What the Internet Can Teach Us About the Real World: A Live Interview with Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman

April 9, 2018

Scott Heiferman

Scott Heiferman created Meetup in 2002 to “use the Internet to get people off of the Internet.”  Now, over 35 million members use the platform to meet nearby people with similar interests. At the end of 2017, WeWork — the company best known for its trendy co-working spaces — acquired Meetup.

In this live podcast recording at the UX + Data Meetup, we explore:

  • Heiferman’s time as a McDonald’s employee.
  • The lessons from the Internet that Meetup applies offline.
  • How Meetup measures its impact.
  • What the WeWork acquisition will mean for the future of Meetup.
  • What Heiferman thinks of competition from Facebook.

Want to make your own company more data-driven? Learn how Indicative can help.

Full Transcript

Lauren Feiner: It’s 2002. Dust from the September 11th attacks still coats lower Manhattan. The dot-com bubble has burst and left hopeful tech leaders withered by disappointment.

It seems like perhaps the worst time to start a new Internet business.

Scott Heiferman, of all people, should have known this. By the late 90s, he had already created and sold, i-Traffic, which he says was the first online advertising agency.

But when the Twin Towers fell that Tuesday morning in 2001, Heiferman went up to the roof of his building in Nolita. And what happened next left him with an idea he just couldn’t let go.

Scott Heiferman: Over the course of the next, you know, minutes and hours, more and more of my neighbors on this tall apartment building found their way to the roof to just, you know, check in with what’s happening as the towers went down. And, you know, I found myself basically just talking to my neighbors in New York City for the first time… And so you can say, “Well, who cares of neighbors say, hello to each other in the elevator.” But what I just kind of became obsessed with was, wow, what happens when there is actual real community.

Lauren Feiner: This time, he was going to “use the Internet to get people off of the Internet.”

Heiferman created Meetup.com, now simply known as Meetup. The basics of the site have remained more or less the same — you go online to find people in your area with similar interests, and organize events to meet in person.

We used Meetup to organize the live event where we hosted our interview with Heiferman. We talked in front of an audience at the UX + Data Meetup at work—bench in downtown Manhattan.

Today, you’ll get a taste of that conversation. You’ll learn how Meetup measures its offline engagement, what the WeWork acquisition will mean for this 16-year-old company, and what Heiferman thinks about competition from Facebook.

You’re listening to Deciding by Data, the podcast that brings you into the C-Suite to learn how data drives successful businesses. These are your hosts:

Andrew Weinreich: I’m Andrew Weinreich.

Jeremy Levy: I’m Jeremy Levy.

Lauren Feiner: And I’m Lauren Feiner.

A quick note before we start: this conversation contains some swearing, so you may want to hit pause if you are listening around kids.

We started out by asking Heiferman about his brief but infamous break from running a business after selling i-Traffic.

Scott Heiferman: Long story short, is you started something and it took off and there was like 100 people in the company and I was 20, 26, 27 and I was not a good manager at that point. So basically this company became part of agency.com which became part of Omnicom. But, yes I hated advertising, I hated it so much. I couldn’t wait to get out of this industry and so as soon as I was out the door, I actually fell into a weird depression or something where I was hanging out with too many investment bankers and lawyers.

Andrew Weinreich: You were hanging out with me.

Scott Heiferman: And you. I was like, I mean I grew up in Illinois, went to school in Iowa, grew up in my family’s paint store. I felt like I needed to reconnect with the real world as opposed to this is kind of crazy 90’s internet crap. So I literally got a job at McDonald’s at fourth and Broadway. Worked the counter. I did fill out on my application when it said, where have you work. I said, “Well, I am currently the chairman of a public company.” And the guy looked at me and said — chairman of a part of a public company — where he looked at me and said, “What’s this?” And I’m like, “It’s whatever, it is a thing.” And he said like, “Okay, what’s your pant size?” But, the point is that… for me, it was like, this disconnection. Like you’re in this B.S. advertising world and it is all just a bunch of bits and numbers and you don’t know- I felt I needed to be close to the customer, I needed to have a sense of real people in the real world. So serving people fries and burgers was a way to kind of reconnect with real customers. The fact that people were obsessed with the dollar menu. And that it was really important to them to get to what the dollar menu represented. It is like that’s, if you are a person trying to make stuff for the world, you got to connect somehow.

“You’re in this B.S. advertising world and it is all just a bunch of bits and numbers and you don’t know- I felt I needed to be close to the customer, I needed to have a sense of real people in the real world.”

Lauren Feiner: With Meetup, Heiferman was able to connect with customers like never before. And with an intentional design, he was also able to connect Meetup’s users with each other.

Andrew Weinreich: Let’s talk a little bit about user design. And one of the themes that I want to focus on is user design for the offline and user design for the online. Because we don’t really talk about user design for the offline. But let’s start with the offline. Did you have to think through what’s the format of these Meetups? Did you have to think through what you expected from organizers?

Scott Heiferman: I didn’t set you up with that question but I love that question. And when we — you know, Meetup is 200 people at Broadway and Houston. We’re mostly design, engineering, data, product. When we’re trying to hire the best of the best and I say, “We are designing an online and offline experience.” I’m sure you’ve all been to a Meetup that was horrible and that we are liable for that, not legally, but you know. [Laughter] The thinking of design and then thinking about the data around it being not just a digital online thing. Just because you RSVP, that doesn’t mean that the experience is a good one. It’s not unlike Airbnb, not unlike other things where you have to think about the full experience.

Andrew Weinreich: But let’s talk about the design of this Meetup. There are three of us sitting on stage, there was an introduction, everyone is wearing a name tag with your logo on it.

Scott Heiferman: Old logo.

Andrew Weinreich: Your old logo… But how much do you have an influence in the introduction? The fact that this is going to take an hour, the fact that there is Q and A? I mean how heavy-handed, or-

Scott Heiferman: It’s so important to pay attention to the shifts in the eras of where we are in terms of making great product, making great businesses, great design. Our whole thesis was if we just get people in a room together, they’ll figure it out. So for a decade plus, it is literally like any company or startup, whatever, you’ve got to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. So for us, it was like, it was just to say, “Can we make magic out of nothing here and rev up this network?” to have, well, now it’s 30, 40 million people. But we thought our responsibility stopped at like just get people in the right time and place. If we can get people that have that shared interests together. Our mission is bring people together in real life to create community, then the magic will happen and we don’t have to get involved. And that was like in contrast to people having conferences and stuff, which was this very heavyweight thing. That being said, I totally regret not taking more seriously earlier-

Andrew Weinreich: Not curating more?

Scott Heiferman: Curate? Certainly. Meetup is going to be totally different two, three, four years from now than it is today. We are like blowing everything up. On one dimension, it’s the difference between Craigslist and Airbnb for renting a place. It’s like Craigslist will just be this hodgepodge of crap and Meetup has a lot of crap. And we are like barreling hard towards like being certainly a curated, quality- It doesn’t mean it’s just some people on hire deciding what’s quality, it’s making the right reputation systems in place, the right data.

Andrew Weinreich: But I would think you’ve got the perfect data already to do that. I go to Aaron Price’s Meetup and he has this thing in the beginning, which I thought was fairly clever. People stand up they say anyone that wants to ask a question says one thing that they can do for other people before they ask for one thing back. I would imagine that if you looked out at all the Meetups and all of the different ice breakers, introductions, you could create this perfect user experience.

Scott Heiferman: Yeah, that’s a beautiful thing. Let me ask you all a question. What do you think the average Meetup size is? Even if you take away the Meetups with only one or two kind of non-Meetup Meetups?

Audience Member: 15.

Scott Heiferman: Any other guesses?

Audience Member: 6.

Scott Heiferman: Interesting. Okay so I expected you all to go much higher. The fact is you’re right, it’s somewhere between 6 and 15 almost exactly. The crowd worked here. A lot of people who go to Meetups like this, they think Meetup is like these 50, 100, 200 person tech Meetups in New York City. No no no. The bread and butter Meetup is your nine person feminist book club Meetup in St. Louis.

Andrew Weinreich: Sitting across from the conservative Trump Meetup directly across the hall.

Scott Heiferman: Exactly, whatever. Well, nowadays, you have to actually think about how your platforms are being used. [Laughter from audience] It’s interesting, what did I say two minutes ago? It’s like there’s just this era which is just, like, don’t take responsibility for the quality on the platform because, hey, this is the Internet and no one’s regulating what is under the HTTP. But, anyway, that’s a different topic.

But I love this question of the name tags, and the cadence, and the spirit of welcoming, and the true question of is the inclusion right? What are people’s actual experiences? If one of you just shows up here and you don’t actually talk to anyone, is it a Meetup or could you have just watched this on a live stream?

…Oh you know my point about somewhere between six and 15 people, is that we have to design for Meetups that are that book club, that 10 person book club as well as the 200 person Meetup like this. So, we think in terms of the essentially there’s four different layouts of a people map, of a Meetup. There’s the people sitting in rows and looking at people who are pretending to be smart. And then there’s the people in a circle and then there’s that sort of cocktail style type thing. And then there’s the mass of the activity type Meetups, the hikes. And by the way, none of, those four are pretty equally distributed across all the 15,000 Meetups that happen every day.

Lauren Feiner: Meetup can measure things like RSVPs on its platform, but once a user leaves the site to go to an actual Meetup, they become harder to track. This creates a measurement problem that’s pretty unique in the tech world.

Jeremy Levy: Online social networks, Scott, have an advantage because the interactivity is purely online and digital can be easily measured. You mentioned how you leverage data when trying to optimize for that perfect interface on a Meetup. How do you even measure those offline behaviors? I mean, attendance is one that we talked about before we got up here.

Scott Heiferman: As a mission-driven company, and I don’t just throw that around. We have this core, core value of the company exists because we’re trying to have impact on lives. If you showed up at this Meetup and in some way, this Meetup has absolutely no impact on your life, you didn’t learn anything, you didn’t meet anyone, and this was like, and not even just like it was a bad experience, but was it an actual like positive impact on your life? We want to optimize for maximum positive impact. The proxy for that is did you actually show up versus RSVPing and not. And the proxy on that is did you RSVP?

“We want to optimize for maximum positive impact.”

We want to move further down the stack to- So, right now, we don’t have an accurate measurement of how many people actually show up. We only know whether you RSVP’ed. But we’re pretty close to actually measuring show up and then do it so that you can do tests. So that you can do experiments and tests and experiments and tests like, oh, what if you tell an organizer, take organizers in New Zealand and give them different kinds of tips and instructions and productize different things so they can set up a Meetup so that people talk to each other more. Or we can actually buzz the people’s phones so that they say, “Hey, why don’t you meet this person because you went to the same school or whatever.” And so to be able to experiment on this level. But to optimize for what? That’s the question all of you and your various jobs I’m sure like there’s a whether it’s implicit or not, or explicit or not, it’s what are you optimizing for? And of course, there’s revenue and things of that sort. But we just want to be a company that is getting to a point where we might ask you two, three weeks, two, three months down the line like, hey, you’re a member of UX data did not just to have a good experience. That’s the point.

Andrew Weinreich: Did you meet someone? Did you learn something?

Scott Heiferman: Has it impacted your life? Has it impacted your life?

Andrew Weinreich: But I want to drill down, I want to come back to the user experience because you talked about how Machine Learning can inform your delivery of emails. Or Machine Learning could inform how you present your product. But I’m still curious why you couldn’t use Machine Learning to have a dialogue with a organizer to say, for your Meetup which is 10 people, this is the format. These are the types of questions you should encourage. I’m still curious why if the business is evolving into this place where you want people to leave, “you’ve changed my life.” I appreciate the need to collect data, but why the involvement with the organizers isn’t the principle point of entry for that?

Scott Heiferman: It’s a great question. And the arc of our history as a company is that we started out not having organizers at all. But to then being like, oh, we then we saw ourselves as we are empowering the organizers. And then what we realized is that, “Oh, wait a minute, when Amazon lets bad reviews of a book beyond, are they optimizing for the publisher or the optimizing for the customer?” The customer-centric is to say, “Hey, we’re going to let bad reviews happen.” It’s a long way of saying like we said no, we’re not here to serve the organizer. Even though any great experience is because the organizer is great.

So, right now, we’re in a moment where we’re putting organizers first. And that’s what I meant by when I said like we have this incredible playground of invention ahead of us because we’re realizing that … again, if there’s 15,000 Meetups a day happening and you know you can tell which ones are crap and which ones are great. And you can thus empower a person to bring people together, empower an organizer, empower a host to bring people together because you just know that there are best practices and there are ways to do things. Again, whether it’s a six person meetup different than a 60 person Meetup, a hiking Meetup is different than a career oriented tech Meetup. So, that’s what we’re doing and we’re focused on it.

“Right now, we’re in a moment where we’re putting organizers first.”

Andrew Weinreich: One more question on UX design and then maybe we can turn to we work. Jeremy told me about a word that I was not familiar with before this meeting. Skeuomorphism… As I understand it, skeuomorphism refers to this, in the design context, is trying to take design and have it replicate real life experiences. So, you think of the Windows experience, your desktop, you think of a folder and files. And I’m wondering what the role is-? How you’re able to interpret the offline as a mechanism for how you should organize the online. And then maybe even the inversion of that whether you’re offline and you’re trying to mirror your offline navigational experience… I’d love to hear your perspective on user experience and it replicating the real world.

Scott Heiferman: That’s really interesting. You can go down different avenues here… But I find that people in our industry can often get too obsessed with the mechanics of what’s in our industry and not just obsess over the basic questions of making something easier. And by that, I mean, well I guess let me put it this way. In the web era, you would hire web designers and they would build web pages. And then we went into the mobile era. And so you hire people who are really talented people and who are app makers but their answer to problems is what’s the app view like? What’s the app design like? I think, to really excel in perhaps your career or in this work is to center on what is the- this might sound so banal and basic and obvious and perhaps even unrelated to your question, but to me, they’re totally linked — which is just to say what’s the real world impact you want?

In our case at Meetup, we are embarking on this crazy ass vision for what we want to build over the next few years. Essentially stripping away the question of what should the app look like? And instead, what’s the real world experience? And to approach that with a zero base. And what that means specifically for example with us without revealing too much is basically like this, with both Meetup and Facebook, they are like, there’s this notion of a group and an event and you start a group and you schedule an event. But what if you killed the start a group button and you killed the schedule an event button and instead, let me give an example, in New York City, there’s like nearly one and a half million members of Meetup. In the past 12 months, I’m making up specific numbers, but like let’s say 20,000 people said I want to running Meetup. I want a running Meetup…

For those who know how Meetup works, then what happens?… It waits for someone in New York City. Basically, then, when someone starts a running Meetup in New York City, it alerts all the people in New York City who are waiting for running Meetups that look, “Matt started a Men’s Staten Island Running Meetup for Sunday mornings at 6:00 am.” And most of you, you are like: “I don’t live in Staten Island. I don’t want to run at 6:00 am. I don’t want a men’s only running Meetup. Whatever.”

…The point is, if 20,000 people have signed up for running Meetups in the past 12 months, shouldn’t we be finding which ones want a women’s only running Meetup on weeknights at 9:00 p.m. near Prospect Park and making sure they find each other? And perhaps, not waiting for someone to press the start button or the schedule button? This is also part of the answer to the machine learning question which is, what is it that humans can do, like care and be creative? But to start a running Meetup for, let’s say, women who want to run at 9:00 p.m. because running as a pack of women is safer and you run faster and stronger as a pack. Why can’t machines start that Meetup and then people can bring the caring and the creativity to it?

“Why can’t machines start that Meetup and then people can bring the caring and the creativity to it?”

Jeremy Levy: Does that mean you’re putting these people out of work, if machines are making those decisions about intent, about how the interface should work?

Scott Heiferman: Well, you didn’t hear me say anything about like what are the app screens? The point is, and I think, I know you’re intrigued by LivePerson-

Andrew Weinreich: The LivePerson article that you’re referencing, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with that person. LivePerson operates, I think, the largest chat platform for support. So when you go to American Airlines, that’s their platform. And the CEO recently said, he thought that websites would eventually be a thing of yesterday, and they would be replaced essentially by a chat box with AI. And so that the system could divine your intent, and you would no longer need to do any navigation thereby putting all of the UI, and maybe even the UX people out of work. This is why this is the last Meetup for this group.


Scott Heiferman: No, no, it’s not. I mean, listen, there’s the 2016 bot hype, but beyond the hype, I believe there’s a truth here. The truth is, is that for old people like me who’ve been in the industry, where you think that the UI models are set or the various models are set and then things get blown up. I really do believe that the design of, call it conversational UXs, UIs — and it isn’t just like voice and Alexa, and it isn’t necessarily just bots and messaging — but, basically, the idea here is like , if you’re Seamless and you see that I order at the same time many nights, why don’t you please just, when I’m way too hungry.

Andrew Weinreich: Send me the food?

Scott Heiferman: Well, no. Yeah, why aren’t you messaging me a little bit before and saying like, “Hey, so, if you want food, here’s three choices,” or “pick whatever you want.” But that notion of the like client server, I’m going to the web page. I mean, listen, this is 2018. We know the power of notifications and how essential that is. But it’s-

Andrew Weinreich: “Hey fatso, this is your drinking night. Would you like pizza?”


Scott Heiferman: Yeah.

Andrew Weinreich: That’s the future.

Lauren Feiner: We’re going to take a short break, but when we return, we’ll ask Heiferman about the ways Meetup’s acquisition by WeWork will transform the company. Stay tuned.


Lauren Feiner: Welcome back to Deciding by Data. We’re here with Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO of Meetup.

There are lots of changes to come to Meetup. At the end of 2017, WeWork announced it would acquire the company. WeWork is best known for its trendy co-working spaces, but it actually has a wide-range of projects underway. There’s a communal living environment called WeLive, and even a kindergarten called WeGrow.

Jeremy Levy: Scott, let’s transition a bit and talk a little about the WeWork acquisition which is so interesting because both Meetup and WeWork are really at the intersection of technology and the real world. WeWork has been on an acquisition tear. They’ve acquired Flatiron School, Conductor, they’ve acquired companies that make construction software. I read online today, they invested in a company that makes wave pools. Can you tell us, what’s going on? What’s the thought around Meetup and WeWork?

Scott Heiferman: Well, it’s so cool. I mean it’s basically, we have a community that needs space, and they have space that needs community. So the number one problem of my customers, I mean, we’ve got a quarter million Meetup organizers, which was interesting. We’ve got a quarter million Meetup organizers, they pay 12 bucks a month. And their top problem, one of their top problems, if not their top problem, is where do you have your Meetup? And it’s great, thanks to the host of this space. But it’s a real issue, it’s a real problem, it’s a real blocker to growth and success. And again, designing for the full online-offline experience. And then WeWork is opening like a million square feet of real estate every month. Imagine that. You know what a WeWork building is like, 50, 70,000 square feet? There’s like two to four of those opening up every week. Week in, week out around the world. And there are these beautiful spaces for community and their line of saying like, “We’re not a real estate company, we’re a community company”, is something I thought was bullshit [audience laughs], but is real. It’s real.

Andrew Weinreich: It’s a good thing this isn’t being recorded.


Scott Heiferman: Yeah. It’s real. And so there’s this dream of what are the 21st century commons? In previous centuries, you had churches, and synagogues, and mosques, and Mason halls, and basically these like, network spaces. We know what network computers are. We know what networked phones are. We know what network people are. But what does it mean to have network space where it’s built to be welcoming?

Jeremy Levy: How are Meetups going to change now that there is a physical space that you can now control? WeWork, I learned, has this notion of what they call spatial analytics. They monitor how many people are actually using conference room and they use that data then to inform design decisions around the space. How does the fact that you may now actually have the ability to measure what goes on inside a Meetup impact how Meetups are going to change in the future?

Scott Heiferman: It goes hand in hand with what we’re trying to get at, which is to learn more than ever has been learned before about how do you really bring people together to create community and opportunity?

Jeremy Levy: Does that mean you can now collect data that allows you to inform what are better meetups quantitatively, in terms of attendance, in terms of participation, layout, three people in front of the audience versus round table. Are there angles here where you can really, I mean, I’m trying to bring this back to the data aspect of this group, how you can leverage that.

Scott Heiferman: Well, yeah. So you’re referring to WeWork as a spatial data group, which is literally, they are trying to do things that have never been done before, which is be really, really smart about how do you design space? Not just for whatever an office might typically be optimizing for, but they want to optimize for community, in addition to comfort and the other things that are important for a place to work. But again, the idea here is like , think of WeWork spaces in the future as real commons, real community space, that isn’t just a workspace…

As for how that relates to like, is there someone tracking people’s movements at a meet up that’s happening at WeWork? Right now, no, and that’s not the plan… We hope to learn more and more about what it means to have, this might sound subtle but this is huge. What does it mean to have 10 Meetups on one floor at the same time? Not just do people bumping into each other and say, “Hey, you’re with the French language Meetup” and “Hey you’re with the feminist book club,” or whatever, and they should collaborate or something but it’s really about the feeling in the room, the frequencies. I’m going to go like very woo woo on you here. It’s like there’s something about, again, I mean, the physical IRL community business. And so, you think about you’ve all been in spaces that make you feel warmer, that are more welcoming, that are more inclusive, that are more something, that are more that bring out your best self, that make you can be your friendliest self in this context and then, you’re kind of a jerk in that other context.

The idea of designing for and seeing what happens when you can have a level of aliveness and thriving of a space… This isn’t like some, oh isn’t that cute Meetup, had some Meetups going on, and it’s like a little part of life, and it’s like a little added bonus. This is actually like heart and soul stuff. If people literally feel less alone, if you find yourself that you want to learn something or do something, or you want to be involved in something, or you want to change your career, or you’re diagnosed with something or whatever it is. To be able to meet up within miles, within days, within hours, within blocks, and be able to find people who will in a welcoming, open feeling, where, like the spirit of this room, I bet right, the spirit of this room is-

“This is actually like heart and soul stuff. If people literally feel less alone, if you find yourself that you want to learn something or do something, or you want to be involved in something, or you want to change your career, or you’re diagnosed with something or whatever it is.”

How many of you like have, there’s something in you that says like you’d love to be able to help out or mentor or be of use to other people in this room right now. I appreciate maybe some of you raised your hand and you’re like what, I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. But this is a question of-

Lauren Feiner: At this point, Heiferman looks like he is called to action, and stands up in front of the crowd.

Scott Heiferman: …we are at the fork on the road of society. As there’s- I’m sorry. There is a literal fork in the road of society, either with the disparity and the dysfunction and the division and the coarseness and the inequalities and the anger, and all the tough stuff in the world, it seems to be only getting worse, right? So, as it gets harder and more of a struggle- and I’m talking about Me Too, and I’m talking about Black Lives Matter, and I’m talking about guns and I’m talking about climate change, and I’m talking about all the stuff that’s going. Where is the world headed? It’s over-simplistic, but either we head towards, you know what this is too heavy, I want diversions. I’m just going to retreat to Netflix. Or out of desperation you say “God, I really need other people.” I mean, or just I’m desperate. I want to advance my career. Okay, I can watch some YouTube videos and do this or that, but all people are going to help each other. Either they’re going to turn on each other or turn to each other. Either we’re just going to basically just break down as a society or there’s going to be a kind of coming together. Not because people are philanthropic or they’re feeling like they need to do good or something, but just out of selfish, like how do we operate. So, anyway data, UX.

[Laughter and applause]

“Either we’re just going to basically just break down as a society or there’s going to be a kind of coming together.”

Andrew Weinreich: Scott Heiferman 2020. [Laughter from audience] One of the things I genuinely love about you, and I love about startups is this Meetup is about data. And one of the questions that we might have asked is, was WeWork’s acquisition of Meetup to reduce churn? Did they think about this from a numeric perspective, about how they could optimize revenue. But you talk so aspirationally… one of the things that’s a pleasure in startups is those moments when you don’t have to think about data. It’s those moments when you do think aspirational. You think in terms of changed the world, and it’s almost at odds with this idea. Do I measure data? So, from WeWork’s perspective, do I measure data or do I hire this crazy guy, Scott Heiferman, to take us in directions we never imagined? And it’s amazing that after the acquisition, you are as future-focused and aspirational as you were when you started.

Scott Heiferman: Well, that’s the only reason why I did the deal because, I mean the deal would be a failure, I mean the deal to me would be a failure if I’m not still leading Meetup five to 10 years from now, and like trying to bring our vision to life. The reason why I did the deal was because we were doing great, we’ve been profitable and we didn’t need to do any deal. But Trump happens and other things happen, and you find yourself not getting any younger, and you’re like I want to have impact on the world. And I want to do my part to make the world not fall apart. And so, here comes this rocketship of WeWork and as like Sheryl Sandberg says, sometimes you just get on the rocketship.

“The deal to me would be a failure if I’m not still leading Meetup five to 10 years from now, and like trying to bring our vision to life.”

Lauren Feiner: Speaking of Sheryl Sandberg, we wanted to dig into Heiferman’s thoughts on Facebook. Facebook has positioned itself as a major competitor to Meetup, especially with its renewed focus on building communities.

Jeremy Levy: Mark Zuckerberg recently said that online communities,

Scott Heiferman: Who is this?

Jeremy Levy: You heard this guy? Said that Facebook’s new mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. That sounds a lot like your mission.

Scott Heiferman: Yes.

[Laughter from audience]

Jeremy Levy: Care to elaborate?

Scott Heiferman: Yeah. What’s the question?

Andrew Weinreich:  What do you think of Facebook?

Jeremy Levy: Well that’s a shot across your back. They’re coming right after you.

Scott Heiferman: Hopefully, they’ll create lots of real community and so will we. And they also got an ad business to support. They’ve also got a pretty big investment in VR to have happen. And they might kind of raise the awareness in the world of the importance of offline community too. But, I don’t know. They’ve got a lot on their hands and we are focused, and get to invent like hell, the kind of our lean team.

Lauren Feiner: At this point, we moved on the Q&A with the audience. The first person to grab the mic was Aaron Price. He runs the New Jersey Tech Meetup

Aaron Price: You touched on some things, and a lot of that, that really drove this question, which is, your Meetups are often built around commonalities in groups. So, you even used in your example, “I don’t want to go running with people who are, men in Staten Island on Sunday at six. I want to go with maybe, just women around here who are more like me.” But that paired with the social issue around the era of Trump that we live in now. How do you balance avoiding an issue where you’re just feeding the machine of, “I just want to find sameness.” And I just want to continue the narrative of the same white men who think like me, who want to run in Staten Island every Sunday versus adding a broader opening up people’s minds to the vision that I know that you have for the impact Meetup can make.

Scott Heiferman: The number one cause for Meetup success. The thing that defines how Meetup has grown is something we call cell dividing and spawning. This phenomenon of, someone starts one New Jersey Tech Meetup, and then, out of that people realize it’s sort of cell divides and spawns into, since you started it, probably hundreds of different New Jersey Tech Meetups. There’s the Women’s New Jersey Tech Meetup, and then, there’s the Women’s Coders New Jersey Meetup, and then, there’s the like Newbie Women’s New Jersey Tech Meetup, and then, there’s the Northern Jersey Newbie Women’s, you know. And this is a natural organic process… The question is, how can you accelerate that process by using data to basically reveal, not wait for someone to start it. If we know that 40 women are going to a certain Meetup in New Jersey, and they’re driving 30 miles to it, why don’t we actually sort of serve it up, that those women can meet up on their own.

Mike: Hi Scott, my name’s Mike. I appreciated your grand vision for humanity. I know that’s was great, so thanks for that. I want to get your take on VR and AR. I know you mentioned it really briefly. But, how does that affect Meetup and going forward. Because it’s kind of, a digital space but also, it’s an online space but it kind of feels offline. So, what is your take on that?

“As long as people are living on Earth and in real space, we want to get really, really good.”

Scott Heiferman: We’ll let Facebook do that. And I don’t mean to be dismissive. But we feel, I mean certainly there is, like however AR will evolve I think it will be really interesting and potentially relevant to Meetup. But, I think it’s important in all of our work to just know who you are, and know who we are in your respective organizations and companies. And know what to say no to, and know that there is an incredible opportunity to invent on the vector that you want to be great at. And so for us, as long as people are living on Earth and in real space, we want to get really, really good.