As an organization, Meetup has lengthy embraced its place as a small, mission-driven operation. Whereas different social software program firms from the Internet 2.zero period, similar to Fb and LinkedIn, targeted on protecting their customers on their websites for so long as attainable, Meetup’s objective was at all times to get folks off the web. By connecting folks to 1 one other, Meetup would entice them to get offline and go stroll their pugs collectively, apply talking French, or arrange for Howard Dean.
Within the age of billion-person platforms that encourage customers to make hundreds of connections, it appeared quaint, even old style, and positively inefficient. It was rather a lot more durable to scale the act of organizing folks—personally, round widespread pursuits—than it was to develop an organization that targeted on digital interactions, none of which required that folks depart their couches. As these firms added customers and sped towards preliminary public choices, Meetup stayed targeted and tiny. CEO and cofounder Scott Heiferman was by no means in a rush. The final time he raised funds—in 2008—he chosen affected person buyers like Pierre Omidyar and Esther Dyson, who believed companies must also contribute meaningfully to society. “Our primary precedence was independence and to reside inside our means,” says Heiferman. “Our quantity two precedence was development.”
So I used to be shocked to study that Meetup has simply bought itself to the poster baby of hyper-growth: WeWork. After elevating $four.four billion from Softbank’s humongous Imaginative and prescient Fund, WeWork is now valued at near $20 billion, placing it in league with Uber and Airbnb as one of the extremely valued non-public US tech startups. (There are new reports surfacing that WeWork executives traveled to Israel over the vacations to boost extra money.)
WeWork’s cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann is dashing to build out a company that endeavors to regulate the way forward for bodily area. Its executives speak in sweeping phrases about an addressable market that encompasses each final sq. foot of workplace area on the earth. (“Tokyo is a billion. New York City is 400 million. Kansas City is 50 million.”)
Ask Neumann what he’s constructing nevertheless, and he’ll describe a community-manufacturing machine—a startup that, in response to its mission, is a spot the place folks “work to make a life, not only a residing.” “Group” is a type of buzzwords that will get thrown round to explain the whole lot from the individuals who use LinkedIn to the Mississippi church group that handed round clothes after a current twister. However within the wake of the 2016 presidential election, there’s a rising consciousness that digital group—the hyperlinks we make on-line by way of social providers—don’t at all times increase the act of getting folks collectively face-to-face to satisfy each other.
Actual-life group, it seems, is irreplaceable. It’s additionally a a lot more durable factor to program—and few folks know extra about how to try this than the group of executives who run Meetup. “It’s the oldest factor on the earth,” says Heiferman, describing a Jersey Metropolis single mothers Meetup he’d attended lately. “It’s what it means for folks to point out up for one another.”
Inadvertently, Meetup’s contrarian strategy to melding the bodily and the digital could home the answer to this downside of emotional and mental disconnect that everybody is racing to resolve. So whereas it is smart that WeWork, in its objective to personal work tradition, would need Meetup, its sale alerts one thing important. It’s attainable that the instruments for creating real intimate connections by way of tech had been right here all alongside, and that Meetup is about to be a part of an important arms race, as firms notice the worth of—and endeavor to construct—programs that assist us create trusting relationships with each other.
Contemplate the ways in which WeWork stands to learn from Meetup. Although WeWork has been including areas at a fast clip—and at the moment boasts 170 workplaces in 58 cities throughout the globe—the office-space sector is crowded with competitors, from the practical-but-boring old-guard firms, like Regus, to a brand new crop of startups, like Knotel and Grind, attempting to elbow into the market. So WeWork has aimed to tell apart itself by providing an lively work surroundings that appeals to millennials, through which folks can bond casually over beers or at brown-bag lunch occasions. WeWork group managers try to get to know members, and even mark momentous events, in elaborately designed areas with slogans like, “Do What You Love.” WeWork lately acquired the New York-based coding program The Flatiron College, and led a spherical of funding in a coworking area and social membership for ladies known as The Wing. Each are companies that prioritize tradition.
Nevertheless it’s not misplaced on Neumann that, regardless of these efforts, most of WeWork’s members filter after hours. These post-clock-out hours are necessary: We workplace employees normally fill them with the issues that matter most to us. For me, a type of issues really is a Meetup—a grassroots group known as GenderAvenger that focuses on getting superior girls extra publicity at conferences and within the media. Collaborating in it builds my sense of objective and connection. Why ought to that occur at, say, a Starbucks, when Neumann may harness that goodwill throughout the confines of a WeWork? Meetups would fill the area on nights and weekends and provide WeWork a possibility to promote a brand new group of potential clients—Meetup’s 300,00zero organizers—on its providers by giving them memberships that embody entry to the area in addition to a set of providers which may assist them lead their teams.
“There are a whole bunch of hundreds of Meetup organizers who’re month-to-month payers who’re already doing an important job. We may give the organizers a whole lot of instruments,” Neumann says. He believes that a whole lot of organizers are entrepreneurs seeking to construct out small companies round their passions. WeWork’s present advantages, similar to healthcare and workplace providers, may assist that group.
However Heiferman is now not intrigued by the notion of remaining small. It’s clear to him that there’s an urgency to the issue that Meetup has lengthy tried to resolve. It’s additionally clear to everybody else, which suggests there’s now competitors. Earlier this yr, Fb founder Mark Zuckerberg introduced that the corporate would sink extra sources into its efforts to construct communities. It convened a whole bunch of group directors in Chicago for a Group Summit. Zuckerberg attended and used the occasion to unveil a brand new mission for the corporate: “deliver the world nearer collectively.”
Zuckerberg stated that teams are a essential a part of somebody’s Fb expertise, and that the corporate would give attention to rising the variety of customers who took half in “significant teams”—which he outlined as teams that command customers’ consideration whereas on the positioning—from 100 million to a billion. Whereas Zuckerberg didn’t specify what number of of those connections would happen offline, the implication was clear: He was suggesting Fb was about to out-Meetup Meetup.
Because of this the sort of slow-growth technique through which Meetup provides a half million customers each month is now not a great choice for the Little Web Firm that May. Even earlier than Fb’s announcement, Heiferman had been trying to find new methods so as to add urgency to the corporate. That is admittedly a tough factor to do at a middle-aged, midsize web firm, particularly one the place nothing is all that unsuitable. How does one encourage staff to disrupt and reimagine the corporate’s core merchandise in order that it could develop quicker and due to this fact assist extra folks?
Final yr, Meetup launched a redesign geared toward serving to it enchantment to millennials and embrace new machine studying methods to raised join its members for extra informal meetups. Heiferman knew he couldn’t develop the corporate on enthusiasm alone. This previous summer season, he started chatting with buyers to boost cash. In gentle of the pressing want for Meetups, he defined, he endeavored to develop Meetup to a billion members. Pronto. Funding alternatives gave technique to a number of acquisition gives from what Heiferman calls “the same old suspects”—and an invite to satisfy from an uncommon suspect: Neumann.
Over a month of conferences that included a late-night ramble by way of Manhattan, they come across a method that will permit Meetup to stay impartial, simply as Instagram had at Fb, or Waze had at Google, whereas benefitting from WeWork’s money, sources, area, and ambition. “The only query on the desk for Meetup is, ‘How may we’ve extra impression on the world?’” Heiferman says. “So this can be a huge guess on how we will make Meetup extra of a worldwide phenomenon.”
For now, Meetup will stay in its Soho workplaces, only a couple dozen blocks south of WeWork’s company headquarters. However beginning instantly, the corporate will start to rent. Product chief Fiona Spruill says Meetup will double its engineers. And that’s simply to begin. In the meantime, Heiferman says he’s not going anyplace. The most important problem of his profession is now set earlier than him: to remodel Meetup’s 35 million-member platform into a brand new kind of billion-member social service—one which cements the intimate connections between folks in a manner that makes all of us really feel extra related. The way forward for our society will journey on whether or not Heiferman or others like him can determine this out.