Let’s bring in people from all these different backgrounds and different thinking and see what we can create?
– Pablo Fernandez
Darla LeDoux: Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Retreat And Grow Rich, the podcast. I am here with the fabulous Pablo Fernandez, who is the founder of Secret Table. And I’m guessing even just hearing that, you’re already intrigued and you want to know what the secret is. So Pablo, thank you so much for being here.
Pablo Fernandez: Oh, it’s my pleasure, my friend. Thank you for having me.
Darla LeDoux: I am so excited. We met in an elevator and I learned a little bit about what you do and I thought, oh, I want to learn more about this. It’s so exciting because we’re both curators of experiences and you have a company called Secret Table and I love on your homepage it says, ”deepening relationships through immersive culinary experiences.” And I just so resonate with all of those things. So can you tell us a little bit about your journey to Secret Table?
Pablo Fernandez: Absolutely. Thanks for asking. It’s interesting. Let me start by saying our team represents a bunch of different fields and so it’s not just a culinary team. It’s not just experienced design team. We’re also a group of entrepreneurs. I was at first hesitant to have that be the main statement on my website, culinary, right? Like as the main anchor point. But then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that truly the heart and soul of the way we connect with people through our experiences is through food. And it just takes me back to when I was a little boy growing up, being raised by three women. I was so fortunate to have been raised by my great grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother for a large part of my childhood and teenage years almost at the same time. We all lived together when I was a little boy after we immigrated here from Guatemala and it was just an amazing time to be in this home where you had two grandmothers that were walking you through Tamale making and all of these sauce making opportunities.
I feel very fortunate to have experienced that because the more and more I connect with people about food and their families and how they grew up and whether they know how to cook or what the relationship is to the kitchen, a lot of folks tell me that when they were kids, they were kind of like shoot out of the kitchen. And I see that as, it kind of makes me a little sad and now, this is fast forwarding to now when I talk to parents, I’m like get your kids in there. Get them involved, get them cooking. But that’s really where it started for me. I remember those years when I was a little boy and my grandmother had me stir the big pot of Masa, like I said, to prepare tamales. And even though as I grew up, went through school and ended up spending 10 years in finance in my first career, I always had this passion for cooking and bringing people together. So I was always the college-aged guy or in my twenties guy that was inviting everyone to come over to my house and hosting all the dinner parties and get-togethers.
And when 2008 happened and the market shifted, real estate market to be specific but economically as a whole, I lost everything. I owned a finance company. I had all my investment was in real estate. I lost everything. And long story short, I ended up taking a sabbatical in Spain. I moved to this small town outside of Valencia, about 30-40 minutes North, population I think 2000 people. I was there for about four or five months. During that time, I had the opportunity to reconnect to my roots because I observed and then became deeply involved with this daily culture of taking your time, connecting with your neighbors, sitting for family meals every single day. And I just remember thinking like, wow, I just got here. I spent the last 10 years of my life building this company and this business in this industry and pretty much I was used to the polar opposite of that. I mean like lunches and dinners on the go, eating in the office, eating at my desk.
Darla LeDoux: If you’re lucky.
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah, if you’re lucky. And I just thought, wow, what a breath of fresh air. So, fast forward to now, in that transition point when I came back, I thought, I am committed to doing something in food because that’s just such a heart and soul connection for me. Going back to my roots and I want to do something to help people connect and take their time with each other, with their food and build deeper relationships. So that’s the initial part of the story.
Darla LeDoux: That’s amazing. I feel really drawn to tell this story and I can’t remember if I’ve shared this with you, Pablo. I was a teacher for a while. When I left my corporate Gig, I taught high school and I worked at the first public Montessori high school in the country. It was in Cincinnati, Ohio where I lived. And what they did to make it Montessori, because you know, Montessori is like experiential and yet they still were, as a high school they have to meet all the standards for the kids to go to college. So what they did was they did twice a year. They took two weeks off of regular classes and we did immersion experiences. And so I was there for two years. I taught math because there’s a shortage of math teachers. So they let me do this. It’s still a miracle. I think I told you we did an internship once where we went on a farm and we did the garlic and planted things and I did one where we did a civil rights tour actually around the Southeast. I did an Appalachian trail trip where we hiked and camped with students and then I finally got brave enough to create my own. Because these we would co-teach them and I decided one of the things the kids had to pay for these experiences. And so I wanted to create something that was very equalizing, that was then discriminating based on social status or how much money they had. So I wanted it to be really affordable and local but I wanted to connect people in a way, because that’s my passion, in a way that they normally wouldn’t connect.
I had come from Procter and Gamble doing market research, so I was like a research nerd. So I did these surveys with the students on these different topics. I had various ideas but what I settled in was food. So, I did an immersion called cooking across cultures. Now, I’m not a chef. So, I was just kind of making this up. I taught them how to chop using videos and a projector and then I had different experts come in from different cultures and teach a recipe that was sacred in their family. My background, I worked in food and beverage in corporate and so I had a lot of people in that community that were from all over the world that worked in food and beverage. So I called in favors. I had them come in and teach these little experiences. And then we partnered and each person went to each other’s home for dinner and then shared what that experience was. And it was a very diverse community in this school. So, when you shared about that, I just immediately went back to that place of how much connection was created through food, through that shared experience. It was to this day, one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.
Pablo Fernandez: That’s such an amazing story. I love how you referred to that process. It wasn’t the process you referred to, you said, sacred recipes. Correct?
Darla LeDoux: Yeah.
Pablo Fernandez: That’s such a great way to put it. That’s something that I experienced growing up and as I reconnected with food, it came full circle. And I remember thinking like, wow, this is something. This culture is not worth losing. It is part of the sacred part of our culture as people. I love that you referred to it as that because it truly is. It can be. Something funny, I remember being in a small town and everyone knows each other. I was the odd person out. It’s not a tourist town, so it was easy to spot walking down the street.
Darla LeDoux: Where did you grow up?
Pablo Fernandez: Well, as a kid in Guatemala, as a little boy. And then we moved here and I grew up in Riverside. And I didn’t move to San Diego until 2010 so I’m rather new to San Diego which is where I live now. But when I was in this small town in Spain, I remember, this was really interesting observation, kind of ties all this together in contrast to sometimes our American, I can say busy business culture. That I’d counter folks having, let’s say like a 10 o’clock extended brunch. It’s almost like a brunch time that they sit down for, they have coffee, they have like little snacks and stuff and they sit and around for 30-40 minutes to an hour. And then they do that like three different times throughout the day, right? They have, their names and their times. This is aside from early breakfast and probably late dinner, maybe dinner, one of them. And during those conversations, I remember some folks referring to their economic circumstance as we’re in crisis right now. This is what going through and economic crisis. Yet I would see everyone having this routine of connection and joy and sharing and food and beautiful culture and laughter every single day for many hours throughout the day. And I’m sitting there thinking like, what crisis are we going through? This is amazing, right? If this is a crisis, what are we doing? What was I doing back at home? So it was just a great experience for me to go through to remind me of some of the things that are very, very important in life.
Darla LeDoux: Amazing. So was Secret Table birthed from there or was there a process in that?
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah, so I came back and I was here for probably about a year and a half back in the States before I really thought of Secret Table. I knew at that point that I had to start cooking again. So I started cooking and I got in the kitchen and broke out a bunch of the books that I had saved from a decade before. When I was 20, I almost went to culinary school. When I was 20, I thought I was going to be a chef and I was going to own restaurants and do that whole life. And this is before I got deep into the finance world. So, I bought myself a ticket when I was 20 years old and went and stayed a week at the culinary institute in upstate New York, which is the top culinary school in the country. And I enrolled myself. I was in. Long story short, through a series of events because it’s a bachelor’s program, I had a missing prerequisite. So the dean of admission said to me, you have to go back, do a a semester at community college. Once you finish that class, you’ll be admitted. You can come back. It never happened. I ended up taking off in this finance world that I got involved in, did really well for 10 years until the market shifted.
So when I came back I thought, okay, what can I do now to sharpen my skills in the kitchen? Learn, maybe bring in a couple of mentors to learn under, the books, the practice and what can I add on to that? What added knowledge or skills can I add onto that to be of greatest service? And so I went to IIN, which is Institute of Integrative Nutrition program and I just started helping people. I started hosting little workshops, little classes, little cooking classes. When I moved to San Diego, I didn’t know many people and my brother and I, we were housemates, we rented this beautiful house in Del Mar, I think it was. And the reason we rented this big house with another house mate that would happen to be a chef as well is because we wanted to host dinner parties. We thought, what better way to bring in community, build community, make new friends, and just have a blast doing it. So this was in like 2011- 2012 and we started hosting these cooking class dinner parties on the weekends. Maybe one or two a month, 20 turned into 30, 30 turned into 40 next thing you know, there’s people knocking down our door. We were just charging enough to break even. It wasn’t a business. We just wanted to do this too, connect people.
And about eight months in, two things happened. Our landlord showed up and said, you’re tearing up my house. Like what’s going on in this kitchen? Despite how careful we were, you could start to see a little bit of wear and tear. Forty people twice a month, it’ll happen. And then the second thing that happened was I looked to my brother one day and I was just doing one on one coaching consulting at the time and I said, “we have something here”. There is something here. But the main thing that I’m hearing and seeing with these dinners that we’re hosting is that people want this. The compliments we would receive after the feedback was just like, oh my God, more of this, like not enough people are doing this quality food, connection, the right container, the environment, the conversations. And so my brother and I went to the drawing board and we conceptualized what ended up becoming Secret Table, which was just, in a sense, a way to scratch my own itch. When I was in finance, I was involved in the seminar world and whether I was a host, attendee or a collaborator. I just remembered having a passion for that. But oftentimes also feeling like there was always something missing from the traditional seminar or workshop or networking event. And I thought, if we’re going to do this, I want it to be super intentional. There’s got to be a way that we can guide the process so the quality of conversations is different. The quality of connections is 100% curated and intentional. We can bring in amazing food, experience, design and do this with more of an intention and purpose and so when we conceptualized Secret Table, that was the goal and that’s what we did and in 2012 we launched.
Darla LeDoux: Amazing. So one of the things you mentioned is that there’s this way, and I think maybe you can even go back to being in your kitchen, this way that you’ve created this intersection of different worlds. And I didn’t know you went to IIN. I find that super interesting. So you have this kind of coaching background, you have the finance piece, the love of food, of connection, and then you’re bringing in all these different people. What have you learned about the intersection of different worlds and why is that part of what makes this really special?
Pablo Fernandez: That’s a great question. And I asked myself that question all the time. One, to go deeper with it and sometimes a little bit of doubt creeps in and I’ll explain why. I don’t dwell on that because I feel like we’re definitely on to something and I’m going to keep doing it. But despite some of my mentors advice, some coaching I’ve received, some feedback I’ve received to become a little more niche driven potentially into some sort of a very entrepreneurial niche, as far as the community we curate. The common advice that I receive around that is it’ll be easier to monetize it because there’s a clear outcome for a very niche audience. And I can totally get it.
Darla LeDoux: Very logical.
Pablo Fernandez: 100% sense. I’m not going to deny that in the least. However, when we first launched Secret Table, I just had this sense and at that point I didn’t really know the science behind it or I didn’t really have any social proof to say, oh this is a validated concept. But I love Ted. I was obsessed with watching Ted talks and I remember thinking, who goes to Ted? This is a multidisciplinary, what would you call it? Multidisciplinary melting pot of incredible minds coming together to solve big problems and create amazing solutions and possibilities. And I thought that’s it. That’s how I want a model at Secret Table. I just had this sense that if people from different walks of life are connecting and talking on a deeper level, we’re going to get different results than the same ones that we’ve always had. So that was the impulse.
Darla LeDoux: What has it taken to kind of go against the standard coaching and hold that vision?
Pablo Fernandez: Well, it’s definitely come at a cost in some ways and it’s been an incredible blessing in my life and others. I’d say the first, if you can call it cost or maybe if we were to create a pro and cons list, is it’s taken me a little bit longer to get to some of my financial goals. There’s been a lot of sweat equity, a lot of personal investment that I put into the platform and into relationships. Because they perhaps at face value right off the bat didn’t have a clear ROI, I’m like okay, how am I going to monetize this? How am I going to make it sustainable? It wasn’t always clear. But what ended up happening that’s been incredibly magical since then is as time has passed on and as our brand and platform has gained credibility, a bit of a reputation for just really going all out and doing good work and bringing great people together and also just my ability to connect with different people in a deeper level, the ROI in terms of the fulfillment that I feel in life and the relationships and the support that I’ve been able to receive from people has been incomparable. And that has also created incredible financial and business opportunities for us. Incredible brand alignment with organizations that we hold dear to our hearts. So, the effort has paid off. It’s taken longer perhaps, but I feel like the results are what I really want them to be rather than something that I just did for other reasons.
Darla LeDoux: Interesting. So that desire to bring different types of people together versus, you know, I did another interview for this series, which was awesome. She talked about bringing together strangers from the Internet who have a similar pain. So, there’s this similarity or like I’m coming to a place where everybody gets me, we’ve been through a similar experience, maybe we have the same thoughts and feelings and it feels so good to be in a group of people who have the same things.
Pablo Fernandez: You get me.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. And you’re going for, I mean, I’m sure there’s lots of connection people have with the food and wanting experience and all of that. But like you said with Ted, it’s like sharing diverse ideas. And this is something that I personally think about in my business because we bring in like minded people. And then, there’s power in the numbers for then us as individuals to go out in the world and say, I can make change in my community, in my family because I know I’m not alone and I’m not this lone, crazy person. Which is great. And then there is a lack of diversity within this container. Right? Because we all kind of have similar thinking. So we’ve got to go out there and connect with people with different thinking. So you’re saying let’s bring in people from all these different backgrounds and different thinking and what can we create?
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah. I love that. Well and I will say this, that’s a big part of it and I think that that’s what makes our events unique and sometimes like exciting and mysterious in a sense. But there is a curation process for like-mindedness. So there is that part of it and that was something that from the very beginning, we very carefully drew out. And essentially what it is it’s more from a fundamental or principled perspective where what I most wanted was to bring people from diverse backgrounds together that at least at a core minimum, they had the commonalities of wanting deeper connection with community. They wanted to contribute to the world and to their communities in a deeper way. In a way that was more meaningful than just potentially in a self serving way and that were nice. People that were kind hearted and had an interest in just having true connection with people. Going through that process, some of the things that we’ve had to do has been say no to people that could just write a paycheck that were kind of mean to other people or that didn’t really care about community, people and making a positive impact in the world. So, there is a lot of that that goes into it and I think that kind of works to narrow down and in a sense create a niche community that is diverse at the same time.
And I love a friend of ours, I’m sure you know Jayson Gaignard from Mastermind Talks? So, Jason talks about uncommon commonalities and I love that. It’s like he calls himself a talent scout. Him and I, we’ve talked about this in detail before and it’s funny because we launched our companies the same year. I didn’t know who he was then. We met a few years later and I love his concept of uncommon commonalities. That’s something that as I get to know people on a deeper level, I’m figuring out what those things are so that then we can create connection on that basis when we have these intimate settings. And it just becomes something like, wow, I had no idea that we have these connections coming from such diverse backgrounds. And so that creates another magic effect.
Darla LeDoux: That’s amazing. You mentioned it being a little unique, exciting, and a little mysterious. The name Secret Table is like, oh, what’s that about? And so people need to get invited to Secret Table, right?
Pablo Fernandez: Correct.
Darla LeDoux: It’s not like, oh, I can just go find the next thing and come. So there’s this curation process. Can you tell me, I’m curious, first of all, what’s it’s been like one or two stories of things that have gotten talked about or created or explored or like blew your mind at a Secret Table that you couldn’t have even predicted?
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah. I love sharing about that. Well, the first thing is, I realized about three to four years ago, we stopped publicly promoting the events. And the reason we did that is, even though in the first few years, I’d say 70 to 80% of the guests list was directly invited and curated by me and our team, myself and our team. On average, a good 20 to 30% of the guests list in a sense could be tickets purchased by the general public. Usually it was friends of friends or folks that were somewhat connected to the network through people that we already knew. But we started to notice that in many of those events, that even though it was minimal, that was enough of a disconnect to produce some not so desirable results during the live experience which they’re not worth getting into. But you get what I’m saying.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. So that 20%, that energy that wasn’t intentional makes a difference.
Pablo Fernandez: It makes a big difference. Yeah. And so to answer your question specifically, I’d say some of the stuff that I’ve received word about past events or years later in some cases is, I’ve got a couple of calls about a year or two after an event from folks that said, you won’t believe this, but we’ve been meaning to call you but I met my husband at your party at the event. And I’m now married to the man of my dreams because I took a chance on this secret thing that I had no idea what I was getting into and then when I got there I realized I was surrounded by amazing, wonderful, loving, open people, and I found my soulmate. And so that’s happened a few times already and I would say that that’s the number one most exciting thing that I’ve ever received.
Darla LeDoux: We have one wedding from retreat.
Pablo Fernandez: Oh, amazing. Amazing. So that’s my favorite. But I’d say besides that, a lot of business joint ventures. I think a couple full on partnerships have come out from it. Hundreds of friendships, hundreds of friendships. We’ve had the opportunity and the honor to catalyze some incredible relationships that then have gone on to do other projects, humanitarian work, local nonprofit work. That’s one of the things that I’m incredibly passionate about is how folks have come together to give back and make our community better through the connection that we were able to catalyze. So if we could say, to go back to curating for like-mindedness, that is the result of that.
Darla LeDoux: That’s amazing. You invite people, I hate even using this phrase, that people are at all levels into the community. Right? Yeah, different walks of life, strategic thinkers I’m sure from different backgrounds and this is part of what you love, it seems. And you said you just went for the top people like, oh, I’d love this person to come and people are, people are people, yet I know I can go, oh, but that person like someday maybe I can meet that person. What are your strategies or thoughts around that?
Pablo Fernandez: Okay. Yeah, that’s such a valuable answer I think for each one of us to uncover for ourselves because I think it could be unique. But maybe at a core level, this is what I believe. It’s much like when I get asked to go up on stage and chair a talk on any one of these topics. I still get nervous every single time. Every single time I get behind the camera, the Mic, whatever it is in front of a small group of people, I still get nervous. And it’s an excitement more than anything but I can feel it. And once in awhile I still have a little bit of doubt where I’m like, okay, what if I say something off wrong, you get judged? And I would say that the number one personal antidote to that, it’s almost like I equalize myself and neutralize that in the moment is, I just remind myself where I’m coming from, what my intention is, why am I doing this? Really, why am I doing this? And I know for a fact that I’m coming from a place where I want to positively impact that individual or that group’s life in one way or another. From my heart with the best of intentions, I want the best for them. I want to love them, I want to connect deeply with them. I want to see how I can be of service and our goal as a company is we want to provide an ecosystem, an experience, a community that believes in that and where they can connect on a deeper level for that purpose. So it’s almost like when I remind myself of that, I forget a lot of the tactics and strategies and I just think, well, I can’t lose. Even if someone says I’m not interested, I mean I lose my fear.
I would say that that’s the number one strategy. And then there are a lot of other technical strategies. I would say just being diligent, knowing who you’re connecting with, doing your research, finding out what are the things they care about, seeing how our community can serve them in that way for those specific things, approaching folks with a ‘give’ rather than an ‘ask’ right off the bat. Having a lot of patience, people are busy. People are busy when they are successful in their own way, in their own field and the last thing they want to do is they have someone just knocking on their door asking for something. We don’t position ourselves as selling anything ever. We’re providing an opportunity to be of service and if it works, it works and if not, we might keep trying but ultimately, it’s a good fit or it isn’t.
Darla LeDoux: I love to you said, do your research, find out what they care about. Because it seems like you facilitate these conversations that are maybe outside the norm of like, oh, what do you do?
Pablo Fernandez: A hundred percent.
Darla LeDoux: Kind of more in the fringes of things and I’m definitely going to ask you about the farm and some of your work that you’re doing there with the community which lights a fire in me that you’re doing that. For whatever, it has nothing to do with my work or anything really it’s just like, I love that you’re doing that.
Pablo Fernandez: I think it will, by the way. I see a future retreat at the farm.
Darla LeDoux: Yes. I’m excited to see your campaign coming up.
Pablo Fernandez: Thank you. But to go back to the point you just made about facilitating uncommon conversations, I think that’s a really important point. So for example, the process of the evening for dinner experiences or events because some of them are more of an event format, a hundred guests. Some of them are intimate dinners, 12 to 20 guests. And I think that in either case, having a well curated and facilitated process is key. So we avoid prolonged periods of randomness, which then end up creating all these unintended consequences like people clustering with the people that they know, getting into these super…..
Darla LeDoux: Is that like a phrase that’s somewhere in your SOPs?
Pablo Fernandez: Probably
Darla LeDoux: That prolonged periods of randomness?
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah, it probably is. That’s a good point. Yeah. And so we just get ahead of that and we ask folks to come ready to participate in a way that isn’t typical and to focus on sharing more about the things that they’re passionate about, who they really are, not just what they do and what they want from someone else. On occasion with the right group, we even say, this is a hugs over handshakes experience and that’s a whole another layer of transformation.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. And you let people know that coming in?
Pablo Fernandez: When they get there.
Darla LeDoux: When they get there? The element of mystery.
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah.
Darla LeDoux: I always like surprise too. As we’re recording this, I’m heading to Mexico this weekend and we have a retreat coming up and telling people what to pack but not telling them anything about what’s happening is always fun and interesting.
Pablo Fernandez: I love it. And you know who you can do that with. Even when you’re in a little bit of a doubt with someone, you can let them know like, Hey, this is going to be an experience where you might feel a little on the edge of fun comfortability, but just allow yourself to experience something that potentially is different. And for the most part, I would say 98% of the time over all these years, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people at this point, we’ve had a handful of times, maybe three or four times out of the thousands of people that have come through our events, whether it’s a client event or one that we’re hosting, that have said that was a little uncomfortable for me or that’s not my style post event. And everyone else is like raving, this is the coolest thing we’ve ever done. So, we’ll stick with it.
Darla LeDoux: You mentioned client events. Let’s talk a little bit about making money from experiences and how that’s evolved for you and different cash flow strategies. If someone’s going, I really relate, I know this is my skill set, my gift is to create these types of connections and conversations. What is my best way to make money with that? How have you navigated that?
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah. I think that if someone loves to host experiential events, gatherings, dinners or this works perfectly for retreats as well. I’m a firm believer in collaboration and partnership and in team building. So one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve built a team that brings talents, skills and abilities from all angles. our team comprises individuals that represent all of the different components that we produce through our experiences. And so one of the things that I’ve done throughout the years is just let go and allow our team to shine in the best way that they can. I used to cook, now I don’t. Now my primary role is community curator. I love emceeing the events and providing the guided experience but I let them do what they’re better at. And so that’s been an amazing strategy for us. I think also just a great way to build a team and scale a company. But I think if someone is starting out, unless they have a background in let’s say, food, event, experience, design, production, and they’re a great community curator and they have the time and the resources just to go all in. I highly recommend and finding collaborative partners that represent each one of those sides and creating something together. I think that that’s a great strategy.
Darla LeDoux: Because I think there’s a way you hold collaborative partners that’s maybe different than someone might think about it so, you’re not talking about hiring people, you’re talking about, hey, you have a passion, I have a passion, let’s come together and there’s like a revenue share?
Pablo Fernandez: Yup. I think that’s probably the best. if you can find someone that you trust and that you know is aligned and competent in that complementary area, I would highly recommend a rev share partnership with them. Let’s say you have a community curator and leader and you are the experience designer, event producer. That’s an amazing combination. You can bring in up and coming chefs from the community to collaborate with you and create these beautiful experiences and you’re going to grow that, and scale it a lot quicker and be able to create revenue from it in a much more successful way than if you tried to do it all yourself right off the bat. It’s a lot to carry.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. Well and a lot of people feel, and I’m going to out myself in a minute, but people feel like I’ve got to do it all myself because I don’t have the budget to have people do it with me in the beginning. But then that helps it never get off the ground.
Pablo Fernandez: Correct. Or it just costs you a ton of money and stress that maybe it wasn’t completely necessary. That’s my experience. That’s what happened with me. My brother was my business partner but we’re very similar, so it’s not cool. We don’t have quite the ideal complimentary partnership but I trust him 100%. He’s amazing at what he does and now it’s, a lot better. But in the beginning we were doing a lot of the same things and just putting a ton of our money into making this happen. In retrospect, had we had an ideal partner or two, we would have grown much more effectively and a lot faster with a lot less stress.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. And for me, coming in as the coach, the teacher, like just putting content out and it kind of grew organically based on what I knew my stand was in the world. And it never occurred to me that, oh, I would grow faster with other people who care as much about this as I do and bring in their own way. And it wasn’t like, it just never occurred to me that that would even be possible. I’m nine years in Pablo and I finally have team meetings where I’m like, what do you guys think? Like how do you want to do this? And even as you were talking about these, co-creating the events, I’m like, oh, I’m seeing this future where I don’t even get my hands in. They just tell me, here’s where we need you to speak or we don’t need you to speak.
Pablo Fernandez: Totally.
Darla LeDoux: So that just opened something for me because I love creating the experience. So it’s like, I want to get my hands in there but so do other people. I mean, that’s why we have a business because people love it and it’s what our society needs right now. So thank you.
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that another option to growing effectively and quickly or faster than doing it all on your own is, if you already have this kind of established brand business following and particularly if you are going to run the role of being the community curator, leader, whatever the case may be. You may be able to launch faster and more effectively and create a funding source behind it faster than someone who is starting from scratch. And in a case like that, there are amazing in entrepreneurial people, team members that you can bring on and hire and pretty close to right off the bat provide a job for them where they can help you grow that company. If someone isn’t interested in being a full on partner. But those are the two ways that I would recommend doing it because I think that one of the things that happens commonly with live experience businesses is people underestimate the amount of work that is required to produce anything of value and particularly to create a consistent, legitimate revenue source from them. It’s a lot of work. It’s not very easy. It’s not necessarily something that scales that logically or easily. So those are my thoughts around it.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. What have you thought about around scaling in that way? Because there’s obviously the marketing and filling of the retreats. So you said you’re connecting with people and bringing in the community and all of that. For many years I did Facebook ads. In the beginning, I went to events and sponsored and spoke and met people and then I switched to Facebook ads so bringing in people in that way. And then there’s actually like the ability to produce the events and how many can you actually do with your team and all of that. If we think about monetization and pricing, because obviously you can do less experiences at a higher investment or you need to do more at a lower investment. How have you navigated that?
Pablo Fernandez: Well, we’re in a really interesting growth stage right now where we are at that second tier where we are now at a place where my company can charge top of the market for the experiences for what we do. We do a lot less volume at a much higher level and at the highest price point that we know that exists around in our marketplace. That’s exciting but it’s the second phase of the evolution of our company where now what I see clearly is a big need in the marketplace to create training for other individuals that want to break into the space. So like you very similarly, in my space, there is a huge need in the chef, event producer experience designer, community leader, community of individuals that want to create real businesses out of bringing people together in these experiential containers for transformation, connection, and impact. And so I think that that’s going to be a natural progression for the true scaling part of our company.
Darla LeDoux: I Love it. And those skills, I’m just thinking you can have a meal and connect and you’ll have conversations and then there’s that little extra something that you can bring that actually opens up transformation. We obviously teach that with our leaders as well. In my perspective, it can be a slight shift, but so important. And people either don’t know how or don’t have the courage to like, let’s make this what did you call it? Fun and comfortable?
Pablo Fernandez: Fun and comfortable. We like to have fun.
Darla LeDoux: A little fun and comfortable.
Pablo Fernandez: Let’s do it. Let’s shake it out.
Darla LeDoux: So, cool. Okay.
Pablo Fernandez: One last point. There are so many ways to create a scalable version of your company in the live experience space. And another one that we have considered and it doesn’t excite me as much but I love the model and it’s proven to be successful, is the TEDX model. It’s like a paid, I don’t know almost like a franchise model. And when we considered creating a training program, we thought, well, what we’ll do instead is find community leaders, chefs, experience designers in multiple cities around the country and create training programs for them under the Secret Table so that we could have say chapters or teams in different cities. So that’s another way that you can think about it.
Dala LeDoux: Which creates a certain brand recognition. Yeah. And what, what doesn’t excite you about that? I’m curious.
Pablo Fernandez: Good question. I don’t know if, what likely is the thing that is a minor mental block for me around this. It might just be not knowing something that I should know or that I could know around this. I might not know what I don’t know around this topic, but I sometimes feel a little nervous about having our brand on the line at that level of extension, like a franchise model. That’s why we’re focused on, for now, is creating a training program just to empower others to all their dreams in this space and be successful at it.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. I often can see, you know, possibilities, patterns, vision, like, oh we could do this or we could do that and then I go, okay, are you personally uniquely gifted to do that? Like, yes, it can be done, but will you hate your job?
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah. That’s probably a lot of that for me too.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. Interesting. Cool. I’m excited to see where it goes starting with the training.
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah. And so that’s part of the reason why we discovered this amazing farm and do you mind if I share about that now?
Darla LeDoux: No. I want to talk about the farm. I’ve gotten to visit the farm.
Pablo Fernandez: Yeah. So the f thank you for visiting. It was such a fun day that we had. You guys picking fruit from the trees? The berries, the loquats.
Darla LeDoux: Yes, delicious.
Pablo Fernandez: I think you even tried the flowers, edible flowers, right?
Darla LeDoux: Yes.
Pablo Fernandez: Amazing. So the reason why we decided to take over this farm, twofold; Number one, it’s a beautiful thing that exists in urban communities. Urban farms are a dying breed. It’s very difficult to sustain an urban farm for many reasons. Primarily the economics behind them. It’s very difficult for farmers to be economically sustainable in urban settings with their farms. Not only do they have to be farmers, they have to be entrepreneurs as well and marketers and it’s just a really tough code to crack. The first thing was we didn’t want to see that farm disappear and it’s one of the only urban farms in the county. The second thing is we saw it as an opportunity to develop a Beta version of a future platform that we think can be the training ground for scaling our platform throughout our county and beyond. A place where we can prove a model that will empower the local farmer, the chef, and the experience designer, community leader, event producer in collaboration to create a more connected community around food, our land, connections, friendships, neighbors and proven economic model that was sustainable around that so that we could then share that with our world, with our community.
Darla LeDoux: So you bring people to have dinner experiences
Pablo Fernandez: Educational experience, cooking classes. Yep.
Darla LeDoux: And then the, it’s also a working farm.
Pablo Fernandez: Correct. So we’re modeling a couple successful farms in the East Coast and I believe there’s one in Northern California that we’re looking at too that have become successful by working with local chefs and in a sense, reverse engineering the sales process where the farmers grow what the chefs want and it’s something that is done through pre-ordering. It’s a way to eliminate the randomness from the farmer just having to go sell produce at a farmer’s market or at a stand and hope that everyone that passes by buys them out because they usually have to do that otherwise they can’t make ends meet.
Darla LeDoux: Yeah. And I know part of how you’ve created this is through collaboration and kind of getting creative with collaboration. So, that’s another place where that similar philosophy is carrying through. How’s that go in?
Pablo Fernandez: Some of the collaborations that we’re most excited about are our local nonprofit partners. About four or five years ago, I started working with a foundation called autism tree project foundation here in San Diego. I just started as a volunteering and then ended up shortly thereafter becoming a board member. One of the most exciting things that we were able to do without organization was develop a food farming and nutrition program for children on the autism spectrum that otherwise had a very tough time connecting to fruits and vegetables and whole foods because of the neuro degenerative challenges that they were going through. It was just very difficult for them to associate with that as food and so when we created that program, we started taking groups of kids from the foundation onto local farms so they could see where their food came from, get them like in the dirt a little bit picking carrots. And little by little they started creating a connection with their food. What it really is, how to prepare it, how to grow it, how to care for it, how to have fun with it. And then we started creating recipes that were fun for them, getting them involved in the process. And next thing you know, you have all these amazing kids eating salads and flatbreads with all these vegetables on top of them. It was just such a beautiful collaboration that when we conceptualize this farm for our current project, we thought we’re going to bring the community in, we’re going to collaborate with children in our community so that they can carry that on into the future. It’s opened up a lot of doors for business as well too.
Darla LeDoux: So cool. So how can people get connected with you? How do they get involved? What’s most supportive for you and the next step?
Pablo Fernandez: Thank you. secrettable.co is our website. I’d love to connect with anyone personally on Facebook or Instagram, Pablo A Fernandez. And I think the most important thing, and this is something that we always ask everyone that attends all of our events, we say, we challenge and we invite everyone to get a little out of their comfort zone and host a dinner party, host dinner gathering in their home and invite their friends and family, their neighbors to come over. It can be a really small, intimate, simple dinner but we highly encourage them to participate in the process of cooking the food themselves. Do it potluck style. Cook for your guests, whatever the case may be. Have that connection with the food, take that time for yourself and for others. Be in the present moment and watch how your life will transform. This is something that I think, like I said before, our culture has kind of lost that tradition and I think it’s really sad and we need to bring it back. So aside from connecting with us, with our company, I would appreciate folks just giving that a shot and seeing how much joy it will bring into their lives.
Darla LeDoux: I love it. And if people are in Southern California, they can have you come curate an experience at their event or for their community, correct?
Pablo Fernandez: Correct. And think you might’ve asked me and I forgot to mention this, the other side of how we created a monetizing avenue through our business is aside from hosting our own events, we work with a small handful of companies, thought leaders, organizations every year where they were able to hire our team to produce experiences for their groups, communities, organizations. And so in a sense, they bring us on, we help activate their communities, deepen their relationships. And that’s a great way for us too to keep sharing our passion and also provide something really unique and special for our organization. So we’re open to working with aligned organizations as well.
Darla LeDoux: That’s amazing because I know our listeners are hosting their own things, right? Or they have this vision too where they’re thinking, oh, what is that special thing I can bring in to make this different than any other event or experience? That’s a question of how can I get people to open up, right? What’s an exercise I can do to get people beyond put together facade and that’s an option is to have your team come in and host a welcome dinner and really open people.
Pablo Fernandez: Thank you. Yeah. We’d love to speak to anybody from your community. Thank you so much, Darla.
Darla LeDoux: You’re so welcome. Thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing and just thank you for who you are in the world. I smile from the inside out knowing that you exist, so thank you, Pablo.
Pablo Fernandez: Thank you my friend. See you soon.
Darla LeDoux: Bye everyone.
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