How we grew Boston CSS to a Meetup that we love

Over the past year and a half, Meg Broughton and I have been organizing the Boston CSS Meetup. We started it with the hopes of bringing together people of all skill levels within the CSS community in the Boston area. We felt like we didn’t know many of our local industry peers, and it was time to change that! There are still things we want to improve upon, but what has happened has surpassed our expectations! After reading “A Practical Guide to Organising a Successful Meetup” by Jordan Lewis, I wanted to share how we run our Meetup. Here are our lessons learned.

Our format

Design and tech-related Meetups like ours tend to be networking-heavy or content-heavy. We try to have a good balance between both social and educational aspects, aiming for an experience that’s more than a happy hour but isn’t overly time-consuming with multiple presentations after a long workday. We keep it to one presentation per event — for our own sanity as well as that of our attendees. We aim for quality and consistency without the pressure of having to find multiple speakers for a night.

Our schedule

At 6:30pm, doors open and people start to trickle in. Food arrives. People eat, drink and chat with some soft atmospheric background music — our go-to is a Talking Heads playlist that’s chill but has just the right amount of energy. We also have our welcoming slides on auto-play that include a greeting, our sponsors for the night, and the shortened version of our code of conduct. The shortened code of conduct’s content was originally written by our friends over at SassConf and expresses our shared no-tolerance policy of any kind of harassment. We are here to provide, as best we can, an inclusive, safe and friendly environment.

At 7:00pm, the presentation begins, with sponsors speaking for a few minutes before. During the presentation is when we take notes on hiccups (e.g. batteries running out of a speaker’s headset microphone, too much sound coming from the traffic below if windows are left open, etc.)

The part of the night that I always enjoy is the part following the presentation when the music comes back on and everyone gets to hang out. Beforehand it’s a bit difficult for me to chat with people because of the preparation involved. We used to go to the bar downstairs after presentations, but it was an easy way to lose a lot of people. A group of ten or so in a loud, crowded area wasn’t what we were hoping for. After trying a couple more nearby bars, we tried staying at Vermonster with some extra beer and wine, and it was fantastic! It results in many more people sticking around, includes people who don’t want to drink alcoholic beverages, and people can chat with not only the speaker but each other at a reasonable volume. And we have Vermonster to thank for this.

Our venue

Vermonster has been hosting our Meetup from the beginning, and they let us hang out for as long as we want! Shhh… the time after we got our handheld microphone, a few of us did some serious late night karaoke. We are so grateful and feel so lucky that Vermonster offers their space to us.

Photo courtesy of Gregor Martynus

There is something about Vermonster’s space that makes it cozy and conducive for getting to know people. Maybe it’s the picnic tables that make it easy to gather around. Maybe it’s the couches that make me feel like I’m in my living room. Maybe it’s because the size of the space is just right, not too small or too large. Maybe it’s the overall feeling of warmth. It’s hard to identify, but in contrast to stark office settings, there’s something less intimidating and more welcoming.

That being said, as great as it is, no venue is perfect. Unfortunately, it lacks one major feature that we wish wasn’t the case. As someone who tries to focus on web accessibility, I’m sad to say that our venue is not accessible. This is a failure. We are working on finding a venue with as much charm that is accessible. If you know of one, we would love to find out more! Although it’s not a great solution, we currently record the talks on video and broadcast live on our YouTube channel.

Our community

We are our community. We are our speakers and we are our attendees. We’re happy that the people who come are as welcoming as we are and spread the love with us!

What makes me come back? The people! It’s one of the few Meetups I’m always wistful if I can’t attend.
Aria Stewart
It’s hard to achieve something like this in a world of outdoing each other. Here, it’s all about sharing.
— Stephen Scaringi
The group is inviting and diverse, from people new to CSS to industry experts.
Priscilla Brandão
Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s great how inclusive the Meetup is. I look forward to each month’s meeting.
Chris Lilley

Our issues

When Meg and I started this Meetup, we weren’t affiliated with an umbrella organization nor tied to an existing non-profit, which meant that we didn’t have an established way take in sponsorship money. Initially we didn’t have to worry about this because Vermonster, where Meg works, helped an enormous amount financially. We truly couldn’t have the Meetup experience that we have today without them. As of this past month, organizations started reaching out to sponsor! We want to be able to spend the money where we see fit, whether it is speaker gifts (Coming soon! Teaser: they are cat-related), food, Meetup subscription costs, etc. What have other groups in our situation been doing? We don’t have enough funds to create a non-profit for ourselves yet. We’re not sure what the possibilities are. It’s a good problem to have, but we want to make sure everything is handled well. If you have run into this issue, we would love to hear how you worked it out!