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Friday, December 13, 2013

Meetup CEO: We're Doing What Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Can't Do

by Catherine Clifford, Dec. 13, 2013
“That’s one-word: Meetup, with a capital M and not a capital U. People sometimes screw that up,” says Scott Heiferman, as he speaks to me from a couch in the middle of his company's New York City headquarters one Tuesday in November. “I am a bit of a brand design freak.” The main Meetup office is one long, open room with workstations that all look nearly alike. Everything is accented in red to match the Meetup nametag logo.
Heiferman doesn’t beat around the bush much: He’s what you might call a straight shooter. He swears a decent amount and is aggressively focused on growing Meetup, the site he founded that allows people to create social events around a common activity or interest.
Officially founded in 2002, Meetup has kept a relatively low profile for a global company with an impressive and growing global reach. That’s kind of on purpose. Meetup has zero marketing, communications, public relations, business development or partnership-building staffers.
Meetup also doesn't run ads. Heiferman says advertisements are distracting and ugly. In fact, when he checked out before his conversation with me, he was ultra-annoyed by the ads he encountered. And he made sure to point that out.
In many ways, Heiferman's vision for Meetup is as straightforward as his personality. He wants the site to be about helping people form communities offline. “This is the people, the people, self-organizing to help each other. And it is the most beautiful thing in the world,” Heiferman says. “Google doesn’t do that. YouTube doesn’t do that. Facebook doesn’t do that. Twitter doesn’t do that.”
More than 10 million events have been scheduled through Meetup, which hosts more than 140,000 groups worldwide. International growth has been the fastest of late, and hot spots of growth include France, Spain, Asia and India. The number of non-U.S. meetups has doubled in the past year.
Meetup CEO: We're Doing What Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Can't Do
Hefierman is perched on the arm of the couch in the black sweatshirt.
Image credit: Randy Au from Meetup
To keep pace with the growth, Meetup has been hiring as fast as it can, says Heiferman. The night before this interview, Heiferman had been out on a “Meetup crawl,” wherein a handful of new employees drop in on a half-dozen Meetups near the corporate headquarters in Lower Manhattan. The latest batch of new hires dropped into a Scottish dancing Meetup, a robotic hacker Meetup, a Meetup to learn how to speak English, a pickling Meetup and an Arabic-language Meetup, among others.
Diversity is part of the identity of Meetup. No single Meetup category – whether it be surfing or sockmaking – makes up more than 10 percent of the total and none of the cities where Meetups are hosted can claim they host more than 10 percent of all Meetups. The point is simply to bring people together -- to give strangers a forum to not be strangers anymore.
The concept for Meetup started germinating in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, when Heiferman was living in Lower Manhattan. Heiferman met, talked to and connected with more of his neighbors in the days following than he ever had before. And he was touched by the power of simple, local community. “The germ of every Meetup and all this good stuff that comes out of it is the opportunity to say ‘Hello,’” says Heiferman.
And what power there is in the Meetup “hello.” Everything from business to love has been born from the connections generated on Meetup. For example, once-upon-a-time investment banker Dale Choonoolal used to run soccer Meetups in and around New York City as a way to meet fellow sport enthusiasts. The Meetups were so popular that Choonoolal ditched his finance job and has been able to earn as much as six figures in a year just running soccer Meetups. In one of those co-ed soccer Meetups, two members – Justine Freitas and Bikash Gurung – met and ended up getting married.
Meetup CEO: We're Doing What Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Can't Do
Justine Freitas and Bikash Gurung met at a soccer Meetup and ended up getting married.
Image credit: Dale Choonoolal
Meetup’s revenue comes from Meetup Organizer user’s fees: Organizers pay $19 for one month’s access to the Meetup network, $45 for three months or $72 for six months. Attendees, who account for about 98 percent of users on the site, pay nothing to sign up for the Meetup service. Also, Meetup has very recently started giving Meetup Organizers the option to collect dues from the attendees on the website. Meetup collects a processing fee for that service.
Use of Meetup in the U.S. generally trends with the population density, but there are some cities where Meetup is used more heavily than others. For example, the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina is especially Meetup-dense, notes Heiferman. “If you wear a Meetup t-shirt down there -- and I have experienced this -- it’s like Jesus down there." While people like to come up with reasons why certain cities are more Meetup popular than others, Heiferman doesn’t buy it. “I think it is the randomness of serendipity that something just -- catches wind.”
Heiferman is a big believer in the importance of timing. And he has also learned to trust his own intuition. After leaving a successful career in advertising and before launching Meetup, Heiferman started a photo sharing social network called Fotolog. This was in the first couple years of the new millennium, and Heiferman says his concept was too early. People weren’t as comfortable with taking, posting and sharing images as they are now. Also, the average smartphone camera was not good enough to make taking and sharing photos as rewarding as it is today. Heiferman sold Fotolog in 2007.
As wrong as he was about the timing of a photo-social site, Heiferman says he is perfectly on target with Meetup. “The prime-time for Meetup is still a few years away,” he says.
If Heiferman is correct, we will be hearing a lot more about Meetup in coming years, even if not from Meetup directly. That's because, despite their mission of bringing groups of people together, Meetup staffers aren’t much for talking with other businesses. “We don’t take meetings. We don’t talk to anyone. We just focus on the product. And we are growing like hell,” says Heiferman.
To which this reporter could only ask: “So why are you talking to me?”
Heiferman smiles a bit. “To make sure we are not being so weird,” he says.  
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

5 Signs You're Standing In Your Own Way to Success

By Stephen Key, Sep. 12, 2013
While a lot of the entrepreneurs I've met and mentored in the past decade have been successful, I've probably met as many, if not more, unsuccessful entrepreneurs. Each of them seemed to make a lot of the same mistakes -- ones that could be easily remedied, but when left unaddressed, could mean the difference between success and failure.
Here are five signs you're getting in your own way to success and how to move over and let yourself be the best you can be:
1. You're unable to complete a task before starting a new one.
Some entrepreneurs just cannot finish. For whatever reason, it doesn't matter how much time they have or how many resources are available to them -- they can't focus and get something done. Maybe it's the fear that their final product could be better, or they're worried it isn't perfect and they won't be able to make changes later.
But Seth Godin got it right in his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? when he wrote: "The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship." If you miss deadlines and are always late, in the end, you'll have little to show for yourself.
I always say, if it's 80 percent there, it's good enough. Because: you must ship.
2. You micro-manage everything.
Unsuccessful entrepreneurs want to do everything themselves. They don't believe anyone else can get a job done as well as they can. But even if they were actually right about this -- which is doubtful since no one is good at everything -- it's an unsustainable business philosophy.
If you want to grow your business and become a leader, you're going to have to learn to trust others. Everyone needs a support team -- even the most competent people.
3. You're always right.
I've noticed that it's difficult for some entrepreneurs to admit when they've made a mistake. But if you fail to acknowledge a mistake, you miss out on a learning opportunity. Mistakes are stepping stones to success.

Ask for advice and admit when you're wrong, so you can quickly move forward and do better.
4. You ask questions, but don't really pay attention to the answers.
You know the type of person I'm talking about. They ask for your opinion, but they're only really interested in what you have to say if it's exactly what they already believe. That baffles me. These kinds of entrepreneurs surround themselves with people who will only ever agree with them. That's bad for business. You'll make better decisions if you abandon your stubbornness, truly weigh different points of view and try to understand other perspectives.
5. You always find reasons not to move forward.
The timing isn't right. The economy isn't doing well. You don't have enough capital. Whatever the excuse, you always have one. But guess what? There will always be reasons to not move forward! You just have to decide to press on. Create options for yourself, be flexible and have courage. That's really what it is: having the courage to take on risk.
As entrepreneurs, we all make mistakes. That's part of the fun of being willing to take risks. But over the years I've learned that the more humble and receptive you are, the more likely you'll succeed.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Stephen Key is an inventor, author, speaker and co-founder of InventRight, LLC, a Glenbrook, Nev.-based company that educates entrepreneurs in how to bring ideas to market.

4 Lessons in Success From Millionaire Entrepreneurs

By Lindsay Lavine, Oct. 23, 2013
How great would it be to be a fly on the wall as some of the biggest companies are developed? Or to hear about the challenges entrepreneurs have faced on the road to their first million? Last week at the third annual Chicago Ideas Week, a group of successful entrepreneurs opened up about how they created their companies, shared the successes and struggles faced along the way, and the lessons learned from the experience. Here are their pearls of wisdom:
1. Accept failure as part of the journey.
"The great ones treat failure as a necessary part of their journey. It's not win or lose. It's always win or learn," says Eric Lefkofsky, CEO of Groupon. Lefkofsky shared several anecdotes of past ventures that failed, including Brandon Apparel Group and Starbelly, which he says led him to the brink of bankruptcy in 2001. That year, he started InnerWorkings, a print procurement company that was a success. Lefkofsky insists there was no magic to what worked and what didn't. He kept working and trying new things until eventually he developed InnerWorkings and things clicked.
2. Keep your eyes open for opportunities.
For the founder of Honest Tea, inspiration came at the grocery store. Dr. Barry Nalebuff, a professor at Yale School of Management, was just looking for a good glass of tea. While there were dozens of beverage options already in the marketplace, Nalebuff found water was boring, soda to be liquid candy, and diet drinks dangerous.
He applied economic theory to the beverage market, and found that the best product should be less sweet: Less calories for the customer, less cost for the manufacturer. Nalebuff knew tea was the world's cheapest luxury good, and teamed up with a former student, Seth Goldman, to create Honest Tea in 26 days back in 1998 (they sold Honest Tea to Coca-Cola in 2011). Nalebuff calls it the "Princess and the Pea" theory, after the children's tale: "If something out there's annoying you, that's an opportunity," Nalebuff says.
3. When opportunity knocks, be ready for it.
After Honest Tea launched, Nalebuff was at a yoga retreat and noticed Oprah Winfrey on a nearby mat. Because he always carried samples with him everywhere he went, Nalebuff offered Winfrey a drink, and Honest Tea was subsequently featured in her magazine. "When opportunity strikes, you have to be prepared for it," Nalebuff says.

4. There's no set path to success.
"There's no set path to success, there are many ways to get there." says Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans and a principal of Detroit Venture Partners, an organization that funds start-ups and is leading revitalization efforts in Detroit. Gilbert says he's most proud of creating an environment that lets his employees sell and listen to customers. Both he and Quicken Loans' CEO answer complaint calls. When asked what drives him, Gilbert says, "I like to build. Most entrepreneurs at their core like to build."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Where to Find a Community If You're a Solopreneur

Building a business all by yourself is not only a daunting proposition, it's also an extremely lonely venture that could potentially be much more fun and effective if only there were a few more brains in the mix.
We've all been there before -- searching online for answers to complex questions, naively making the same mistakes that just about every other business owner has made before. But there's good news: It doesn't have to be this way.
If you're running your business alone, it's imperative and in your best interest to surround yourself regularly with the right people. Fortunately, finding those people is becoming easier and easier -- and it doesn't necessarily mean you have to go through the difficult task of finding a co-founder or business partner.
Meet with like-minded masterminds
Across the country, a new wave of communities is sprouting up. It's practically becoming a movement, and it's committed to supporting small-business owners and entrepreneurs. You can find this taking place at co-working offices, targeted networking events and incubators that host "mastermind" meetings and facilitated problem-solving forums.
"It's hard to achieve anything great alone," says Lewis Howes, an author and lifestyle entrepreneur. Howes regularly runs "mastermind" meetings, where like-minded people come together and share ideas to help each other reach goals. In a mastermind meeting, which can be held on a weekly, monthly or as-needed basis, everyone is accountable to support each other's venture and provide constructive feedback based on his or her own expertise.
Seek out formal training and support
This kind of support isn't exclusive to Silicon Valley -- you can also find it across the country at business incubators and co-working hubs. "Accelerators and incubators are like good MBA programs," says Christian Renaud, principal of business incubator StartupCity Des Moines.
StartupCity Des Moines was founded to support the explosion of new technology startups in central Iowa and to expose entrepreneurs to other business owners, mentors and educators. "You benefit as much from your peers as you do from the formal curriculum. You end up learning from each other's successes and failures, so the teams get better, faster," says Renaud.
When it comes to networking, it's common to start finding yourself at events where all the faces are familiar and all of the conversations seem to be the same. Fortunately, unique opportunities are now popping up nationwide to assist business owners who are looking to network and talk through their complex business problems.
Problem-solve with people who aren't exactly like you
"The most brilliant people in the world can't get to a compelling solution if they aren't aligned on how they're getting there and how to talk through it," says Jason Wisdom, co-founder of The Design Gym. The New York City-based Design Gym is an educational company that teaches a methodology for solving problems creatively. Its community is made up of teachers, novelists, entrepreneurs and bankers.
"Those diverse lenses coming together and looking at the same problem is what makes for unique and interesting solutions," Wisdom says. "We're seeing the beginning of much more loosely defined teams."
Network with people you wouldn't normally meet
Another uniquely designed networking event is Wok+Wine. Here, strangers gather to eat prawns, drink wine and talk business. Over 120 events have been held in 10 countries.
"By having to explain your concept to someone with a very different perspective to you," says Wok+Wine Chief Engagement Officer Peter Mandeno, "you find gaps that need addressing or opportunities that need exploiting."
The best communities and events aren't just about meeting new people -- they add value and help attendees gain insights for achieving goals. Whether a mastermind meeting, a co-working environment or a networking event, these gatherings have led to attendees finding business partners, vendors and customers. Some have even found more long-term mentors and advisors.
It may sound intimidating, or you may be wondering why you should invest time in something that isn't directly related to running your business. But remember -- building and maintaining a strong and diverse network can provide a significant boost as your business grows, pivots or looks to transition.
"Even the best entrepreneurs can learn from one another," says Renaud.

Monday, March 18, 2013

7 Steps for Planning a Kick-Ass Networking Event

By Adam Toren from FROM Young Entrepreneur, Mar. 18, 2013

Lamenting the end of SXSW Interactive? Don’t. Instead, consider throwing your own conference.

I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. As a young entrepreneur, you might run into the challenge of being taken seriously by more seasoned business people. We’ve talked before about what you can do to build up your credibility, and holding a business event is an increasingly viable way.

When you plan and sponsor a networking event, you’re suddenly transformed into a business leader in the community. You’re responsible for bringing entrepreneurs together to talk shop, and only a leader does that. Add to that pulling off a really great event, and you’ll be seen as a leader and an authority in your community, regardless of your age.

Plus, you can’t beat the exposure. People often talk about great events they’ve attended, and that means the benefits extend well beyond the event itself.

Here’s how to pull off a successful event:
1. Make it easy. Use a pre-made registration app, such as Eventbrite to allow attendees to register. Having people register in advance helps you estimate the attendance ahead of time, and it gets a commitment from attendees, while providing an automated reminder via email.

2. Choose a venue wisely. Many nicer hotels will allow you to hold a networking event in their lobby or patio area, and often you can get the space for free if the hotel bar is connected to the space. They know they’ll make money on drinks, so they’ll comp the space. Make sure the venue is up-scale, easy to find, and has plenty of parking. Minimize any possible frustrations that might come from getting to the event, or you’ll sour people on your event before they even step inside.

3. Make on-site check-in super smooth.
It’s a great idea to have attendees check in, even if you aren’t charging for an event. You want to be able to track how many people attended, and if you ask for their email address, you can follow up and announce future events. But don’t draw out the registration process. If someone doesn’t want to give you their email, let it slide. Have plenty of pens and name tags available, and make sure the person checking attendees in is friendly and professional.

4. Meet everyone. Make sure you introduce yourself to ever person who attends. Welcome them, and focus on talking about what they do, not what you do. Be a great listener, and take a genuine interest in them and their business. They’ll remember you for it.

5. Be a connector. As you meet and greet everyone, constantly look for opportunities to connect people who would benefit from meeting each other. If you meet an inventor, introduce him to the patent attorney you just met. Tell the freelance writer she just has to meet the magazine publisher who just arrived. Keep track of these connections, and follow up next time you see them. Find out if they benefited from the introduction.

6. Recruit anchors. There are always a few people at any event who are off in a corner, not talking to anyone. Get volunteers to be anchors for your event. Their job is to make sure everyone is talking with someone. They should be great connectors as well and have the ability to listen and take an interest in others.

7. Follow up, and do it again. Follow up with your attendees. Ask how they liked the event, and get ideas from them about how it could be better. Then plan the next one. If you follow this formula, you’ll see your events grow and grow, and, before you know it, you’ll be the talk of the town.

What’s the key to a great networking event? Let us know in the comments section below.
Read more stories about: Conferences, Marketing strategies, Credibility, networking events
This story originally appeared on Young EntrepreneurYoung Entrepreneur

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Cathy Harris is an Empowerment and Motivational Speaker, Non-GMO Health and Wellness Expert, Self-Publishing and Business Coach.