This year BNI celebrates its 25th anniversary. In 25 years, the organization has gone from a spare room in Ivan’s house to a multi-national with more than 1000 employees worldwide. Last year BNI members passed 6.2 million referrals and generated $2.6 billion in business.
BNI’s first employee and four of the original founding members are still with the organization.
BNI is now working on the single largest project in its history: BNI Connect, which not only integrates an online social network with the in-person networking, but connects chapters around the world to each other. Watch for the catchphrase “Local Business, Global Network,” which BNI has trademarked.
We believe BNI is the world’s largest business networking organization because we spend so much time on education and training. Take advantage of it.
- Check in with your chapter and see who’s been there longest. Find out about the history of your group.
- Keep an eye on SuccessNet for further developments with BNI Connect.
- Read Givers Gain if you haven’t already.
Brought to you by Ask Ivan Misner.
Complete Transcription of BNI Podcast Episode 154 –
Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Official BNI Podcast brought to you by AskIvanMisner.com, which is a Web site where you can ask Ivan any question you have about networking.
I’m Priscilla Rice, and I’m coming to you from Live Oak Recording Studio in Berkeley, California, and I’m joined on the phone today by the founder and the chairman of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner.
Hello, Ivan. How are you?
I am doing great, Priscilla. Things are really good. Today I’m going to be talking about BNI 25th anniversary.
Thanks! This year celebrates our 25th anniversary, and I just thought it might be good to talk a little bit about where we came from and how we got to where we are a little. And if you have some questions as I reach the end, don’t hesitate to jump in.
I think it’s really important to share traditions of an organization, and the fact that we’re celebrating this milestone is really important, and how we got here is also important.
It started as a humble enterprise in the spare bedroom and garage of my house; has now turned into an organization with about 5,600 groups and over 125,000 members in well over 40 countries around the world.
Wow! That’s a lot of folks!
It really is. BNI headquarters now resides in a commercial building in Southern California. We’ve got roughly 30 employees working onsite, and we’ve another 1,000 people who work for the company all around the world in locally operated regions all around the globe. Since the very beginning, our focus has remained unchanged, our mission has remained unchanged, and that’s to help business people increase their business through a structured word of mouth marketing networking program. And with that focus in mind, I’m really pleased to say that last year BNI members passed roughly 6.2 million referrals last year.
Wow, that’s a lot of referrals!
[It] generated $2.6 billion, $2.6 billion, with a B, U.S. dollars worth of business for our members all around the world globally. And it’s a little bit surreal to look back over the last 25 years. One of the things I think I’m most proud of is that many of my employees and even members have been with the organization for decades, for decades. After 25 years, our first employee is still with the organization, Lonie Misner-Feigerle. My sister has worked with us for 25 years in the organization as well as four of the original founding members, not counting myself, four of the original founding members are still associated with BNI. Mike Ryan and Carolyn Denny still active with the organization; Lee Shimmin is on our Board of Advisors; and Dr. Jim Labriola. All four are still involved in the organization with the first two original chapters, so it’s really awesome to see people who’ve been in for so long.
I think one of the things you might want to do, for those of you listening, is check in with your chapter. Who’s been in your chapter the longest? And there’s some people there with some history that have seen the ups and downs of a group, the cycles of a group. Those are people with some knowledge and experience that’s valuable to listen to.
Soon after the organization began, it was really clear to me that I struck a chord with the business community. I’ve talked about this in previous podcasts. Business networking classes aren’t taught in college or universities. People are hungry for it. It was clear to me that as we expanded into many countries, that BNI was a classic example of thinking globally and acting locally. And this approach has served us well over the last two-and-a-half decades.
Although we’ve grown very strongly with this past strategy, I think it’s time to really look into the future in order to remain the world’s largest, and we are the world’s largest and most successful business networking organization. But increasingly, we’re living in a global community, and the fact that we have started International Networking Week, I think, is indicative of how networking has become so important all around the world.
And with this in mind, BNI is working on the single largest project in the history of the company; it’s called BNI Connect. And this online system will integrate our database with Web sites and an online social network enabling members to not only network in their individual chapters but to also connect the members around the world.
So by the end of this year, the 25th anniversary of BNI, we’ll celebrate the release of BNI Connect. We’ve already started to release it as a beta site in some areas. And the launch of the idea that any local business can, and will be through BNI, have a global network. Any local business can, and will through BNI, have a global network. And I look forward to talking about this more on one of the podcasts. You’re going to see a lot more on SuccessNet, so if you’re listening to this podcast, check out SuccessNet from time to time; you’ll see us talking more about this concept. We are really moving towards and we’ve gotten a registered trademark on the phrase Local Business Global Network, so that you can be in a local business organization but have immediately a global network.
And I think that’s probably the single biggest change for the company in the history of the organization in the last 25 years. In many ways, it’s been Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to have this company and to watch it grow. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. We tried to be pretty transparent about what mistakes we’ve made and why we do things the way we do.
If you haven’t had a chance – if you’re listening to the podcast and you haven’t had a chance to take a look at the book Givers Gain, take a look at that, because the book Givers Gain was written, The BNI Story is the subtitle, it was written to kind of show members what we did right and what we did wrong along the way. Because we felt that understanding our history, understanding where we came from will enable you, as a member, to understand why we do things the way we do. There’s a lot of things in there that I think are really important so see.
For example, I don’t know if you knew this, Priscilla, did you know that when BNI first started, many of our chapters met every other week instead of every week.
No, I didn’t know that.
Yeah, we talk about that in Givers Gain. And so take a look; there’s lots of stuff in there. One of the things we found, by the way, was that the chapters than met every other week, we looked at how many referrals they were passing. Any guess how many less referrals – as a percentage, how many less referrals chapters that met every other week passed compared to chapters that were meeting every week?
Is it more than half?
Yeah, 52 percent less. So groups that we meeting every other week instead of every week were passing 52 percent less referrals than the groups that were meeting every week. And we went to them and we said, “Hey, if we can show you one thing to change, just change one thing and you would double the number of referrals in your group, would you do it?”
And they were like, “Yeah, of course. We’d want a change, double the referrals, we’d do it.”
We said, “Meet every week.”
They were like, “Oh, no, not every week.”
But we learned that, well, you’ve got to meet every week, you’ve got to be in front of people. It’s being in front of those people and building those relationships every single week that makes the difference in generating referrals. And so we’ve learned a lot over the years, and we’ve incorporated that into the program. The program that exists today is really, in many ways, different that what I started 25 years ago, and we’ve tried to learn from those differences and incorporate them into BNI.
This is our 25th anniversary, and I just wanted to take a few minutes to let everybody know that. You’re part of an organization that has been around for a long time and is now the largest business networking organization in the world. And it is that, I believe, because we spend so much time on education and training; and things like this podcast and our newsletter and our blog, all of these things help and have helped to build this into the strongest organization in the world, networking organization in the world.
Well, I just want to thank you for putting this BNI Connect together. I think that is very, very exciting. I love the idea that you can search and find people maybe in your own industry in some other country or potential clients who might want to use your services. I mean, it’s really amazing.
Yeah, I think when it’s really up and running, and we’ll look at BNI SuccessNet.com and you’ll get information on when you can start playing around with it, we do have the social network operating now on a beta basis. And won’t it be wonderful to be able to get online and say, “Hey, I’m going to go visit Australia. I’d love to drop in on a chapter and to be able to connect with a couple of chapters via BNI Connect and say, ‘I’m going to be there; I want to do business in Australia, and I’m going to be there. Can I meet with your members? Can I meet there as a visitor?’”
What a great opportunity that will be for us to network globally. And what about those businesses that don’t really want to do business globally? They can still benefit, because we’re going to have interest groups. So let’s say you’re an accountant and you want to talk to other accountants all around the world as to how they’re building their business through referrals. So through those interest groups, you’ll be able to talk to other people based on professions on what’s worked for them or hasn’t worked for them.
I think this is the single biggest thing we’ve done in 25 years, and it should be operational before the end of this year.
I think it’s great! I love the idea that, let’s say, you’re going to Europe and you want to find people, maybe you don’t know that many people where you’re going, and then you can find a BNI meeting and go to it and it will be very similar to what you’ve just been to at your own meeting. It’s so cool.
Yeah, we’re going to make this much easier for BNI members to be able to do that very kind of thing. And I’ll tell you, and I’ll be really upfront, I had somebody say to me, “Yeah, okay, but you’ve got to make sure that there’s no problems with this, no glitches.” So here’s my promise to you and to the listeners: I absolutely promise you there will be glitches, there will be problems, so work with us and play with it. And as you run into problems, let us know. As a group, as an organization, we can make this technology really work for us and know, going into it that there will be some challenges as we go. But once we have this fully operational, this will set BNI aside from every business networking organization in the world, and that is our goal with this.
Yeah, it’s huge. Well, thank you, Dr. Misner. I think that might be the end of this podcast.
Yep, thank you, Priscilla.
I would just like to remind the listeners that this podcast has been brought to you by AskIvanMisner.com. Thanks so much for listening. This is Priscilla Rice, and we hope you’ll join us next week for another exciting episode of The Official BNI Podcast.