“On the West Coast, they call it the Stanford swivel,” said serial entrepreneur Nihal Mehta. “Like when you’re at Stanford, you kind of have to look around to make sure other people aren’t hearing. I find myself doing the Stanford swivel at Soho House, just to make sure that folks aren’t eavesdropping.”
Mr. Mehta, whose latest venture, LocalResponse, helps brands find and reward consumers posting about them on social media, was discussing the downside of talking shop in the recently refurbished sixth-floor drawing room of Soho House. “I was kinda joking around last time I was there that we’d have to sign N.D.A.’s,” said Mr. Mehta.
The notion that members of the tony, $1,800-to-$2,400-a-year private club would have to worry about techies stealing their start-up idea—rather than, say, an I-banker squirreling away a stock tip—has to do with the changing demographics of Soho House. Where a seat at the bar once meant overhearing talk about “taking helicopters to the Hamptons,” as one member told The Observer, these days, depending on the hour, the sixth floor might have more in common with a start-up hub than the lunch crowd at Michael’s or Bull and Bear.
With plans to expand to Brazil, Singapore and India, Soho House is flourishing globally, but in recent years the New York branch has suffered from an image problem. Of late, that is changing: the Meatpacking clubhouse has become a favorite for the tech sector. The building where Soho House resides was recently put up for sale, but far from being at risk of losing the 30-year lease it signed in 2001, the club is being touted by the broker as a selling point. Funnily, enough, it was the nerds who brought back the cool.
In May, Accel Partners, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm behind Facebook, Etsy and Kayak.com, chose to celebrate the launch of its New York outpost at Soho House. In June, OnSwipe held a demo of its software in the club’s fifth-floor library (which for the first several years of the club’s life had book-patterned wallpaper, but no books). This week, it will play host to a panel called “Bridging the Tech Gap.” And that doesn’t take into account the start-ups that treat the drawing room’s new tufted leather armchairs and brass-studded banquettes like a louche co-working space.
Unlike the influx of Wall Street types in the mid-aughts, however, it appears to be a shift “the House” is embracing. “Soho House is a private members club for creative people—digital technology is obviously a major part of doing business, so the two industries overlap in so many ways,” read a recent email from a club representative. “The House is popular for young entrepreneurs.” This emphasis on youth isn’t just talk: the club offers half-off membership to those under 27 if you can get two members to recommend you.
In fact, with the tech crowd, Soho House seems to have found the magic mix of creativity, youth and upward mobility. After all, it’s an industry whose stars are known for being young, innovative, well-capitalized—and, in stark contrast with Wall Street, they tend to build tools to facilitate, rather than provoke, civil disobedience.
“I’ve been looking at some incubators in town and it’s so weird because the Soho House appears to be an incubator and you don’t even have to get accepted!” said Lori Cheek, the founder of Cheek’d, an online dating service. Ms. Cheek, the long-standing mayor of Soho House on Foursquare, who first joined during her previous career as an architect, was referring to the admissions rate at programs like TechStars (where Cheek’d was a finalist), which can rival even Soho House’s exclusivity.
All summer, she used her three-guest-maximum pass to shuttle her business partner and two interns into the drawing room. “You can practically just sit there and somebody overhears your conversation and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m building an app!’” said Ms. Cheek, a disarming platinum blonde with a fetching Kentucky drawl. “It’s wild, the connections I’ve made.”
“I hear a lot of talk about tech companies, which a few years ago, you wouldn’t have imagined,” said Shakil “Shak” Khan, another longtime member and investor and head of special projects at Spotify, a white-hot music start-up now integrated with Facebook. “Are the Foursquares and the Tumblrs and the Spotifys being started out of Soho House? Probably not,” he said. “But you know a lot of the surrounding support services, whether its P.R., digital P.R., designers, I’m seeing a lot of those there.”
“They kicked out all the ‘banker wankers’—isn’t that the term that everyone uses?” he added with a laugh.
“Actually it’s been a very strange turnover there,” Ms. Cheek also noted. “I don’t know if you knew that they were kind of getting rid of the bankers?”
Indeed, we had heard.