

For the founders, many said the card’s events were as much of a draw as the discounts. David Tannenbaum, a mobile app developer, joined a few months ago, after he went to a Founderscard event as a guest and ended up meeting someone he’s now working with–the CEO of Roboinvest, a New York-based social investing startup.

Ines Peschiera, founder of the design agency Bell & Whistle, was impressed at the quality of the organization. “I think [Mr. Kuhn] must have picked the right people to start the club in the beginning,” she said. She’s been a member for a year, and the composition of the Founderscard parties has changed, she said. “It’s night and day,” she said. “It used to be the real tight-knight New York tech scene.” Now the crowd is more diverse, she said, which she appreciates.

The crowd is usually about 100 to 160 people, Mr. Kuhn said. We counted about 50 who were still lingering when we left. (Side note: we’d give the finger food an A.)

Betabeat met the Lichtensteins, a couple–he a filmmaker, she a playwright–who have been Founderscard members for about four months. Mark Lichtenstein passed around a card with a QR code on it. “I can trust people here to know what that is,” he said.

Mr. Lichtenstein, in addition to being a filmmaker, is also an amateur magician as well as a veteran of ABC. “A bunch of people at ABC were also magicians,” he said. “I know, isn’t that weird? When we had downtime we’d just all sit around and talk about magic.”

He’s pursuing a venture in producing magic shows for television, since that art form needs work. “Usually it’s a magician shooting who doesn’t know anything about cameras, or a cameraman who doesn’t know anything about magic,” he explained.

As the night drew to a close, Mr. Kuhn gave his spiel about the loneliness and the glory of being an entrepreneur, and how those founders deserve corporate benefits just the same way Goldman Sachs employees do. Applause.

Then¬†one of the Classic Car Club representatives drew business cards out of a bowl in a raffle for five day passes to that members-only organization. “My speech is simple,” he said. “This is the Classic Car Club. If you’re in the club, you can drive all of these cars.”

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com