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Interview with Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup

Meetup has been extremely successful by targeting the community aspect of the Internet and focusing on services that people need in order to connect.

Interview conducted by Nathan C. Kaiser on Tuesday, April 20, 2004 in New York, NY.

Can you give us an introduction to Meetup?

Meetup is an easy to use website that helps people all around the world to organize local meetings. These meetings can be focused on whatever our members are interested in. Our job at Meetup is to give people the tools to organize these events and help move the process along.
How does the process work?

A member creates a meeting on a specific day, and then like-minded members can coordinate to ensure that meetings take place all over the world on that same day. Our system allows members to coordinate real world face-to-face meetings on any topic of interest.
How large has your service become?
We have over 1,000,000 members and are currently seeing thousands of meetings take place per week around the globe.
How did the idea originate?

The primary inspiration was the book “Bowling Alone”, which is by Harvard Sociologist Robert Putnam about the decline of community in America and how people don’t know there neighbors anymore. The Internet does a number of wonderful things, but it treats geography as irrelevant. We still live in a world where the local level is extremely important.

So you are using the Internet to facilitate the redevelopment of a community atmosphere?
We are providing a service that revitalizes the Internet for local communities.
Meetup has been very successful as a facilitator of grass roots political involvement, where do you see this opportunity going?
That was not something that we anticipated. Our goal is to provide our users more control, capabilities and communication between other members. Politics is not something we thought of when we were designing the system. Overall, it is a really great testament to how the Internet should work. I doubt that Marc Andreessen envisioned how many ways his Internet browser would be used.
You have to be able to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
The great thing about a platform is that we have no idea how Meetup will be used in the future. I do know that we are designing it so that it is flexible and scalable enough to handle these unexpected opportunities.

How else do you meet these unexpected markets?

We need to continue listening to what people want and build it for them. We have a pretty intense feedback loop with our customers. Our members use our site constantly and are always providing feedback and ideas for how to improve the site. There is a constant cycle of improving how Meetup works.
What are the key metrics you use to determine whether you are succeeding at your goal?

When a Meetup goes well or doesn’t go well we know almost immediately. This information is used to understand where the process needs to optimized, changed, or fixed and we do so very quickly. It requires constant optimizing and tweaking of the service.
Do Meetups tend to be onetime events or long-term recurring get togethers?
The biggest surprise for us is that the meetings are turning into long lasting sustainable groups that meet month after month. Whether a knitting Meetup, Political Meetup, Dog Meetup, etc. these people treat their groups like local institutions.
What is your revenue model?

Our revenue has been growing significantly every quarter. We have three sources of revenue. One source of revenue is that venues pay to be listed in our directory. They are then listed as a preferred location, but the people always get to vote on where they meet.

What about a subscription service for users?
There is a premium pay service for users, which provides access to additional features on the site. They receive the ability to nominate a specific venue where they want to meet. All users can choose where to have events if they are already in our database, but there is a fee to add additional locations.
What is the third revenue source?
We also get paid by organizations that like to see their people meet up. They pay for additional information and more control over the meet up. Paying members include the Democratic Party to the largest conservative Think Tank to MTV to the AARP.
What about advertising?
We also utilize Google Adwords throughout the site.

What is the key value to paying members?

Our value proposition to paying members, such as a coffee shop owner is very simple. Being a listed venue on Meetup will get more people in the door.
How have you grown so quickly?

People ask that a lot. It is kind of like asking how people get a lot of publicity. It is very simple; you need to provide something that people want to write about. Our growth has been driven by the simple fact that we have built something that people want to use. Generally the things that people gravitate towards are things they want. We have seen this growth without spending a dime on advertising.
Who are your main competitors?
We don’t really see that many competitors out there. There are a number of services that providing meeting coordination and planning, but they are for single events. Our services let planners create and organize recurring events globally. Our service provides tools that allow people looking for events in Cedar Rapids to be redirected to Iowa City if there aren’t enough people in their hometown. There aren’t any other sites that provide a service such as ours.
How large is your corporation.

We are proudly a small company, with only 25 people. It is a point of pride that we can facilitate thousands of meetings with such a focused team of people.

What are the key characteristics that you look for in potential employees?
Most importantly you want to find people who naturally have some of the same values. By that I don’t mean that they look the same, act the same, etc. At Meetup.com we realized that we are in a very lucky position where we are doing stuff everyday that gets a lot people excited. Our service brings joy to a lot of people’s lives. We are looking for people who enjoy the idea that we are creating these connections.
What are your insights into entrepreneurship?
Focus on how you are helping people. Most companies are focused on helping people somehow. Whether the company that runs basic services, they are providing a needed service. More often than not people get so wrapped up in the scheme around the business that they lose track of the core value. They are talking more about member acquisition, when they should really be talking about how to ensure that customers are enjoying what they are doing.
They may have lost focus on the core value they provide to customers.
At the end of the day measure your success by whether you or helping people or not. So many things fail when people lose focus on what they are providing to customers.

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