How to grow your Meetup from zero to 2400 in twelve months

How to create a successful high-growth meetup group, establish thought leadership and create a vibrant workplace.

Co-written with Amjad Sidqi

Ever wondered how to create a successful meetup?

Tech Talks at Pivotal Labs Sydney has grown from zero to 2400 members in just over twelve months, and gone from having cosy 13-person-audiences in the early days to now regularly hosting over 130 people every week.

We host casual talks in our offices at Pivotal Labs most Tuesdays from 12:30pm over a catered lunch and conversation. Talks are around the three core disciplines of Pivotal Labs— Product Management, Product Design and Engineering, plus Diversity and Inclusion as something we’re passionate about.

The Vision

When we started Tech Talks back in early 2016, we were the new kids on the block in Sydney. We were wondering how we could make an impact in the community, similar to the way Pivotal Labs has in Silicon Valley. How do you make friends when you’re new in town? Our answer — throw events! 🎉

We had the space, we had the people, we had the passion, so we made it happen.

“We invest in tech talks to create awareness across diverse trends in the industry to help companies on their journey of digital transformation and make it relevant to their own organisation.” - Lawrence Crowther, Office Director Pivotal Labs Sydney

Getting Started

We started by asking friends and Pivots to talk about things they knew. We sold it to them as something low pressure — twenty minutes, in a casual setting, over lunch, friendly audience. We were consistently surprised by how willing and even flattered people are when asked to present something they’re knowledgeable about.

Despite how great our talks were (Tinder for Sheep, anyone?), we’d only get 10–15 people. Now we get 150+ in the audience every week.

Tinder for Sheep — My Journey with Ram Select

So how’d we grow so much?

Based on recent research we did, there are a couple of reasons. Lets break it down…

1. Variety of related topics

We really wanted to attract a varied audience that included designers, business managers, engineers and product people, as those are the core disciplines in Pivotal Labs. We’ve been loose with what “tech” in “tech talks” means — the topics are a mix, ranging from the really technical like quantum computing, to UX and design accessibility, through to product managing APIs at Google.

We’ve been quite successful in creating the diverse community we were hoping for:

2. One hour, at lunch time

We found that people like the lunch-and-learn format. It’s less commitment than an after-work event, and given that many people have flexible lunch times, it’s more convenient than taking two or three hours from their precious time with family and friends.

Survey responses showed that the time, location and short length are important to people

3. Location — make it easy

Making the location easily accessible for people is important. We’re centrally located, in Clarence Street in Sydney CBD, and we think that’s a big part of our success. We’re reaching an audience who are working close by, and it’s easy for them to walk over for lunch once a week.

4. Every week, like clockwork

Another factor we attribute our success to is the frequency with which we host talks. We try to schedule a meetup every Tuesday and we do for the most part. Our commitment to frequency has helped to create a habit for our members. On days we haven’t been able to host a talk, we still see people showing up expecting to partake in our weekly talks!

5. A great team

There is no way we could do this with this kind of regularity and quality without having a team behind it. We have two co-ordinators who spend a few hours a week organising talks. Our happiness director handles all the catering, room setup, and helps get speakers set up with audiovisual system. Plus lots of people in the office chip in with suggestions for speakers and topics.

Organising a good Meetup is more work than you would expect. Get a handful of people involved so you spread the load.

Taco Tuesday

6. Food glorious food

Yep, we have a catered lunch, and it’s good. We haven’t experimented with taking it away and seeing if our attendance drops. Maybe that’s part of it.

7. The habit equation

Our hypothesis is that it’s this combination that hits the sweet spot, so we created events that people want to come to.

Variety + duration + location + frequency (+ food) = Habit forming

Because of the variety of topics, we appeal to a broad group of tech-minded people, from designers to Agile folks to PMs and BAs and engineers.

Because of the one hour duration, and the central location, it’s easy and low-commitment for people to attend.

And because we host talk every week with some great food, it becomes habitual.

What’s next?

We’re experimenting with different ideas to improve. We have recently managed to book a renowned speaker in Silicon Valley (watch this space for more details!). This will mean we are, for the first time, branching outside of Sydney and Australia to find our speakers. This will be a live link from Silicon Valley and if it’s a success it will mean that we can bring more great topics and speakers to Sydney through our meetup.

We’ll also be experimenting with more interactive talks, facilitated networking and live streaming after vigorous campaigning from our members in Melbourne (we hear you Melbournites!)

We hope you have found this article useful. If you’re thinking of creating your own meetup in Sydney please feel free to give us a shout in the comments below - we’re always on the hunt for speakers and interesting partnerships. And if you’re in Sydney and want to learn something new over a casual lunch, come and join us one Tuesday soon!

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