Earlier this month, Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman announced the newest member of the Meetup cap table: Zappos front man Tony Hsieh. “indeed, tony (zappos ceo) bought out one of our shareholders,” Mr. Heiferman wrote in a company-wide email.
“i’m thrilled–because tony is a true hero of great companies, cultures, customer experience, community and it can’t hurt to have another hsieh around,” he added, referring presumably to Richard Hsieh, Meetup’s lead software engineer here in New York.
Shut Up Nerds
Over the last few years, the rhetoric in Silicon Alley has started to sound like a Bring It On sequel. The rhetoric is dominated by two themes: boostery New York exceptionalism—in September 2009, the high-profile investor Fred Wilson gave a talk called “NYC’s Startup Scene: What makes it special?”—and the David and Goliath narrative, with Silicon Valley as the reigning champion versus New York as the cool, scrappy young challenger. Read More
Meetup.com had a record 1 million “joins” (when a user joins a Meetup group) in January, the same month in which Betabeat undertook a seven-day exploration of the compendium of subculture the site has become. We knew this thing was zeitgeisting! As you can see on this chart, the joins in January—typically a big month for Meetup, resolutions and all that—is a big, big spike and an all-time record. The news came via a mass email invitation to the grand opening of Meetup’s new NoHo headquarters (movin’ on up).
Scott Heiferman, the co-founder and CEO of Meetup.com, chatted with us about the state of Meetup in February 2012, after Betabeat had just finished going to seven random meetups in seven days straight. Here is the full transcript of the interview, with minor edits for length and clarity.
You started Meetup right after 9/11, and Read More
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.
About 60 of 200 registered attendees gathered at New Work City last night to hear two-minute speeches by the candidates for an open New York Tech Meetup board seat. Meetup and NYTM founder Scott Heiferman stood in the audience in a red hoodie, board member Esther Dyson settled on the window ledge in a #newsfoo t-shirt, and scene staple Gary Sharma wandered about with his sponsored tie (Pivotal Labs and Inkba) as 15 candidates gave their vision of what should change about the largest meetup in New York, which last year incorporated as a nonprofit 501c(6), giving it the power to lobby government, among other things.
Yes We Can
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.
This is a guest post from Nate Westheimer. Nate is an engineer, entrepreneur, and angel investor. Currently, Nate serves as Executive Director of the NY Tech Meetup, Advisor to Flybridge Capital Partners, and Founder/Advisor to Ohours.org. He blogs at innonate.com.
As the NY Tech scene has gained momentum over the past few years, I find myself talking to a lot of journalists who are trying to understand what’s going on here and how we arrived at this point.
In these interviews, I always highlight NY Tech’s unique culture, and in so doing I point out that this culture is both native to New York itself, but also cultivated and defined by folks in the tech community 5 to 10 years ago, before this Great Boom showed up in Gap ads and magazine covers.
In my opinion, the culture we have here has been defined by three people:
BNTER ADOPTS THE MAKERY. Matt Langer, former GroupMe contractor, recently became Matt Langer, real GroupMe employee, even though his mug is still missing from GroupMe’s page of surprisingly unflattering team headshots. Mr. Langer is settling happily into his new environs, comforted by the security of staff meetings and welcome wedgies from senior GroupMes.
But what became of the beloved Brooklyn coworking space Mr. Langer bore, groomed and subsidized out of his own pocket? The Makery will continue as a coworking space, but is not accepting new tenants, Betabeat learned. Makery resident Bnter, headed by co-founders Lauren Leto and Patrick Moberg, has taken over the lease, Ms. Leto said. “It’s Bnter offices, but everyone is still here,” she told Betabeat. “As people leave, we will not replace them, because Bnter is growing weekly.” The startup has four employees now and will have five as of October 17, and probably seven by the end of the year, Ms. Leto said. “So weekly isn’t true,” she amended. “Ha, my math is lovely.”
The Makery officially closed on Sept. 1, Mr. Langer said, which coincided with the space’s one-year anniversary. “I was so happy to let it go because I was just losing so much money on it,” Mr. Langer said. “Like SO MUCH.” (We were speaking on Gchat.) “PEACE OUT, $500 CON ED BILLS.”