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1. What is Meetup?

Meetup is on a mission to help the world’s people self-organize into local groups with others who share the same interests. With more than 6 million people signed up, it is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. In the words of Co-founder and CEO Scott Heiferman, “Meetup is all about local groups, and meeting face-to-face is a big part of what makes a local group special. I guess you can say we give groups the power to use the Internet to get off the Internet.”

A search for groups in the Syracuse area, for example, brings up everything from Bible groups to atheist groups, from Moms and Tots of CNY to the Syracuse Investor’s Business Daily Meetup Group. Whatever the topic, more than 2,000 groups convene each day with the goal of improving themselves or their communities. What’s more, Meetup is currently bringing locals together in more than 100 countries.

Mr. Heiferman noticed that “We spend increasingly more time in front of screens. We’re more connected technologically, but we’re less connected physically.” To help reverse this trend of isolation, Meetup brings likeminded individuals together. Meetup is based on the belief that people can change their personal world, and the world at large, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.

2. How was Meetup created? Can you describe the relationships and collaborative efforts that were involved in bringing the technology to market?

After working for a year at Sony, Heiferman founded i-traffic, the first online advertising agency. After selling it to AGENCY.COM, Heiferman had begun thinking up ideas for a company of his own when his thoughts turned towards the power of community, especially after seeing how effectively New Yorkers mobilized to help in the search and rescue efforts of 9/11. With this in mind, he came up with 30 ideas for his next project and then narrowed them down to two. The first, which he developed with a co-founder, was a company called Fotolog, now a social network that is big in South America. The other was Meetup. He pulled a team of 5 or 6 people together, and they started Meetup.com in 2002, but it took months before any broad array of topics had begun to appear.

“When we were designing the site,” Mr. Heiferman says, “we were wrong about almost everything we thought people would want to use it for. I thought it would be a niche lifestyle venture, perhaps for fan clubs. I had no idea that people would form new types of PTAs, chambers of commerce or health support groups. And we weren’t thinking that anyone would want to meet about politics.”

But now there are thousands of political groups on Meetup. And it was politics that originally helped Meetup gain its first few minutes of fame. Just weeks after Meetup had launched, some Howard Dean supporters approached the company seeking customizations. Initially, they had been using the site to schedule meetings in their communities, but then the campaign noticed the potential of a service like Meetup for political campaigns. At their request, Meetup provided the campaign with additional organizing tools, such as reports about supporters’ aggregate activities. This helped Meetup grow.

3. Would you briefly describe Meetup’s business plan?

Meetup’s investors include eBay, Omidyar Network, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Esther Dyson, and others.

In 2005, the company emailed all of its members (2 million at that time) to announce a policy change whereby organizers of current groups would pay a small fee and organizers of new groups would pay a slightly-less-small fee in order to help the company turn a profit by the end of the year. In return, Meetup offered some new services, which included mailing out materials, such as customized Meetup identification cards and table placards, to help groups function more smoothly. Meetup also arranged for groups to use eBay’s PayPal payment service that allows members to pay fees, pay dues for special events, and conduct fundraising activities more easily.

In 2008, Union Square Ventures funded Meetup to ramp up their technology in order to offer people better tools for self-organizing groups.

Currently, 90% of their revenue stream comes from Meetup organizers who pay $12 to $19 per month to use their system to form community groups; however, organizers comprise a very small portion of their users. The other 10% comes from Google ads and charter sponsorships.

Overall, Mr. Heiferman says, “Our strategy is to keep our customers happy so that our groups succeed, so their success is our success.”

4. What is the current status of Meetup? In what publicly disclosed research and development efforts has Meetup recently been engaged?

One of the improvements coming soon is a change to the search tool that will make it easier for individuals to uncover groups that are relevant but don’t have the search term in their title.

Despite the fact that the site is in English, Meetup is being used widely in more than 100 countries.

5. Who is on the Meetup team?

The staff is now 54 members strong and is led by the following people:

Scott Heiferman, Co-Founder, CEO
Brendan McGovern, Chief Financial Officer
Greg Whalin, CTO
Andres Glusman, VP, Strategy
Mary Telesco, VP Sponsorship
Gary Burn, VP Engineering