Style in Real Life: Breakout
The perks of breaking out from the norm
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Graham Cohen and Michael Farber want to break you out of your business rut. Together they founded Breakout, a new way for entrepreneurs to network, collaborate, and get inspired. The idea is this: create a community for creative and inspiring people to not only learn from but also support each other. At their version of a business conference, you won’t find any awkward happy hours or trust circles during their events. Instead, you’ll meet up with fellow “Breakers” in an emerging city like Detroit, New Orleans, or Baltimore (they’re even planning an international destination in 2016) for a jam-packed 48 hours of activities and content.
Attend an event and you’ll gain membership into their kick-ass community of socially conscious entrepreneurs. Oh, and come rested because there’s “no time for napping.”
I met them at Neuehouse in NYC – their office (of sorts), a members-only shared workspace filled with posh club chairs and carafes of melon water. It seems fitting that these two would work in a space surrounded by others chasing out-of-the-box careers, because connecting and inspiring entrepreneurs is what they’re all about. Since 2013, they’ve been building a community filled with leaders from all industries and skill-sets, and organizing events across the country to not only connect members with each other, but also help them learn from and leave a positive impact on the cities they visit.
It’s a business that grew out their shared belief that millennials were hungry for a chance to make an impact in business and also in the lives of others. Gauging by their membership count (300 and counting), it seems they’re on to something. Their “Breakers” hail from all over the country and often meet locally to cheer on and support each other professionally and personally.
So how’d they pull it off and — more importantly — how cool is it to “break out” for a living? We’ll let them tell you.
Michael: Graham and I got to know each other when we helped build a real estate media company for five years. We were always around 40- to 60-year-old real estate people so it was a pretty stodgy industry. The fun part was we we’re growing a media and tech company, but the sad part was we were in suits all day.
Graham: When I first got out of college I worked for a sports website from home and so my outfit was pajamas and a t-shirt and I would literally go from my room to the couch and watch sports. I used to joke about “Oh, I have a different suit every day, which was just different pajama pants. And then we started working together and I learned about this whole suit and tie world for real. And now it’s the third wave where you’re supposed to have nice clothes, but not look like you put too much thought into it.
Michael: When we first started out, we felt the need to dress up a little more for big sponsor pitches, but at this point, we’re displaying a certain image and brand of what millennials are about, so I think it would actually denigrate our pitch if we were to come in as founders looking super dressed up and formal. I don’t want to say we overthink it but it certainly would be weird.
Do you have any unofficial uniform?
Graham: White tees! I want to wear five white tees every week. That would be my dream. Just fresh white tees. A staple.
Michael: Graham at the end of the day really just wants to run a basketball camp and play basketball all day so that translates really well into white tees.
(Ed note: Graham was, in fact wearing a white tee at our interview. He’s nothing if not consistent.)
Now that you’re not in a suit every day, what’s your go-to if you need to look really sharp?
Michael: I wear a lot of Rag and Bone, that’s my default. It easy, simple stuff that looks good but is still casual. It’s good quality, it tailors well. You can’t really go wrong. If you go into the store you’re going to look good.
Michael: I actually do about 50% of the time wear our members’ clothing. It helps that a lot of them have pretty cool clothing companies. My Five panel hat usage has gone up at least 500%.
So you’re a hat guy?
Michael: Definitely during the day. It’s funny; in my private life I don’t wear them that much but they are my “calm” accessory during work. I have a Detroit Hustles hat that I wear all the time. We did an event in Detroit and I like wearing it because people always ask me about it and I’m like “I’m not from Detroit but we do a lot of work there.” It’s a total talking point. I like being a little branded that way.
How did you decide to leave the corporate world and start Breakout?
Graham: The idea of surrounding ourselves with entrepreneurs and business leaders who all came from different industries and were all doing different types of projects and ventures was really cool to us. It’s almost a little bit selfish, but in a good way. We wanted to figure out, “Is there a way to run a business where we could enjoy every single person we met with every day?” So that was the idea — let’s build this community, let’s throw these awesome events and let’s meet every single person.
Michael: We formally left our jobs in January of 2014 and we did our first event in April – flying a hundred people down to Miami. We didn’t take a second off.
Graham: Our name is Breakout, like, “Break you out of your typical routine and comfort zone and put yourself in a situation where you can start fresh.”
Breakout is all about fostering collaboration and community. Why did you single out collaboration as THE thing to focus in on?
Michael: It’s simple: there are a lot of challenges that every entrepreneur deals with, it doesn’t really matter what your industry is. You can be a photographer, you can be a teacher, you can be in tech, you can be in finance. Whether you’re building a team or just growing as a person, more often than not, you’re hanging in your own particular silo. We decided to focus on collaboration by throwing this group of people who were highly engaged, who were growing their careers and were coming from all walks of life. Sometimes you need someone that you can relate to in some capacity but you don’t know as well in order to really open up and move forward. That was really the original aspect to it — bringing great people together to learn from each other.
From there we realized, “Okay, we have this great community; why not add a social impact aspect to it?” So we started going to these emerging cities and meeting really amazing entrepreneurs who didn’t have the access points but were still building great businesses.
It sounds like you really tapped into something that people were missing.
Michael: It was really when we went to New Orleans and we met with people who had gone down there after Katrina to help out and stuck around. Our generation is all about immersive experiences and they really want to get their hands dirty, but how do you onboard that? We realized that with these trips, it shouldn’t just be about our attendees, it should be a mix of getting to know each other and also getting to know these cities.
How do you keep those connections strong?
Tech is huge for this. Right now we do everything through Slack channels and Facebook boards. At first we were so anti-Facebook, but everyone’s on it. We make updates multiple times a day to highlight people’s achievements. Everyone’s highly engaged so it’s actually been a really great forum for us. Content is our biggest thing because we want to be a voice of these entrepreneurs and creatives, but it’s not just about us being the writers and telling their stories. We want to also empower them to put out these messages to our national community. So tech in the form of content plays a huge part. Because our attendees are scattered all over the country, the only way to keep them really engaged is content.
What other technology do you use day-to-day?
Graham: As a company, Google Share docs are super important to us. Also building our own website on Squarespace; sending email newsletters through MailChimp.
Michael: We always download our friends’ apps and we beta them and play with them. We’re an interesting company because we play with tons of people in the tech space but everything we do is in person. We’re a bit of throwback. We actually like in-person conversations.
Is that why it’s so important to you to travel to different cities for your events? You want that in-person flavor?
Graham: Yeah, we’re bringing entrepreneurs together to build this community and we try to have a positive purpose in the community. So we go to cities like Detroit, New Orleans or Baltimore because we feel like they’re great places to learn and hear about innovation, creativity and solving civic problems. The idea is if we can bring a great group there, maybe there are ways to give back. Technology, for us, is a tool for advancement – to accomplish a bigger goal. Like our friends at Detroit Water Project who use crowdfunding to help people pay their water bills.
How does technology play into your personal life?
Graham: I like online shopping. There’s a good website DSTLD that’s really easy to buy and return.
Michael: Yep, because I hate shopping quite honestly. I never actually want to do it, but every once in a while I have a freak out and I’ll take an hour off, go into a store and figure out what I like. I’m very efficient. I have no time to do a big, long thing and I don’t want to shop online. Every time I’ve shopped online and I have to return something it just annoys me.
Michael: All my friends talk about SuitSupply nonstop, but I don’t wear suits. Don’t get me wrong, every guy looks better in a suit. Once a year when I put one on, my friends are like “Why don’t you do this more often?” But there’s a difference between wearing a really a really great suit out and being in your monkey suit every day.
What grooming brands would I find if I was snooping in your bathroom cabinet?
Graham: I like Yes to Carrots. They have a cucumber facial mask that they don’t even make anymore. I have to buy it off Ebay. It’s my favorite. I never washed my face for the first 27 years of my existence so I’m having fun with products now.
Also, I really only use conditioner. I’m kind of anti shampoo. Shampoo really puffs out my hair and I can’t have any more puffiness. My conditioner is Herbal Essences Tousle Me Softly, which also is hard to find.
Michael: I shampoo every 2-3 days because I was told you weren’t supposed to shampoo so much. Also, Graham gets a haircut every week.
Graham: I have the fastest-growing, thickest hair. People who cut my hair get splinters. I have to shave every single day too. I use Gillette Mach3 Power razors, nothing else works. I think I go through a pack of them every single week.
Michael: I have a bunch of MALIN + GOETZ stuff at home. The only thing I have that’s kinda quirky and random is this lavender rose spray I got from a yogi woman when we were in New Orleans. I used to use it in my room but my friend Allison put me on to actually spraying it on myself almost like cologne and actually girls really love it. It’s not cologne-y, it’s just fresh. There’s something else in it that’s just very nice and clean.
My style in three words (or less!)
GC: Black and White
MF: Threw it on
Party outfit go-to
GC: Anything with boots!
MF: My Printalloverme custom jumpsuit.
Favorite “splurge” clothing brand
GC: Coach – surprisingly good men’s collection.
MF: Five panel hats.
Favorite “steal” clothing brand
MF: Topshop / Topman
A man’s personal style is important because…
GC: You want to find something that makes you feel comfortable and confident — a clean haircut is key!
MF: A man’s personal style is important to a woman with style.
My best fashion moment
GC: The year I thought it was cool to have both my ears pierced! (Didn’t last long).
MF: Situations that demand me wearing a suit.
HOW DO YOU BREAK OUT FROM YOUR USUAL STYLE ROUTINE?
See more style in real life with EFM Menswear designer, Donrad Duncan.