How One App is Bringing Strangers Together Over Meals: With Kerry Fulton

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“At Diner we want to create a movement to get people back around the table eating and talking to each other…”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Fulton of Diner. She is a New Zealand entrepreneur living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a mother of two, and has had a successful global career as a filmmaker. She recently completed an MBA at NYU.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

I’ve always been fearless. I’ve embraced risk and have understood that life is an adventure to be lived. I left home at sixteen to travel the world, starting in Fiji, and then working in a gold mine in West Australia in my teens to save enough money to backpack through Asia. I studied photography in London, and was one of Mario Testino’s first models.

The first time I came to NYC was to attend NYU film school, and I quickly became part of the legendary 1980’s downtown scene. I dined with Andy Warhol, met Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and many others. I am a storyteller and a traveler, and I believe in the power of community and communication.

I moved back to the U.S. in 2013. On one of my outings I struck up a conversation at the vegetarian bar in Eataly with a fellow diner, and discovered the woman had been commuting to work and eating out three nights a week, for five years—completely alone. That’s when I thought that we should be using technology to bring people together, and soon the idea for Diner was born.

I believe you can reinvent yourself at any stage of your life, and in 2015 I entered the MBA program. With Diner in mind, and being a visual learner, I developed it further using the skills I was learning in the program. I graduated in August 2017 with an MBA from NYU Stern, and released Diner a month later.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

From left to right: Reuben Dreiblatt (summer intern), Kerry Fulton (founder and CEO), and Maria Nieto (COO)

The idea for the Diner bucket came about when we hired Reuben (21-year-old Rutgers philosophy major and Uber eats delivery biker) for a summer internship. He showed a passionate interest in food, but arrived without a functioning smartphone and could not download our app. He was a millennial stuck in the sixties. The first thing he told me was that he had been looking forward to attending a university and throwing frisbees on the quad. He was looking forward to all the collegial connections, but instead he found that no one connected on campus.

The cafeteria was a sea of heads, each looking down at their phone, and rarely did people talk to one another. That’s when he painted the picture of Diner, as he envisioned it, in his own words. He said, “Imagine a pizza parlor with three people sitting in a row eating their pizza and on their phones. Now cut to a table with a bucket, and everyone puts their phone in the bucket and talks to each other while they eat.” That’s when our first merchandising idea was born.

So what does your company do?

I am the founder of a startup called “Diner”, a meal hosting app that allows users to curate, brand, and locate their meal experiences. The events can be made private or public, and you can message or chat with the host.

At Diner we want to create a movement to get people back around the table eating and talking to each other. We want to save the world — from itself.

With technological advances, it is now easier than ever to be disconnected, but what I have learned as I have traveled in and out of very different cultures is that we all want the same thing — a greater sense of connection and community.

Kerry Fulton (founder and CEO), Drew Johnson (co-CEO App Partner), Lior Gavra (App Partner project manager for Diner), Derrick Yu (post-launch tech support at App Partner)

Currently in the U.S., 62% of Americans eat alone. Technology, while also offering us all kinds of benefits, is also isolating us more and more. We believe that life happens over meals. This is where real connections happen, trust is built, business deals are sealed, and friends are made. We want to help people achieve these outcomes.

We’re in our third month of beta release, we’ve picked up a good number of repeat users, and in that short time, we have partnered with a meal kit home delivery company, a leading New York restaurateur, a hotel, and a leading non-governmental organization (NGO). We are now pre-producing our first “Diner Dinner Series” where we hope to use media voices to help create the discourse and ‘show’ how the magic of conversation and food creates understanding and empathy—which at this juncture in history seems to be sadly missing.

What makes your business stand out? Can you share a story?

Our business is unique in the market because we are neither too broad nor too niche.

Our app can be used for all meals, at all times, anywhere. Research shows human evolution developed around meal times. History has been repeatedly created around dinner tables.

We are creating an ethos, and Diner is our first product. In the sharing economy, the idea to jump on a table is still undervalued. Everything is moving too fast, and the culture of real life conversation is disappearing. Real emotional intimacy is undervalued. We want our users to embrace that again.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve always been a mentor, and I share whatever I can with everyone I can—especially resources, connections and energy. It takes effort to sit and talk to people, but I know that it makes a difference. I’m committed to helping everyone around me succeed because I know that a rising tide lifts all boats.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my business,” and why?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn3fVDVtI5M

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Arianna Huffington and Maria Shriver are two women I’d love to share a meal with. Not only because I’m personally inspired by both of their stories, but because the legacies they are building through their respective platforms are perfectly in sync with the ethos of Diner.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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