Scott Heiferman, co-founder of Meetup and investor in Mobilize, spoke with our team about how to scale a tech company and the importance of organizing.
Heiferman’s founder story
Heiferman founded Meetup in 2002 after experiencing the power of in-person connection first-hand on September 11. From the roof of his apartment in downtown Manhattan, Heiferman watched the World Trade Center collapse and shared sorrow with his neighbors, whom he had never before spoken to. He found a calling in counteracting the decline of community in America, and sought to create “an internet tool to get people off the internet.”
“How is it that people find and form communities? And what impact can those communities have?”
Heiferman went on to be CEO of Meetup for 17 years, during which over 100 million people signed up for an event on the platform. In 2017, Meetup was acquired by WeWork and Heiferman moved to the role of Chairman. Two years later, struggling WeWork sold off Meetup and parted ways with Heiferman.
Making data-driven decisions and adapting quickly
Heiferman’s first piece of advice for a growing tech company: use data to make decisions. Everything he thought Meetup would be used for never came to fruition, and he learned quickly to make decisions based on observed user behavior. “Focus on the way people use the technology—not how you think they should use it.”
Creating a tool vs. a network
“It’s important to know that you’re building a good tool, but even more important to understand that it’s a network.” Meetup, like MobilizeAmerica, can function as a standalone organizing tool, but its real value comes from the network effects. When someone signs up for a Meetup, the tool enables them to discover more Meetup opportunities. Through these experiences, they’re also prompted to start their own Meetups; repeat attendees become organizers. Each attendee is prompted to bring their friends, and each new organizer brings their own network, growing the Meetup universe rapidly. This growth benefits every person on the platform.
Think about business problems from a place of kindness
“The work you’re doing is perhaps the most important work in the world right now.”
Heiferman told the Mobilize team, “Getting Trump out of office isn’t the be all end all, and activism isn’t either. The mere act of connecting people and giving them the opportunity to learn from each other, support each other, feel powerful and energized and less lonely together has massive impact in and of itself.” Creating a tool for human connection can make users feel like the world and other people aren’t so awful. They can find commonality with people of all backgrounds, shattering stereotypes and introducing new world views. This kind of positivity can have ripple effects. Knowing that we’re touching people’s lives should be our company’s primary motivator.