Meetups have become the quintessential way for people to cross over from the new, digital form of social networking back to the old-fashioned way of actually meeting in person. One would hardly think that there would be many challenges in doing this, but there are.

You might be asking – what does this have to do with eCommerce consulting? In its simplest form – it is all about the networking. Networking, in turn, leads to consulting opportunities; if so desired.

Meetup - Online Portal for MeetupsWhen it comes to meetups, some people are attendees and some people are organizers. Both are essential in order to truly create, build and grow a focused meetup. In this post, I will share the how’s, why’s, where’s and when’s of how I work with a colleague to plan, organize and grow a meetup we hold weekly in the Dallas area. The meetup is called Big D Open Coffee Club, or BigDOCC.

BigDOCC is a little brother/sister to a concept started in Boulder, Colorado called Boulder Open Coffee Club (BOCC). Michael Sitarzewski (a former Dallas resident and entrepreneur who went to Boulder for seven years) came back to Dallas with a vision to reconnect multiple groups of tech and start-up enthusiasts around the Metroplex. The first thing he did was establish BigDOCC. Since DFW is so large, it was established as a weekly event; alternating venues each week between the northern part of the cities in the Metroplex and downtown Dallas.  The first meetup attracted 12 people. Now, eight months later, each venue consistently attracts 30-35 people each week.  The Boulder event regularly attracts 80+, so there is still work to be done.

First of the BigDOCC meetups September 2013

Here are some pointers on what is needed to build, foster and grow a successful meetup. It is not only rooted in the face-to-face interactions that take place each week, there are management aspects to those meetings that engender loyalty from those attending and a reliance on the use of social networking to stay linked and spread the word.

Rules for a Great Meetup

  1. Rule #1 –  You have to have rules. A total freeform meeting leads to confusion about why people are attending and it is hard to take anything of substance away.
  1. Rule #2 – Start on time; consistently. In our case, the time of the meetup is 8-9 am every Tuesday; alternating venues. That said, we start the actual discussion time at 8:10 to allow for people to arrive, order coffee/breakfast, and get settled.
  1. Rule #3 – Share the rules. Set the expectations up front and people will be on board.
  1. Rule #4 – OUTDOOR voices required. Everyone needs to hear what is being said, or else there is no point in the meetup. The moderator(s) needs to signal people when they are too quiet.
  1. Rule #5 – ONE discussion. Great points will be made, but the conversation needs to stay focused on the person speaking. Again, the moderator may need to enforce this within the group. At the end of the day, it really comes down to respect.
  1. Rule #6 – End on time. Regardless of where the discussion is, there is a hard stop at the appointed time. People have things to do and places to go. For those that do not, they are welcome  to stick around and carry on more conversations and networking.

In the case of BigDOCC, it is a moderated discussion for technology and start-up enthusiasts. The moderator usually kicks off with a topic and others move the conversation across various topics, industries and interests over the course of the time together. People often comment that there is a “buzz” formed by the stimulating conversation. It literally brings people back week after week to re-charge. A sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has been cited numerous times when someone misses a session. That is when you know it is getting good.

Added Benefits

BigDOCC is unique for its purpose.  Others are developing meetups unique to other specific needs and circumstances. Not only does the conversation and networking provide a reason to be together, but it is important to provide other tangible benefits. Using BigDOCC as an example, here are things that are done each week without fail –

  • New people are always required to introduce themselves and provide a few points of personal information.
  • Returning people are given the option to re-introduce themselves (many are entrepreneurs starting companies and want to build exposure).
  • The group is polled for any open positions within companies that are needed to be filled.
  • The group is polled for anyone looking for a position.
  • Upcoming events are shared that are of interest or are closely related to the group.
  • The hashtag (#BigDOCC) and social sites (Facebook, Meetup, Google+) are shared so that people can provide digital input/updates both during and after the meetups.

The goal of all meetups should be to bring people together in a meaningful way. For BigDOCC we use Facebook and Twitter each week to remind people of the next event and where it is (north or south). We challenge people to share the concept and invite others to attend. Finally, we always encourage feedback and adjust as needed to meet the needs of the group. In the end, there is no magic recipe. But, being thoughtful about the ingredients and adjusting them to the tastes of the overall group will lead to better results in the long run.

Our ambition is to grow our concept and we have been pleasantly surprised with not only the growth, but also the power of the networking and the increase of a stronger entrepreneurial group in Dallas.BigDOCC meetups April 2014

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