Your Guide to Tech Meet-ups
Why you should try, where you should go, and what to expect
A massive part of startups and entrepreneurship is networking. It’s not uncommon for more extroverted tech founders to let networking take over their lives — going to parties and conferences, meeting “tech celebrities,” bragging about “crushing it” with their product, and schmoozing venture capitalists to raise a big seed round.
For the rest of us, it’s a necessary evil. you need a network to hire the best talent, successfully raise money, and properly market your product.
But how do you network if you are new to the industry or perhaps living in a new city? One option is tech meet-ups.
Picking a Meet-up
A meet-up is a gathering of people, often a mix of friends and strangers, around a common interest. A popular place to find these gatherings is Meetup.com. There are meet-ups for just about anything — from tech and design to hiking trips or hanging out in the park with Corgi owners. My advice is geared toward meet-ups focused on tech, or at least ones that may be useful for a startup founder or tech worker with entrepreneurial aspirations.
Things to consider:
- Hosting — Does the meet-up have a corporate sponsor? Companies like Mailchimp seem to have a bottomless pool of cash for sponsoring meet-ups. This cash means you might get a free drink, some free swag, and more established presenters (if that’s in the mix). For them, it’s a chance to get new users, recruit engineers, or just create positive associations.
- Location — It’s also not uncommon for local tech companies to host meet-up events at their office. They view it as a chance to recruit new talent, and these often draw bigger crowds with more organization. However, some of the best meet-ups I’ve attended consisted of a bunch of nerds sipping beers in the corner of a dive bar.
- Food and drink — Free beer and pizza? Yes, please. One of my favorite events is a morning lecture series that provides free coffee and donuts. They used to have mimosas, but perhaps that became problematic as the organization grew.
- Cover charge — Cover charges can be used for anything from open bars to charity donations. If you really like an organization, it can feel good to contribute in this way and maybe receive a drink token. On the flip side, a large cover can be a red flag: indicating an event just for “networkers” who aren’t as interested in tech as they are in passing out business cards.
- Schmooze level — Are the attendees going to be rocking sport coats and chatting about how visionary they are over $10 cocktails? Even if you are a nontechnical founder, you should avoid these. You won’t find any engineers to hire and there’s a good chance half these guys (yes, usually guys) are working on the same idea you are.
Until you’ve been to an event, it’s hard to say what you should expect. The best approach is to not have expectations. If that sounds like a waste of time to you, it might be.
When to Arrive
If you are like me, no matter what happens you will arrive either too early or too late.
Too early: Wait… this event started at 8pm right? It’s 8:30 and I’m the sixth person here? Maybe I should just go… No, I’ll stay. At least there’s enough pizza that I can choose an option besides plain cheese. Should I introduce myself to the hosts? They look busy.
Too late: Everyone is already clustered into groups. There are a few people on their own (floaters) but keep in mind that there’s a good chance they were ousted from conversations. Grab a drink and get your toes wet by chatting with a floater. Don’t spend the whole night talking to this person.
At the Meet-up
Most meet-ups serve alcohol of some form. Alcohol is your friend, but not your bff. A cold can of PBR can serve as a nice prop and might help you to ease into chats about node packages, but the last thing you want is to be that guy getting loud and starting to drop F bombs in a heated conversation about the merits of pixel perfection.
Have SOME basic knowledge of bitcoin, blockchain, VR, and other “hot” tech topics. Imagine going to a Superbowl party and not knowing who LeBron James is. It’s not really directly relevant, but conversations tend to move around and you should know the basics.
Guys: do not show up expecting to meet women. There is a reason why the majority of attendees at these events are men. When a woman does go to these events, she’s looking to meet interesting people in her industry, find co-founders, or meet investors. Basically everything you should be looking for. Maybe save her from the creepy guy with the box of chocolates (yes, I’ve actually seen that), but otherwise just treat her the way you would treat anyone else at the event: like a weird nerd who cares way too much about the blockchain.
Cell phones. I’m not sure what anyone did before we had these wonderful little computers in our pockets. If your conversation buddy dips out for a bathroom break or you need to cut off a conversation about “big data,” just pull out your phone, widen your eyes and drift toward the side of the room. Everyone will think you are just “putting out fires” at your startup.
How and When to Leave
Don’t just trust your gut, because if you are like me, you’ll probably feel like leaving during the majority of the meet-up. Resist for as long as you can — maybe set a simple goal, like trading business cards with one person.
When you are making microwave popcorn, the instructions say to cook for about 3 minutes or until there is 2 seconds between pops. This is a perfect analogy for when to leave a tech meet-up
Leave after 3 hours or when there are 20-second pauses of awkward silence in your conversations.
There’s only so much conversation you can have or want to have about the merits of GraphQL over MySQL.
Meet-ups can be a great (albeit uncomfortable) place to feel out the local tech scene. You never really know what you are getting yourself into, but if you keep an open mind and linger past your first few “we should leave now” thoughts, you might just make some good connections. Worst case scenario, being in a new place with new people might give you a fresh perspective and help get those creative gears going.
If you are in NYC or SF I’d highly recommend the following meet-ups:
- Creative Mornings (available in most cities across the globe)
- Designers + Geeks
- Any software-specific meet-ups. Parse (owned by Facebook) used to host really useful ones in New York City.
Enjoy the experience and then get back to building whatever it is that inspired you to branch out in the first place.
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Matt Kandler is a full-stack designer living somewhere between San Francisco and New York. Currently, he’s building HappyFeed — a digital gratitude journal. See some of his work at mattkandler.com or follow him @mattkandler