Connecting the dots with Simona Barbieri

The founder of Hub Dot reveals what inspired her to debunk outdated networking concepts and tackle tribe mentality head on

Hub Dot, a social enterprise set to disrupt traditional styles of networking, launched its Dubai chapter to an excited audience of over 120 women including local achievers such as Ida Tillisch, Director General of the Emirates Wildlife Society; Alexandra de Montaudouin, Founder of Comptoir 102 and Leyla Lahsini, Co-Founder of KenziBox. Vision talks to founder Simona Barbieri on why building professional connections begins with five little dots...

The idea behind Hub Dot is to turn the traditional notion of networking on its head. What did you feel needed changing?

Networking, in the traditional sense, never worked for me. I organised a number of corporate events during my time at Goldman Sachs and I was always trying to put my own spin on it. I felt at parties and fundraisers people switched off whenever I responded to ‘that’ question (which is such a banal question honestly) “What do you do?” After deciding to raise my three children full-time and focus on home, I’d say I’m a full-time mother and their eyes would instantly glaze over and they’d disconnect.

It happened so many times that it really frustrated me at first. I thought there must be many women like me, with several stories and experiences to share, who chose to focus purely on motherhood following our stints in the working world. We have a lot to bring to the table!

I just decided to rise up to the challenge and figure out a better way, a more authentic way for women to connect with each other. One where we don’t predefine what being successful is and where we actually open ourselves up to the possibilities of meeting like-minded (or not!) women following different paths in life.

So I quickly put together an email, a call-to-action, to all my friends. A few days later 98 women gathered in my house in Fulham on the outskirts of London. It was June 2012 and Hub Dot was born.

Hub Dot
The first ever event was hosted around Simona's kitchen table for 98 women in June 2012, and is now a global community with more than 15,000 members

In what way have you shaken up the model?

We all have our preconceived notions that prevent us from truly connecting with others. So many networking events actually prevent you from really connecting. They tend to be insular, what I call “tribal,” because most of these events invite folks from within the same industry or profession. The agenda is set, whether you like it or not.

Historically, people from all walks of life typically mingled with each other at the town square, or what we call in Italy the “piazza.” In a piazza, you can be whoever you want to be and participate in whatever way you choose. You can stand in the centre and perform. You can sit on a bench and read or converse with the person sitting near you. Or you can simply be a bystander, sipping your espresso and watching people, maybe even smiling at new and old faces. You set the agenda for yourself while still being connected to the same physical space. That’s what Hub Dot is about.

What are Hub Dot’s key objectives?

We’re a social enterprise start up, based out of London, working to disrupt the networking status quo. At the heart of Hub Dot is an altruistic perspective, to enable women to make impactful connections that enrich their personal and professional lives.

How important is the storytelling aspect of the hub?

As human beings we seek, remember, share and respond to stories. We each have many stories within us and how we share those stories depends on our audience, our mood, or a new perspective that we gain from our own private evaluation of our stories. Fundamentally, we form connections with people because we relate to one or more of their stories, or because they become part of our story... it has very little to do with sharing job titles!

Why does your approach rely on a coloured dot system?

That first morning, when that group of women gathered in my house, it made me realise women can have so many goals, moods and frames of mind. When you go to an event, one time it could be because you want to talk about a passion project, another time you just feel like being social... and that can change.

That’s where the concept of the dot system emerged, drawn from the various colours of the rainbow. The dot gives you the freedom to explore because as human beings, we change and we expand. There is no hierarchy to the dots. One dot is not better or more highly valued than another. The colours are individually beautiful and when they come together, what we call dot alchemy even more so!

Red – I’m established (in my career, business, motherhood)
Yellow – I have an idea, can anyone help?
Green – I’m here to be inspired
Blue – I’m here to socialise and shop
Purple – I want to tell you about… (my story, my work, my charity)

Hub Dot 2
Hub Dot recognises fulfillment comes in many shapes and sizes. It may be a new social enterprise, job or friend

Can you share any success stories that came about as a direct result of Hub Dot?

I think the quality of the connections we enable and the camaraderie our events foster have inspired us to expand beyond just one-off in-person events and explore ways to catalyse these kind of connections online, in the digital space and also in the corporate world – through Dot Corporate. With the latter, we’ve received great feedback from our first clients Ernst & Young and Bank of America.

How many countries is Hub Dot active in? Why is now the right time to launch in Dubai?

We are currently in eight countries and have over 17,000 people registered on our network. Dubai is our first Middle-East chapter and I can see why considering the sheer diversity and dynamism of the women in this cosmopolitan place! There are several cities on the anvil including Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Manchester, to name a few.

Our spread is organically driven. We constantly receive enquiries from women all over the world who are interested in launching a Hub Dot chapter in their city. We bring them together for an alchemy coffee and if the group dynamics work and there’s clear momentum, a chapter is naturally born! The launch of the Dubai chapter happened in much the same way.