Topic 42 of 52: meetup
Thu, Nov 25, 2004 (09:30) |
Paul Terry Walhus (terry)
Summary: Meetup is an online tool for organizing face-to-face meetings for local interest groups. Meetup is based on the premise is that people with a common interest will meet in person if there is simply a tool available to connect with other similar people. Meetup acts as a virtual "meeting coordinator", providing a routine monthly date and time for the meeting, giving members a limited choice of locations to vote on, and asking them to RSVP online to indicate if they're planning to attend.
Membership: Over 1,000,000 members as of February 2004
Meetups are offered on approximately 4,000 topics in over 600 cities across 50 countries.
Because the user interface is so far only in English, Meetups are limited to cities with a substantial English-speaking population. 23 of the top 25 cities are in the United States, but London and Toronto are in the top 10, and membership is growing significantly in Chennai, Manila, Beijing, Belfast, Munich, Sao Paulo, Oslo, and other international cities.
Meetup has been most popular for political and social cause organizing. The top 3 topics as of February 2004 were for U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Dean, Clark, and Kerry, in that order. 9 of the top 25 topics are for political or social-political causes. It is also popular for connecting members of several online communities, including Bookcrossing, Slashdot, and LiveJournal. Clearly, members of these communities have a desire to meet in person, which they did not have a means of acting on until Meetup developed its service.
Popular work & career topics include Entrepreneurs, Small Business, and Work at Home. Meetup is particularly popular in the entertainment industry (Film Industry, Screenwriters), and among style & design professionals (Graphic Design, Interior Design, and Fashion Industry).
Launched: June 14, 2002 (photo)
Founders: Scott Heiferman, CEO
Peter Kamali, CTO
Matt Meeker, VP/Operations
Corporate Overview: Founder Scott Heiferman previously founded iTraffic, an interactive advertising agency, which he sold to Agency.com in 1999 for $15 million, much of which he ran through on failed keyboard manufacturing startup Rocketboard. Heiferman and Meeker were inspired by the need for a resurgence of local community in the wake of the 9/11 aftermath. The following spring, they connected with Kamali and built and launched the site in a matter of months.
In addition to an undisclosed amount of founder money, Meetup has received over $1 million in funding from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Esther Dyson's EDventure Holidings, and VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Omidyar, Dyson, and DFJ's Andreas Stavropoulos sit on the Board of Directors with Heiferman.
Following his experience with a $500K monthly burn rate at Rocketboard, Heiferman decided to run Meetup lean and mean. Reportedly, when Meetup employees first reported to work in the 380-square-foot office Meetup once called home, a huge banner with the words "revenue minus expenses equals profits" was hung prominently above their desks. Meetup stuck strictly to a $100,000 monthly budget, committed to growing revenues and reaching profitability quickly.
Meetup generates revenues in three ways: premium memberships, venue fees, and additional services for corporate and political clients. They have made a very public commitment to keep the site free from pop-ups and banner advertising (they do run Google AdWords on some pages).
While Meetup has been very successful in signing up political campaigns as clients, it remains to be seen what will happen once the 2004 elections are over and that revenue stream dries up for a few years. Sponsorship deals with author & talk show host Bill O'Reilly, Investor's Business Daily, and others, show that Meetup can reach a longer-term paying customer base.
Fees: Basic membership: Free
MeetupPlus: $19 for 6 months or $29 per year. Additional features include:
Add venues of your choice to the ballot for your Meetups.
Propose agenda items for your Meetups.
Keep a Notebook, which allows you to share your thoughts about the Meetups, post photos, and allow other members to contact you.
Venue partners: Venues pay between $69 and $500 a month to be listed.
Organizational partners: For a fee from $2,500 to $10,000 a month, organizations can obtain additional features, such as setting the agenda topics, controlling meeting dates and times, and the ability to contact Meetup attendees.
Description: Meetup's core functionality is elegantly simple:
Three weeks before the Meetup, members are allowed to vote on three (or more, if a MeetupPlus member suggests a venue) possible venues.
A week before the Meetup, the voting is closed, the winning venue named, and members are asked to RSVP
If enough people (at least five) RSVP, a confirmation is sent out to all who RSVP'd. Otherwise, if not enough sign up, a cancellation is sent.
While Meetup already offers some 4,000 topics, any member may suggest a new topic and recommend a monthly meeting day, e.g., first Thursday, third Monday, etc. Meetup considers the topic, and so long as it meets their guidelines (no duplication, no hate groups), they set a meeting day and make that topic available in all cities. Meetups for a given topic are held on the same day everywhere, which creates a feeling of national or global community across all of Meetup's cities.
Meetup offers several tools centered around the meetings, including:
Profiles — Members can create a very simple profile and upload a photo. The profile is very limited—it consists of a single 250-character text field. However, you can create a separate profile for each topic, so you can make it relevant to that context. Significantly expanded profiles are available to MeetupPlus members in the Notebooks.
Member list — All members of a given Meetup can view the photos and brief profiles of all the other members (in that city) on a single page. There is currently no way to contact the other members; the member list is just a tool to help members know a little about the other members before the Meetup (or before RSVP'ing for it). It also shows each member's RSVP and whether or not they voted for a venue.
Agendas — MeetupPlus members can set an agenda for the meetings. This is a community process — MeetupPlus members suggest agenda items, rate them, and then the top three items become the official agenda. They can also post comments and invite discussion on the agenda topics in their Notebook.
Notebooks — MeetupPlus members can create personal notebooks for each topic in which they participate. The notebook serves as a more robust profile, allowing members to upload up to five photos and provide more information about themselves. It also shows the member's agenda comments and responses to questionnaire items. Members can also allow people to contact them through their notebook (the e-mail address is kept private).
Notes: An interesting aspect of the emergent social networking trend is the combination of the online networking with face-to-face get-togethers. Ecademy and Ryze were started out of in-person networking groups, and eWomenNetwork, originally planned as an online-only community, attracts large monthly luncheon crowds.
But regardless of their origins in face-to-face meetings, on most of these sites, the primary interaction is online, and the face-to-face meetings are a way for some portion of the members to build stronger relationships. Meetup reverses this paradigm—the online interaction exists solely for the purpose of facilitating the face-to-face interaction.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of meetups that are only "theoretical" — Meetup creates an event for every topic in every city, based on the idea that the meeting cannot happen until it is out there as a possiblity. But you can subscribe for your topic/city and be notified via e-mail as to how many people are planning to attend, and which location everyone voted for. They will also let you know if not enough people sign up within a few days before the meetup so you will not show up for a meeting with just yourself.
With many of the social networking sites also offering event/meeting management, one has to wonder whether Meetup's model is sustainable, since its primary functionality has been subsumed as just a feature of these other sites. However, its simplicity has also been much of what has allowed it to grow such a large user base. Quite simply, it meets members' needs effectively. The size and loyalty of that user base, combined with the addition of features such as Agendas and Notebooks that help connect members and sustain communication in between the face-to-face meetings, make it likely that Meetup will continue to grow. Combine that with the overall growth in online social networking, the phenomenal press coverage Meetup has received, and its conservative business strategy, and it should be one of the front-runners for the foreseeable future.
Recommendation: Signing up and showing up for a meetup may seem like a bit of a stretch outside your comfort zone, but keep in mind that it is for the other attendees, as well. You can be assured that the other people you meet, besides being interested in the topic, are also interested in networking, somewhat technologically savvy, and willing to take some chances themselves. That makes an interesting and attractive combination.
For business networking purposes, Meetup is most promising for groups that were not being served well by existing organizations. This accounts for the popularity of topics like Film Industry and various style & design categories mentioned above. However, for broader topics, such as Entrepreneurship or Small Business, where many other alternatives exist for face-to-face meetings, the value is questionable. If a local leader steps forward to help grow the group, then it may take off, but without it, groups may have a hard time creating value. What is the value of going and meeting with four or five strangers just because they happen to be business owners, as well?
However, this void also represents an opportunity. Leading a group is an excellent way to increase your visibility and credibility, but it is also a lot of work. The Meetup platform alleviates much of that effort—finding a venue, scheduling meetings, getting RSVP's, etc. This allows you to focus on recruiting people to join your group, rather than on the logistics of the meeting.
compliments of Scott Allen