The Internet Makes You Social
Around 8 p.m. on a recent Monday, about 35 people of disparate ages were sitting on the marble steps of the public atrium inside Two World Financial Center, listening to a 25-year-old in baggy jeans named Jordan Phoenix talk about Living. “This is the class where we figure out who we are and what we want to do with our lives,” he told his audience, a range of artists and professionals, employed and unemployed, 20-somethings and middle-aged divorcees who, like me, were drawn in by Mr. Phoenix’s aggressive pitch on the website Meetup.com.
As the post had put it: “This group is for you if you know you are capable of greatness, but are unclear and frustrated about how to get there.” The group, “Start Living in 2012,” had picked up more than 100 members in three days, which made it a very fast-growing meetup group indeed.
“I love that everyone here showed up,” Mr. Phoenix said. “Sixty-eight people RSVP’ed. Thirty people didn’t show up. Guess what? They’re not invited to the next meetup, because they’re bullshit artists.”
I had no intention of going to the next meetup. As much as I want to start living in 2012, I was merely a tourist.
Some founders start with a dictionary and come up with a name; some start with a name and get into the dictionary. It’s not in Merriam Webster yet, but sharp-eyed Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman noticed this morning that the name of his 11-year-old startup is now included in the internet’s leading [arguable] lexicon, Dictionary.com, complete with shoutout.
Yes We Can
Meetup started offering Meetup Perks, a program for advertisers to offer members-only deals to certain groups, back in February. Sponsors “For example: If you own a bike store, you may want to post an offer for a discount on products and services to Bicycling Meetups,” Meetup says. Brands pay Meetup $5 for each user who accepts a perk. Sounds like a win-win for brands and users, no? But apparently the system doesn’t work quite as well as it should: a Meetup user in D.C. is suing the site over a botched Perk in which American Youth Symphony offered users free tickets, then charged them a cancellation fee for performance tickets that were not used within a set period of time.
Meetup joins Foursquare, Tumblr and ZocDoc on the list of New York startups growing too big for their britches. Yesterday the 10-year-old startup demolished its desk setup at 632 Broadway in Soho. “Like the circus leaving town,” CEO Scott Heiferman tweeted. Who needs movers when you work at a can-do startup? “To keep up with all of us and make room for future Meetuppers, the Meetup HQ offices are undergoing a serious overhaul,” says the Meetup blog. “We could have left all the heavy lifting to the professionals, but where’s the fun in that?At Meetup, we are all about DIO: Do It Ourselves. So earlier this morning, we grabbed some tools and dismantled our office space together.” So they do call themselves Meetuppers!
On the Saturday that thousands of protesters marched to Times Square, the brass bells of the New York Stock Exchange rang out at noon–signifying the takeover of the trading floor by the New York startup community. Companies like Etsy, Meetup and ZocDoc were handing out t-shirts and branded ping pong balls to fresh-faced engineers in backpacks who circled the screen-filled roundabouts while munching the complimentary sandwiches provided for SA500, a Silicon Alley recruiting event.
The choice of venue could be interpreted as symbolic aggression. New York startups compete fiercely with the finance sector for programmers and MBAs–and while they can’t match Goldman’s salaries, they do make the social argument. Knewton wants to transform education, Sulia wants to reinvent news, and the mobile payments app Venmo wants to replace credit cards. Meetup is “starting a local community revolution”; Etsy’s mission is to “empower people to change the way the global economy works.” The lofty talk of startups is not unlike the rhetoric of the protesters, who are advocating–albeit vaguely–the most radical agenda of any political movement in recent memory.
“I see them as very, very similar,” said Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO of Meetup.com, who orchestrated a field trip to the protest after a recent board meeting. “Most of the successful startup people are out to make a dent in the universe and change the world in some way, and that’s what they’re trying to do downtown. I can’t speak to the people who are just hanging around for the free pizza, but there are people downtown who are really fired up to see some sort of systemic change in culture.”
But while they’re definitely talking about the protest, many techies aren’t sold. The movement has high engagement (and revenue!) but the brand, the marketing and the roadmap need work.
Foursquare is being very strategic with its hackathons! We remember the first foursquare hackathon like it was yesterday. It was at General Assembly. It was right before South By Southwest. GroupMe built a foursquare app and subsequently broke out; Parisian hacker Pierre Valade built Agora, which eventually led to an internship at foursquare and the banning of the app by Twitter for misdemeanor spam.
As a result of the first hackathon, SXSW attendees had plenty of new foursquare apps to play with in between sessions of real foursquare in the startup’s PepsiMAX-sponsored court and awareness of the API spread amongst developers. Foursquare is pushing next weekend’s Global Hackathon just as cunningly. Remember when Meetup.com declared a National Pug Meetup Day and sent emails to pug lovers they found on the internet, encouraging them to create their own pug meetups in their cities?
On a recent sweltering Saturday afternoon, a group of young men gathered in a dance studio in midtown overlooking Eighth Avenue. The room, oddly but appropriately, smelled faintly of hay.
A grand piano had been pushed to the wall to accommodate a series of folding tables, and a fan was rotating lazily, attempting to combat the 98-degree heat. At the door, a volunteer handed out raffle tickets and solicited pizza preferences for lunch. The guests—mostly in their 20s and overwhelmingly in favor of facial hair and cargo shorts—milled around, but no one strayed far from a table at the front of the room, which was covered end-to-end with My Little Pony merchandise.
Lording over the spread of glittering pastel wares was a stocky man with graying hair and glasses who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a pink pony and the words “HATERS GONNA HATE.” Hello, his name tag read, My name is Cupcakes.
Welcome to the world of the Bronies.
Is it possible for a networking event to jump the shark? If so, meetups may be very close.
In Adrianne Jeffries’ feature this week on start-up fever affliciting New Yorkers with a bad case of wantrepreneurship, we listed what we thought was already a high number of networking spinoffs from the original New York Tech Meetup. Dumbo Tech Breakfast, UWS Startup Meetup, and the New York Technology Bathhouse Meetup come to mind. But none of the options on that growing list meets the particular specifications of ff Venture Capital’s David Teten. He and venture partner Mike Yavonditte from Hashable are launching “a periodic Meetup for people who work in the innovation community and who are parents of pre-teen children.” Sorry, Fred Wilson, your kids are too grown.
On Business Insider, Mr. Teten writes, “We envision organizing activities that our kids, partners, and we will all jointly enjoy.”
Seth Godin, upstate New Yorker, TED speaker and perhaps the one person who can really call himself a marketing guru, due to his brand of compassionate and self-determinist philosophy coupled with his natural talent for hustling, has inspired no fewer than 1,155 communities on Meetup.com. Many of them are also hosting an event today based around one of his books, Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?, the book that “brings all Seth’s ideas together.”
Considering moving the rumor roundup from Monday to Tuesday, as Monday is just so close to Friday… Feel free to give your opinions!
VISITING DIGNITARIES. Actor Kal Penn, liaison to the young people on behalf of the White House, is doing an “entrepreneur round table” tonight at General Assembly! Hope some residents were thoughtful enough to pick up some White Castle.