TAMPA — Andrew Machota has made nearly 700 friends in the six years since he impulsively moved to Tampa.
He'd be glad to have you meet them, too.
The gregarious certified public accountant from Rolling Prairie, Ind., population 500, knew only one person when he came to town. Mingling at networking events with other young professional millennials could be interesting, but then what?
Machota knew what: more opportunities to meet and hang out with potential pals. He would start a social club with a calendar of activities to choose from, a concept that he envisions replicating in other cities.
"Trust me, I learned the hard way," he said. "I know how hard it is to make adult friends."
Machota wrote a business plan for New Town Connections, then quit his job and sent out 2,000 texts and emails to an August 2015 launch party at the Vault in downtown Tampa.
When 300 people showed up that night, "I had my Field of Dreams moment," he said.
Machota had a line-up ready — brunch, happy hour, pool party — and momentum began to build.
"This is my calling," he said, "to connect people … bringing like-minded people together in real life and forming genuine friendships."
Locals are just as welcome as bay area newcomers, he adds. And unlike a business networking group, there's no competition or pressure.
As the club expanded, Machota compiled his friend-making experiences and published a self-help book: Friend Request Accepted: Connecting In A Disconnected World (available on Amazon.com).
In outlining 18 proactive steps, Machota encourages readers "to just be available." He suggests ditching the technology — smartphone, Email, texts — and position yourself to meet people face to face.
You never know who will alter your lifepath, he writes. Every person you meet really does matter.
Participating in New Town Connections works two ways: Pay membership dues of $19 a month plus individual event fees, such as $25 to go paddleboarding. Or join for $49 a month with no surcharges.
Machota, 36, is the only full-time employee organizing 10 events every month. Hillsborough members slightly outnumber Pinellas folks. "Mostly single," he said, "maybe 20 percent are in a relationship. But it's not a dating club and I don't keep track."
That said, Machota did indeed meet his girlfriend, Jane Thai, through the club.
"We were friends for nine months before I asked her out."
With a limited advertising budget, the start-up relies on members and social media to attract attendees, the biggest challenge.
Software tech support analyst Constanza Lanata, 34, counts people she didn't even know a year ago, "now my best friends." She met Machota at a chamber of commerce Emerge Tampa Bay event. Of course, he invited her to the next NTC gathering and she joined right away, in May 2016.
"Andrew gets to know you and introduces you to people you have something in common with," Lanata said. "I'm very outgoing once I feel comfortable. I just need a little push. He broke the ice."
Will Pedersen, 26, knew exactly two people when he left Hong Kong three years ago: his parents.
"In October of my first year here, I didn't speak to a single person for eight days," he said. "My parents were away and it was incredibly lonely. The only conversation I had was with a Uber driver."
Googling Meet-Up groups led Pedersen to NTC and now, 250 Facebook friends.
"Taco Tuesday was the first thing I went to," recalled the Tampa real estate agent. "There was a really interesting group of young professionals drinking margaritas and watching a sunset at a children's museum. On a Tuesday. I said, 'This is how you make friends.'"
Pedersen said he attended every event for the next four or five months.
"Each time you know at least one person, than two, and they add up."
"Really," he continued, "it's the only reason I stayed in Tampa."
Contact Amy Scherzer at [email protected]