Starting a Developer Meetup Community
I have just posted the full video stream of Svelte Society 4. This marks 4 months of running my first meetup with the help of community members and I thought it would be a good opportunity for reflection.
Why Community is Important
I've written before about the importance of scaling coding communities - and recently chatted on JAMstack Radio about how this applies to Svelte and why you have to scale Community to scale Code. It's also a nice way to build an IRL friend base - there are always things people can talk about in person, that they don't online.
It takes a very special kind of masochist to be an event organizer. I am NOT that person. I have never hosted a dinner party at home. I don't do housewarmings. I don't even have birthday celebrations! The social anxiety would be way more stress than would be worth it.
However in Sept 2019 I found out that there would be a Svelte London meetup, the first Svelte meetup in the world. This felt wrong to me - Rich Harris lives in NYC and there was no meetup here!
I am a sucker for things that should happen that wouldn't happen without my help.
So I asked Rich if he would join in and put up a tweet. We had no speakers, no venue, no mailing list. Within a week Tierney had helped us find a place at Microsoft Reactor (a GREAT place for dev community meetups!) and we had put up a Meetup page and organized the full session with ~50 devs in the room! It was awesome and we showed London that NYC can get its act together too :) Achievement unlocked.
We even managed to record and upload Rich's talk!
Components of a Great Meetup
We didn't have a lot of the niceties a well organized group might have. Here are the sorts of things that people might expect out of a well organized meetup:
- Code of Conduct
- Nice Venue
- Twitter account
- Youtube channel
- Twitch stream
- Meetup Page
- Steady stream of Spaekers
- Active and Diverse Organizer Group
- Returning and Diverse Attendee Base
Decent planning would involve having worked out the schedule and responsibilities for the next 1-2 months by the time you're hosting the current meetup.
In the lead-up to the event and on the day itself you have all these roles:
- Marketing the event
- Venue liason
- Sponsor liason
- Reception/Signup people
- Speaker wrangler
- Backup speakers
- AV person
- Social chair?
All this, and you haven't really even nailed the value proposition of why people should come to, speak at, sponsor, watch online and return to your meetup. These could be:
- To meet fellow devs
- To learn new things
- To get a job
- To hire developers
- To practice public speaking
- To record material for future reference
- ??? i'm sure there are more
I've spent about 3 years going to pretty much every webdev meetup in New York so I have some sense of how these things go. For the Svelte meetup I chose to take inspiration from the Elm NYC meetup which does lightning talks and then a hack/chat hour. This is because most attendees do not use Svelte at work and are coming to learn, and so I figured this format would be appropriate. I also adopted Orta's TypeScript NYC format of having beginner, intermediate, and advanced content so that it is inclusive of people at all levels.
I also dislike the bland pizza served at every meetup ever so I just got rid of both food and the need to sponsor food. However we have had food sponsorship from Myles Borins of Google before and we went for Tacos/Burritos. I also observe that people simply dont eat before the meetup and end up starving after so I dont know how much I will stick to this principle.
I made sure to open up to anybody who wanted to co-organize early on and prioritize other emcees than me doing things.
I also chose to open up the idea of franchising the meetup to other countries, which Kevin from Sweden has handily picked up the baton to start Svelte Society Stockholm.
To Pay or Not to Pay
Free meetups have a notorious flake rate. In NYC you have between 30-50% of signups actually showing up. I've seen some meetups charge a nominal $5 and still have a decent showing. I might do that in future, but worry that people won't pay for a meetup that doesn't directly have to do with work.
We gathered 114 people on Meetup but of course ran into the Meetup $2 RSVP Plan and said "F that" and migrated to DownToMeet. Hopefully we are done with community churn for now.
It's not all about throwing a mini-conference every month. There should be some social elements and some pure nonsensical entertainment. I've seen some meetups do this really well, but I'm a more serious type of person for whom this doesn't quite come naturally. I do think kahoot.it live quizzes can be an easy win.
A lot of meetups have company backing - GitNation notably has a conscious strategy to grow its conference series by seeding the ground with meetups. But even with company backing, organizers are usually staying out late, missing out on personal and family time. It's really hard.
The only reason this meetup has even survived or got attention is the gracious participation of Rich and other organizers, as well as folks who have pitched in with venue and even sponsorship offers. Community Meetups need that to survive.
But it also needs organizational grunt work. For me, I found myself only working on the meetup pretty much 1 week before every meetup, because as the Directly Reponsible Individual the event wouldn't run without me. I haven't figured out how to remove myself from this chain yet - also because nobody else views this as a high priority for them so I am kind of stuck with it. However I've been fortunate to have Vadim and Sandy help with organizing and emceeing duties, and especially Vadim lending his design skills has been extremely clutch for our online branding™️.
We have been lucky so far on the speaker front. I haven't had to beg anyone - people like Jeff Posnick and Michael Adam Berry and just get in touch and I put them on. Me and Rich also serve as backup speakers who give talks at the drop of a dime. I suspect we will have dry spells in future and will have to deal with it as it comes.
The Franchising idea - having a global meetup series share social media accounts, branding, and other organizer assets - has not taken off largely due to my inattention to it. I need to either give it more time or get someone else to run it.
I'm just really struggling on this front. I don't know how this works, I don't have good ideas for it, and I don't have people to bounce ideas off of, and frankly I don't have the time or commitment needed to make this fly. yet.
Online Footprint is Important
We started off with about 50 people, and now are steady state around 20-30 devs per meetup. I skimp on a lot of things but I don't skimp on the video - because online, talks can get 200-2000 views from people who simply aren't in town or couldn't attend in person.
I expect it will grow more important as virus concerns increase this year.
The Online Footprint kills so many stones - it spreads content, serves as marketing, and an incentive for speakers to speak.
I can't stress this enough - if you have a good online presence, you can singlehandedly put your city on the global map as a desirable tech destination. I have a great desire to visit Wroclaw as a dev destination pretty much because of Karol Majewski and WrocTypeScript's high quality content.
You Need A Michael Cheng or Roman Ilyushin
I dread editing and putting up the videos. I spent about 6 hours doing that today. It's important but boy is it costly.
Basically it should be somebody's job, and the less editing you must do the better.
Roman Ilyushin performs this role for the NYC JS meetups. He brings all the video and audio equipment, does live editing of them together, and ships them off to YouTube before you've reached home.
Michael Cheng does this on a grand scale in Singapore. He not only does many events himself, but also trains the Engineers.sg community in Singapore to provide free, fast, professional quality video recording for every tech meetup in Singapore.
I don't think it is sustainable for me to keep editing videos. Sooner or later I'm going to drop the ball. I would like to pay somebody to do this.
I would really like to get more organizers and more diverse organizers for Svelte Society.
I would like to sustainably get franchising working for Svelte Society.
I'm thinking of hiring a video editor to help, or otherwise getting a "AV person".
Thorsten from Stripe Singapore also pointed me to Get Together, a book and podcast about growing communities, which I would like to work through more.
Some high quality meetups I've come across that you can use for reference:
Are there any other "meetup organizer help" resources and tips you know? Please shout at me.