Latino network fulfilling its vision

Something special happens when a person decides to give into his or her desire to connect. In some, that desire becomes more of a necessity. And for the lucky ones, the necessity turns into a vision.

That’s what happened to Redwood City resident Giovanni Gonzalez. As a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, Gonzalez turned his desire to connect with like-minded Latinos into small dinner parties in his home. From there, the need flourished to larger social gatherings throughout the Bay Area. And now, Gonzalez, 31, is the face of a 4,300-member Latino community known simply as LAM.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Gonzalez said as his network is set to celebrate its fifth anniversary with a huge bash at the Ferry building in San Francisco on Saturday. “It started off as a real social gathering related to Latino culture and we just grew out of that. And as it grew, I saw the response from the people. Us Latinos, not always, but most of the time, we’re Latino professionals in the corporate world and education and we find ourselves being the only Latino representatives. I wish it were higher. But there was no platform for me where I could connect with others like myself — dance some salsa, speak some Spanish, just laugh with other Latinos. So that’s why I decided to make it grow.”

And now on the eve of the its fifth year, growth, not just in numbers but in quality, is the theme for the LAM network. Over the years, LAM has experienced a total re-branding (converting its name from Latinos A Morir to just LAM). But what hasn’t changed is its appeal to the Latino community in the Bay Area. The exclusive membership-based community has reached more than 4,300 educated Latino professionals — 80 percent of which have a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent a master’s and 20 a doctorate. And through the years, Gonzalez and LAM has earned the backing of several Latino organizations like the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMA), Latino Business Professionals (LBP), Society of Hispanic and Professional Engineers (SHPE) among others. Not bad for a group that began out of Evites and member-only sent social network invites.

“I want to grow,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t want to grow too fast. I think we’ve built a foundation that’s very strong. You go to an event and you feel like family. It’s not about being elitist,” Giovanni said about LAM’s invite-only approach to adding members, “it’s about wanting to connect with people that we trust.”

Gonzalez’s focus in building a solid foundation with LAM in years one through four allowed him the luxury of fulfilling a dream he conceived with his then-girlfriend now-wife of traveling around the world and put the network on autopilot. He recently returned from the 10-month trek re-energized and focused on taking LAM to the next level.

“[It’s about] opening your eyes,” Gonzalez said of the trip. “I think here, at least in my life, I’ve always been very ambitious, very go-go-go. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think there needs to be a culture change and realize that people need to take time off to explore their passions. I think that’s something that I realize I want to keep doing in my life.”

Gonzalez plans to use LAM to do just that. Known primarily for lively social events, Gonzalez is looking to steer LAM and focus its attention into what he called three verticals: social events, professional development and the nonprofit sector.

“I want to maintain the quality of it all,” Gonzalez said. “The membership has showed they’re passionate individuals. Whatever it is they do in their careers, they’re fun, they’re energetic, they want to meet people, they want to socialize, they want to have personal development.”

LAM also has its hands in educational ventures like Edgeducation and an Internet channel called “AlmaTV,” all in effort to connect Latinos throughout the Bay Area.

“It’s definitely stronger,” Gonzalez said of his passion for LAM. “It’s stronger with the new people and the new generation. They see the organization, they see the 4,300 people, they meet the members and they’re impressed. There’s momentum. People say that LAM, the reason it works, is me. I’m the founder. And I really don’t like that. But I’ll take it. And if that’s the case, I have to capitalize on it and I have to let people know that I’m back. To let people know that I’m passionate about it. I want it to grow. I want people to utilize it.”

LAM’s members have shown the need for this social network. As Gonzalez pointed out, businesses, marriages and even babies are a product of this Latino community.

“That’s why I want to recreate it,” Gonzalez said. “Re-brand the connection people have with LAM. Redefine the connection people have with LAM. I want people to think LAM: That’s a community. LAM is a platform where we can connect, it’s a place we can grow professionally, get help, have fun. Some people say you can’t mix business with fun. I disagree. I want to make people happy.”