Sam Parr, founder of HubSpot-acquired newsletter and media brand The Hustle, doesn’t watch “Succession” because “it’s too real” (and because he prefers watching comedy compared to behemoth business billionaires fighting). But when he announced his new project, Hampton, an invite-only club for chief executive officers, the references started rolling.
It’s specifically one Succession quote that sticks, in which much beloved and eternally tortured character Kendall Roy describes his and his siblings’ new media venture as: “It’s like a private members club, but for everyone.” Jokes aside, Parr’s vision for Hampton isn’t too far from that tagline.
Hampton, built by Parr and media veteran Joe Speiser, wants to give high-growth executives a high-impact community to lean on, whether it’s through screen-sharing financials, or asking for advice because there’s only one month of runway left. And as SVB’s meltdown showed tech, a strong network can be a way of survival.
The company has been in the works for around nine months and has landed more than 300 members, including Morning Brew’s Austin Rief, CB Insights’ Anand Sanwal, Fresh Clean Tees’ Melissa Parvis and Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes. In order to join the community, Parr explains, members need to have succeeded in one of the following: built a company with $1 million in revenue, landed $3 million in funding or previously sold a business for at least $5 million. Then they are interviewed for culture fit and to confirm that they are building digital-first businesses. So far, half of the members are venture backed, half are bootstrapped.
Those who are accepted have to sign a confidentiality agreement. Then, they are welcomed to a custom platform that has a member director, where you can see profiles, request intros and see a map where other members are located. The portal also has a vetted vendor list and an event calendar. Hampton members additionally are put onto a Slack for daily chatting, which is used by 85% of members. Members are placed into an eight-person group that meets once a month with an “executive facilitator,” which Parr describes as business therapy.
Since leaving stealth yesterday, Hampton has landed over 3,000 new applications. “We’re not letting everyone in by the way, we’re very slowly and meticulously looking at who is a good fit,” Parr said. And for now, there’s only room for 400 more members before Hampton hits its cap.
The co-founder says he took notes from YPO, Young Presidents’ Organization, and Vistage, a global executive coaching organization, when building Hampton. “Those are awesome, but a lot of those people may be someone who owns a plumbing company, or someone who inherited like five apartment buildings in South Florida,” he said. “They need their people, but our people aren’t exactly that people,” adding “No inherited businesses — you have to have started it and you have to be fairly aggressive about growth and personal growth.”
If it sounds exclusive, it’s because it is (although Parr says that the name of the company is based on a street he lived near in Missouri, not the luxurious summer destination for the Upper East Side). Only 8% of applicants are accepted. Around 15% of members as of right now identify themselves as women, which is higher than some other community programs, but still shows a gap in diversity.
One of Hampton’s closest competitors, Chief, actually built a business valued at over $1 billion to solve that gap. Chief is a private membership club for women in leadership positions. It only accepts women who identify as a “C-level executive, accomplished VP or equivalent executive leadership role within your organization,” and have an “established career with 15+ years of experience.” And it recently expanded to the U.K. Like Hampton, Chief has a waitlist that is greater than its acceptees.
Parr thinks that Hampton is even more niche than Chief because instead of working with people across different leadership roles, it’s only working with chief executives and founders who have hit very specific growth milestones. Also unlike Chief, which has raised around $140 million in venture financing, Hampton isn’t raising a penny of outside capital.
Parr built one of the fastest growing email newsletters at The Hustle, before reportedly selling it for around $27 million. He and his co-founder have pledged to invest up to seven figures of their own capital in the business, and as a result, they don’t need to turn to investors for starter capital.
While he thinks Chief will work out, he expressed the stress that occurs when venture capital backs community startups. “Communities aren’t like a thing where you can just throw bodies at, you have to be very, very, very, very, careful,” Parr said. “I just didn’t want to have to grow like five times every year.”
After the boom of community-oriented businesses in 2021, and the resulting sputter of some, there’s fatigue in the market on if a membership will provide value. I have spent years covering the networks that people in tech take to land their first check, job, promotion or “yes.” I’ve also seen how most community-focused companies all leap at the chance to go bigger — whether its accelerators growing their check size or simply the number of programs for entrepreneurs to go through.
Around five months ago, I wrote that it feels like we’re at an inflection point for the community-focused startup: double down on what you know and focus on discipline though this downturn. If Hampton sticks to its early messaging, its incentives do seem different from other clubs (or Clubhouse, even) in that it’s not viewing success as scaling through people.
Parr is confident — they’ve only had to conduct two refunds for unhappy members — but he isn’t unaware of the market realities.
“I don’t want to ruin my reputation and worst of all, if someone gives us their money we have to provide 10 times the value,” Parr said. “I am scared of that. I think that it will work. But it literally keeps me up all night.”