Eteri and Lisa

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
9 min readNov 21, 2023


Some of us love to meet new people. Others, like myself, Eteri, and Lisa go a step further and are also passionate about facilitating encounters between strangers.

A friend suggested I meet them because of our shared passion. Well, the first time we met, we engaged in a deep discussion about an endless stream of fascinating topics, and we lost track of time.

Since then, through their project The Breakfast App, I’ve encountered 25 unique individuals. Each chance offering unscripted and authentic human interaction — not motivated by dating or networking, but for the joy of discovering and connecting with someone new.

This interview, however, isn’t focused on The Breakfast App. It’s a spotlight on two people who made it their mission to create chances for others to connect.

In the uncertain world we live in, connection is more crucial than ever. We all yearn for it in various ways. At times, connection is about bonding with the ones we love. On other occasions, it involves expanding our view of the world by embracing new realities.

I believe this interview with Eteri and Lisa will not only broaden your understanding of connection, but also spark your curiosity to meet people different from you.

Bird’s Eye View

Can you give us a glimpse of your life story?

Let’s start with the basics. I was born in the Soviet Union, a country that doesn’t exist anymore, which is good considering it’s history of dictatorship and total isolation from the rest of the world. I grew up in Odesa, Ukraine, a pretty chill and beautiful city by the Black Sea. When I was 19, I went to New York as part of a student summer program called Work&Travel, and it changed my life. In New York, I was exposed to a completely different world. It was full of diverse and open-minded people, everyone had their own dream, and you could feel that energy in every single conversation. The magic was that everyone felt special and also treated you as special. It was very powerful.

When I got back to Ukraine, I was a different person. I had a more global mindset and let myself dream big. So, at 22, I started my first company. It was an event agency, because I wanted to help people create beautiful moments and celebrate them. Then, I created an online gift shop with thoughtfully curated design products from all over the world, because whenever I traveled I’d come across beautiful things I wanted to bring to Ukraine. After that, my passion for traveling got me to start a social network for travelers called Follow My Travel. When I turned 30, I started a company that was all about quality over quantity. It was a linen bedding company inspired by the idea of a beautiful, slow life by the sea. For the past few years, I’ve been building The Breakfast, where we’re completely redesigning how people meet each other in the modern world.

Every company I’ve started directly translates my personal interests and philosophy at different stages of my life. It’s my personal evolution.

I’d say so far my life has been an intuitive and stubborn process of arranging my most valued parts to find the sleekest composition possible.

I was born on the outskirts of Moscow in a green but still rather depressing neighborhood. Literally all of my family members have a background in science, which definitely influenced my worldview and way of thinking. But I was an outlier and went to art school to study communications & graphic design. That happened because I was lucky to get immersed into HTML and web development in high school. I loved building websites, I wanted to make them beautiful, but I had barely any idea how.

This brought me into a world of art, design, creativity, amazing people, and a completely new way of seeing the world. My journey continued onto information design, data visualization, and product design work for clients, followed by my first online collaborative projects, starting an information design consultancy, co-founding a design education project, business sociometry SaaS, and social Q&A platform. And then, finally, building my first startup — a visual bookmarking tool for creatives.

This was all combined with moving cities: I went to New York right after I graduated, then to St. Petersburg, then a bit of time in Paris, Lisbon, Berlin, and Odesa.

Working on multiple projects with various people made me see that design is a super powerful tool, and an inspiring scene, but it was still the how, not the what. In 2017 I took a sabbatical to look for the what — what did I really feel was important to work on? About a year later Eteri and I started The Breakfast.

Bringing diverse people together and building connection among them was always a special part of my life, so sharing this with the world felt super natural. There was clearly a demand for it, and it was the first time I knew I was gonna make it happen as an entrepreneur. And yeah, the social space was something that definitely needed a bold redesign.

Why Lisbon? Why Now?

I fell in love with Lisbon back in 2012, and I kept coming back until I could finally move in early 2021. I don’t want to rationalize my love for it — it just instantly felt homie and magical here. And it still does.

Lisbon definitely holds a sentimental meaning for me, and it’s very unique given its climate, its major role in world history, and the ocean just a 30 minute drive away. But also, we can all feel that something is brewing here, and it’s very exciting to be a part of.

Learning and Reinvention

What does learning mean for you? And how do you learn?

I’m a lazy learner, so I learn only when I feel stuck. That’s what happened when I realized I needed to change my thinking to become a designer. I started digging into how the human mind functions, trying to understand where people get their amazing ideas. This period turned out to be super transformative for me — it’s when I learned about George Leonard and the human potential movement. He wrote an incredible book called Education and Ecstasy, where he states, among other clever things, that “to learn is to change.” I think this is very true and I can personally relate.

My biggest learnings in life were always about changing a significant part of my identity: my decision making, my perception, my reactions to my emotions, my physicality. But also I have enormous respect for practice. Humans learn just by doing things many, many times — we detect patterns and naturally try new approaches, either to optimize things or for entertainment.

And, of course, you learn by seeing how other people approach things.

How important is meeting new people often for your personal growth?

Well, I wouldn’t frame it in terms of personal growth, which can create a boring habit of measuring and evaluating every move we make. For me, meeting new people is an experience that makes my life more interesting, more saturated, and more fulfilling. In an era when we all live two types of lives- digital and real- it allows me to feel alive, have real conversations with real people, and build connection on a very human level. I love hearing people’s stories and how they brought them to where they are right now. There is also a lot of self-discovery that happens when you meet someone new. Have you ever thought about why we act and feel different around different people? Or why we’re more comfortable with some people than with others? There is a lot to learn about oneself in there, for sure.

Connection, Loneliness and the Meaning of it all

What’s your take on the current meaning crisis?

I like to see it as an achievement. A crisis is a problem to be solved, and, honestly, looking for meaning is a nice problem to have. Maslow would be proud of us.

Unlike our grandparents or parents, we generally have sufficient free time, information, and a broad palette of life choices. But choices are horrifying, because we have to cut off lots of other decent options and work our asses off with no guarantee. That’s just risky.

So I guess one of the facets of this crisis and the reason why we are so unsatisfied is that we don’t really come to choices anymore. We don’t commit: to our partners, to our startups, to our ideas.

We can live so many lives now, but we are too risk-averse to really start living a single one. We are paralyzed, and avoiding real action feels bad.

Another facet is probably narcissism. Or individualism, or disintegration, whatever you call it. We are still monkeys who have been used to interacting via grooming, sex, punches, nudges and bites for a million of years, but now we have become physically and mentally individualized by civilization and urbanization. It’s just conflicting.

As a human, I want to be seen, understood, taken care of, and to take care of someone. But I also want to be cool, independent, and free.

I don’t think there is a single answer for everyone, but we are privileged to build our lives around things that are truly important to us. And we can negotiate to find balance.

My philosophy is: don’t let fear bullshit you. You need people around, you need support, you need love, you need attention. And the most beautiful part is that it’s not only rewarding to receive all these, but it’s also rewarding to give these things to others. Our nervous system is designed in a very smart way.

That is why volunteering is one of the best natural anti-depressants. Starting to give, starting to care for another living thing — this is meaningful.

And one more thing: don’t devalue the meanings that other people have found for themselves. It makes your own choice even harder.

Are we all looking for a chance?

That depends on how we define a chance. For me, a chance is an opportunity. And I guess people naturally love when life brings opportunities, but growing older, we become more lazy, or worse, we become “experienced.” Meaning that we’ve been through a lot, and we acquire this default understanding of how things work, and we blindly start missing opportunities. There are a lot of conversations being had about how to preserve the curiosity we all had when we were kids, and my answer would be: to be open to new things and new opportunities, even if it feels like you know it all. Because you actually don’t.

It’s difficult for me to express the joy that comes from bringing people together. Can you take a stab at it?

Haha, do we really want to intellectualize joy?

But yeah, I certainly agree that it’s a very special kind of joy: it’s altruistic because you share something valuable for the good of all, and it’s egoistic because it grants you status and pleasure. This is a very natural tendency in people, and it is one of the reasons why we made it possible to share your profile on The Breakfast, so people can introduce you to others when they feel called to.

I wish we had more things in life as intrinsically positive as bringing people together.

How do we balance the marvel of self-expression and individuality with our inherent need to belong?

Belonging doesn’t mean you have to fit perfectly into any type of group. To me, belonging is about acceptance, whether it’s your family or the Sunday book club you go to every week. And you don’t have to lose your individuality to feel that you belong, that’s not the point. You get this intersection of values or dreams with certain communities, but you don’t have to be 100% aligned with every single person in the group. I don’t believe in totally homogenous groups of people, there is no future in that. Great communities are built on the shared values and inspirations of diverse individuals. So for me, there is no conflict between keeping your individuality and belonging to various communities.

Past and Future

Can you share some of the major lessons you’ve learned in life?


  1. Don’t leave any stone unturned if something feels wrong, or else it will only get worse.
  2. The less communication bandwidth you use, the more primitive communication is. Talk to people in person.
  3. Don’t explain it, be it.

Which big questions do you have on your mind currently?

I think a lot about the culture in companies and teams. How do you communicate your values and philosophy so it becomes the norm for everyone and is translated in daily interaction, both between teammates and with the users or customers? Can a company preserve its quality and its values as it scales up? Can it stay creative rather than defaulting on corporate processes and bureaucracy? Are we done having conversations about “a more productive and optimized life”? Can we envision a universal religion/culture that embraces our differences and establishes the core values of modern humans? What does it take for brave, creative people with dignity to get into politics to change the narratives and practices?

How do you face the future? Do you make plans for it?

We launched The Breakfast a month and a half before the first COVID lockdown. We raised our first round a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, and lost the only two markets we had at the time. So, we do make plans. And then we remake them.