Meetup’s DIO Culture

How we keep this startup scrappy.

The culture at Meetup is very DIO (do it ourselves) — not DIY (do it yourself). Meetup is about community groups: the idea that people self-organized can do just about anything. DIO is embodied in Meetup (the product), and we try to inject the DIO ethos into the company culture as much as possible. We remind ourselves of that by displaying a DIO logo on the wall here at Meetup HQ and never shrugging off a challenge we can take on ourselves.

We built the first real Meetup office in 2004 after we raised our first chunk of money, but were wary of spending it foolishly. When it came time to pick out furniture, we looked at the usual prefabricated office furniture systems. It all felt so corporate and boring — not us. We were a startup and had grown for the past 20 months winging it on the cheap: hand-me-down tables, overloaded power strips, single ply toilet paper. No way were we going to take our hard-earned capital and spend it on desks sold in glossy brochures and expensive showrooms.

We had an architect who suggested we do something more budget friendly: construct desks out of metal pipe (commonly used for NYC loft fire sprinkler systems), wood, and plexiglass. Using these simple supplies, we constructed workspaces for 60 people for about a quarter of the price of the pre-made systems. They were quality made and felt authentic to our culture.

In the fall of 2011, Meetup had outgrown our space. We loved our office location in Noho and didn’t want to move, but what we had built a few years earlier was inefficient in layout, and the desks were too big. We decided to demo the desks and start over, so we went out and looked for new workspaces, and found the same prefab office furniture systems we had seen years ago. It didn’t feel any more authentically Meetup the second time around, and we really just preferred the simple sprinkler-pipe and wood of our current workspaces. So I asked our contractor: Can’t we just reconfigure and reuse what we already have? What’s the sense of ripping out and disposing of all this existing metal and wood, just to rebuild it in a new layout?

“It doesn’t work that way,” I was told. “You get the demo guys to come in, and they’re gorillas, and they just rip stuff out overnight. Then the craftspeople and the woodworkers come in and build the new desks with new materials. If you want to have a crew in here to disassemble and reclaim what you’re already using, it’s going to cost you four times as much.”

Instead, I suggested that we, the Meetup team, disassemble all the desks. It was simple enough since they were assembled with Speedrail and bolts. This was clearly something the team of 60 of us could handle on our own. We’d stack and sort the materials — the pipe, the speed rail fittings, the wood — and the contractors could come in and use those as new materials.

“You’re crazy. The people you have working here are internet people who type on laptops all day. It’s going to take you forever, and someone is absolutely going to get hurt. Just let the professionals handle this. Doing this yourselves is never going to work.” That sounded like a challenge to me. I decided that we were going to do it ourselves.

So one October morning, the Meetup team reported in at 10am. We ate bagels, and I gave a five minute tutorial on what was to happen that day: Here are the tools. Pipe sections get stacked in this area, and there are photo-labeled buckets around the office to sort each type of speed rail fitting. Go slowly. Don’t hurt yourselves.

We set up a time-lapse videocamera in one corner of the office. Here’s the result:

People ignored the ‘go slowly’ directive, and tore into the project with a tremendous sense of enthusiasm and urgency. It was an amazing team-building experience. People who usually never worked together now were. In the end, it took us just about two hours to totally remove every piece of wood, Speedrail, and pipe. We uploaded the video and I emailed the link to the contractors with a note: “We’re ready for you guys to start anytime.”

This article was written by Brendan McGovern as part of GE’s Dare to Do collection that explores the imagination and curiosity of those who dare to do great things.