Ascent Podcast Ep. 5 – David Siegel, CEO @ Meetup

This week on The Ascent Podcast – LaaS: Leadership as a Service, Andrew sits down with Meetup CEO David Siegel. David has 20+ years of experience and is a management professor at Columbia University.

In this one-on-one interview, they go over his hobbies, inspirations, career development, and experience in the field, even dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. You also get access to essential tips for entrepreneurs and philanthropists alike. Listeners will have access to insider information on how to create important relationships.

Starting with a series of “rapid-fire questions” we get a look into aspects of the daily life of a CEO, from his aspirations growing up to exercise and health habits, his preferences between Apple or Android products, and the meaning of his name. The audience gets an in-depth scope of various positions he’s held and learn key factors that proved fundamental to his success. Personal insight on his formative years combined with his passion for educating allows for a unique view and understanding of how to give information to listeners in a way they can apply said techniques themselves. You’re also brought into a refreshing perspective of what you can offer as someone going up through the ranks or looking to grow and learn from those who have paved the way.

In this interview, you’ll better understand what you can bring to the table to a superior or CEO and how you can help each other through working together. Tune in and get a peek into the mentality and approach of a leading professional to the intricate world of finance and business management.


Andrew Tarvin [00:00:02] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to another episode of the Ascent podcast, where we have a live video conversation where we get to know the human behind some of the top leaders in tech. My name is Andrew Tarvin and I’ll be your host and emcee for today. And today we’re going to be talking to David Siegel, who is the CEO of Meetup. But before we get to that is a couple of quick announcements for you. If you are joining us live today via the remote platform, you are able to, of course, listen and watch today. But also, if you do have some questions, you can share those over in the Q&A functionality over on the right hand side. And we may get a chance to get to those a little bit later. But more importantly, if you are listening to this after the effect on Spotify or iTunes or that kind of thing, well, there is no built-In Q&A functionality, but you can always leave us a comment online, of course, or reach out after the episode. And, of course, be sure to subscribe and rate the podcast as well, because we’ve got some fantastic guests coming up down the pipeline. But we’ve also got a great guest for you today. I’m excited not only for this person’s work in terms of what they do today. Also wearing an epic shirt, what you’re going to see in just a moment. But our guest today is David Segal. He’s the CEO of Meetup. He’s a chief executive officer with 20 plus years of dramatically growing revenue and profit in the digital space. He’s also a management professor at Columbia University. And at least according to his LinkedIn profile, he speaks Hebrew, but not fluently. So please welcome to your eyes and ears for today’s conversation. David Siegel. David, and welcome to the podcast.

David Siegel [00:01:44] Too good, that’s my non fluent Hebrew.

Andrew Tarvin [00:01:49] I don’t speak any of it, so I’m going to take your word for it. We’re so happy that you’re joining us today. And before we jump into the meat of the conversation, we do like to start with a little bit of a rapid fire round just to get to know you a little bit more as a human. So quick kind of answers here. They can be one or two words for the most part. But are you ready for Rapid Fire?

David Siegel [00:02:11] Let’s go.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:12] All right. I like it. Are you first of all, are you in one person or a night owl?

David Siegel [00:02:16] Morning.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:17] OK, how early is morning?

David Siegel [00:02:19] This this morning? I woke up at 5:00, but that’s abnormal. Normally like six, six, fifteen. And then I start exercising.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:25] OK, you start get into the exercise. We’re actually on a little bit about that later today. Apple or Android?

David Siegel [00:02:31] Apple.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:31] Introvert or extrovert?

David Siegel [00:02:34] Definitely an extrovert. No question.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:36] All right, let’s move. Bidding for this new of meetup. I guess when you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to become?

David Siegel [00:02:44] I wanted to be an archeologist. Actually, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and fell in love.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:49] How you like. Can I be Indiana Jones?

David Siegel [00:02:53] You got all the girls.

Andrew Tarvin [00:02:55] You did yeah and on the whip. He had a great. Yeah, I mean, it’s Harrison Ford. So who can who win it like that. I like it. Currently your favorite hobby?

David Siegel [00:03:05] Currently favorite hobby, huh. I would say these days as much exercise as I could get, probably ping pong, tennis. I also play those a lot because it’s easy for social distancing.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:18] We only play sports where you hit a ball with a racket, both ping pong and tennis. Are there other sports in there as well?

David Siegel [00:03:25] Yeah, I play paddle tennis and that’s another racket up biking. Yeah, sure. I’ve done a couple of triathlons.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:34] Wow. That is, that is quite, quite impressive. Not it’s not for me. I don’t enjoy personally I don’t swim because I don’t like a sport where it’s like if you give up partway through it you drown.

David Siegel [00:03:46] That’s why in a triathlon you always do the swimming first. It goes from like highest chance of death to less chance of death.

Andrew Tarvin [00:03:53] I like that. At least it is structured well. And the last part of the triathlon is Knap. I’m assuming that’s part for.

David Siegel [00:04:00] Appear appear of their nap.

Andrew Tarvin [00:04:02] Yeah. You’ve got to get the beer for you, right. You got to get to get the reward for what is a TV series that you are currently watching or recently finished?

David Siegel [00:04:09] If I just worked out this morning to Ozark, I like shows about people who seem normal or actually quite strange on the outside. I’m not sure what that inside. I’m not sure what that says about me but

Andrew Tarvin [00:04:22] I know it is. We train. Do we need to go into a deeper dove of a secret, a strange side of David Siegel?

David Siegel [00:04:29] I maybe should be lying down on the couch for that part. Sure.

Andrew Tarvin [00:04:32] Ahh, I like it. And who is someone who you admire?

David Siegel [00:04:38] Someone whom I admire. You know, my favorite books author who is a guy named Dale Carnegie from How to Win Friends and Influence People. So I will go with Dale Carnegie. He rose from nothing to create to really focus on the human element of of of people work in communication. So I’ll go with him.

Andrew Tarvin [00:04:59] That is a great answer. That book transformed how I as an introvert, was able to actually have conversations with people recognizing you could ask them questions and then you’ve got to stop talking. So I think great answer.

David Siegel [00:05:11] Maybe they just want to talk about themselves. That’s what he said. So yeah.

Andrew Tarvin [00:05:16] So I like it. Very cool. And so this last one isn’t necessarily doesn’t have to be one word, but we’re fascinated to with the scent on the. What’s the story of your name. Does the name have a specific meaning. Are you named after someone or was it just a random selection in the hospital that day. Where does where where do you get David Siegel from?

David Siegel [00:05:36] OK, I’ll give my last name because that’s actually, I think, a lot more interesting. So I mentioned Hebrew earlier. So Siegel has three consonants and s a G and an L take away the vowels and in Hebrew those are an abbreviation for the assistance to the priest. So my family goes back to people who were assistance to the priests in ancient Israel dating back to three thousand years.

Andrew Tarvin [00:06:03] How that is fascinating. That is really cool. And so then just along the way, because that’s kind of if you put those three letters together, that’s kind of how you pronounce them without vowels.

David Siegel [00:06:12] I it basically it’s a it’s a sound gimmel language stands or something like Cohanim, which means assistant to the priest. Basically so many people who are have the last name of Seagle came from this tribe called Leapai Tribe, which are the assistance to the priest. So that’s where my last name comes from.

Andrew Tarvin [00:06:31] Is that true for Steven Seagal? Because that’s a little bit different.

David Siegel [00:06:35] I mean, you don’t want to mess with him. So, like, if he was like an assistant, then that would make a lot of sense. But I would say likely true for him as well. Yes.

Andrew Tarvin [00:06:42] OK, that is fascinating. I did not know that I loved.

David Siegel [00:06:45] David so boring. I’m not going to tell you about David. We’re right.

Andrew Tarvin [00:06:50] I think so. As we know, this is a podcast listen to a wide variety of different people, people who are entrepreneurs, to borrow our founders, a company of people who are working in companies and. Well, and so one of the questions we’re very curious about, just from a beginners perspective, is do you remember the first way that you made money? Was it your first job out of school or did you do something kind of growing up?

David Siegel [00:07:11] Yeah, I actually did. So speaking of hobbies, I used to be really into collecting baseball cards like a lot of kids. And I used to I became like into buying and selling and investing in certain baseball players. So I would I would I found like this player that I thought had. Had a lot of potential, so I’d buy like a hundred or two hundred of his rookie cards and then I would go back to baseball card shows a year or two later and then try to sell the baseball cards. And oftentimes I’m able to get it at a profit. And sometimes they were worth less than the cardboard that there are. But but I guess it got me into the business wheeling, dealing mindset. And I was probably, I don’t know, 10, 11.

Andrew Tarvin [00:07:57] Wow! 10 Years old. Man, you would. Are you do you play fantasy baseball or fantasy sports like that?

David Siegel [00:08:04] So I’m in the finals for a fantasy football league next week, and I think I was the commissioner at my fantasy baseball league when everything had to be by USA Today. And I would have to do all the all the addition and subtraction to figure out the entire everything by hand. And I spent hours and hours as the commissioner of Fantasy League when I was in high school. And before that I played stratospheric baseball and all the other kind of nerdy baseball sports. Back in the day. I even played softball, but I played softball, not baseball.

Andrew Tarvin [00:08:32] So yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a little bit different now. It’s similar to it reminds me I guess, and I was a mathlete in school, in high school, which is not from my athlete. Like they go to Math Olympiad. It’s basically like sports. If your favorite part is the stats, which it kind of sounds like that was the case for you at baseball to of like loving this, that the numbers of it, but very entrepreneurial of you, of like, I’m going to invest, I’m going to try to see these rise. And so certainly. Right. You go to you go to university, you go to Penn, you go to Wharton and get some pretty senior leadership positions relatively early on in your career. I mean, you’ve been general manager at Duane Reade Express, senior vice president of many flowers, present of Seeking Alpha, CEO of Investopedia, now CEO of Meetup as well. Was the goal always business and management or was it kind of like you just kind of fell into that and just kept on rising through the ranks? How does that how does that kind of storied career happen?

David Siegel [00:09:29] Yeah, sure. So I always like to say that I when I go to a wedding, I’m definitely more of a smorgasbord guy than an entree guy, meaning I like like little bits of things as opposed to becoming like an expert in something. So when I was in college, I majored in philosophy, political science and economics. Clearly not a path for business. Yeah, I mean, one accounting class, actually. Why the hell not? But I was I was all about that. And then because there’s a general maxim that if you don’t do, then you don’t know, then you consult. So I decided the best thing to do is to become a consultant because I knew nothing and wouldn’t that be perfect? So I had absolutely no idea what I want to do. I consulted the my biggest client was a company called DoubleClick. I was in human resources actually at DoubleClick is a human resources partner, which is a typical path towards becoming a CEO. But I think helpful. And I had a mentor at DoubleClick who was the general manager I two mentors. What was the general manager of the business that I work with. The other was the CEO of the company, a company guy named Kevin Ryan, who twenty two years later is now the chairman of Meetup acquired Meetup. So I got him to calm it up. So it’s good to keep keep in touch with people. So that really got me interested in business. And then I went back for an MBA at Wharton because I was like, I don’t know anything. I suppose I learned something.

Andrew Tarvin [00:10:49] I should learn a little bit.

David Siegel [00:10:51] And then I realize even after a business direct don’t know anything so well.

Andrew Tarvin [00:10:55] And so I think that that mentorship piece I think is really, really important. So was that something intentional when you’re at DoubleClick to, like, seek out? Was it. Yes. You happen to be friendly and you played on the softball team with this person, like were you how intentional was seeking out some some mentorship and guidance that probably helped you as you went through your career? Like you said, in some ways, coming back with you?

David Siegel [00:11:16] I would say extremely intentional. I’ve always really, from a young age, kind of love learning from people. And and I really prioritized in business. I was I was lucky to have my first consulting job. I have an opportunity to be mentored by people who have been consultants for twenty, thirty years. And I just couldn’t believe how much I did it. No, you know, there’s a famous I remember I got my parents a card greeting card when I was like twenty four and said something like, I’m going to put to this but you like it. It said something like it’s amazing how much my parents learned since, since I was 18 years old. And it’s kind of a truism where you kind of when you’re eighteen you think you know everything. Everything, everything. Twenty four. Twenty five. You hopefully realize so little. And and I have these amazing mentors and I just that’s that was a big focus of mine, I would say, really trying to build meaningful relationships that were not just taking, but also trying to give the relationship as well. And and and I recommend certainly for any leader.

Andrew Tarvin [00:12:29] And so I. Introverts from that perspective, I guess. How does that type of relationship happen or is it just you’re casually kind of asking questions and they seem to respond to it? Is it like a formal like Coulombe, like my my mentor type thing, like like actually take place that to build this type of mentorship thing, if someone is listening and they’re like, I could use a mentor.

David Siegel [00:12:52] Wow. OK, so I have had people actually call me up who I know of course not out of the blue and say, hey, I would like you to be my mentor. Can we get together like once a month? I’m like, I can’t get together once a month. No, but I can get together twice a year and I’m happy to do that. So it’s on you to get to reach out to me twice. Twice a year. And of course, any time you need it, like if you’re dealing with some kind of larger issue, you could call me like five times a week. Doesn’t matter. And I’m happy to do that. And I have a few people that do that. I didn’t say do that. What I what I did is I was very proactive in just asking people to go to lunch with me, you know? And I said, hey, I think I’d love to learn from you. Would you be open to go to lunch together? And I just actually did that fairly often. And I think when you’re I was twenty three. Twenty four. And those people were, let’s say thirty five to forty. Now many people just do that and people appreciate it and they’re like, I would love to go to lunch. And when people ask me if I could go to lunch, meet up employees that are junior or interns or whatever, I’m like, yeah, sure, I’d love to go to lunch. Who doesn’t like a lunch? Expensive lunch is wonderful. So ah

Andrew Tarvin [00:14:06] I like it so it’s very Carnegie insistence that if I go I going be like massive personal questions, get to know them and all that. One of the things you make, though, is the value of trying to give back by giving them value. So from your perspective, especially now being in as they mentor a lot of the time, what can a mentee provide to other people? Like to someone more senior to them? What kind of value can they bring?

David Siegel [00:14:33] So my students actually ask me that or it’s like one of their favorite questions. So here’s here’s a couple of thoughts on. So number one is there’s a famous story about how Jack Welch was mentored by, quote unquote, younger people when the Internet first came out because he was so not comfortable having a computer in his office until a long time. So one thing that I think younger people can do is help people understand things like Tic-Tac or things like just new technologies that that people are using, that old fogies like me in our mid forties kind of don’t have as much kind of comfort in and don’t really understand why people use Tic TAC or Instagram or whatever. So that’s one helping with kind of newer technologies. Number two is, I think generally Dale Carnegie would certainly say that people love teaching others. People love helping others. So if you actually could think to yourself, I am doing this person a favor as a junior person by presenting an opportunity for them to help me, because they will then where the sounds feel good about themselves, because they will actually help me. And that’s a wonderful thing to be able to facilitate as well. So it’s not like it’s just taking, but by by by teaching you learn. And I find that myself. So, so so there’s there’s there’s a positive to creating a situation where someone could teach you something because the teacher learns as well. So that’s that’s kind of a second thing, I would say. And then a third. A third one is people are always looking for interns. People are always looking for junior employees, entry level employees, people just right at school. So offer up your friends, find out if someone’s looking for hires between twenty two and whatever, twenty eight younger people. And that’s really helpful because lots of companies are looking to hire younger people too. So there’s a whole host of ways you can help someone that that’s.

Andrew Tarvin [00:16:29] Well I like that. I think certainly that second one that you mentioned, I’ve recognized that when I’m talking to people, hey, people ask asking about presenting skills or humor or that kind of stuff and me talking about it, subject clarifies my own thoughts because you’ve asked me a question and and I have to like I think this stuff to put it into words that someone else is can actually understand it and give some clarity there. So I love that kind of point that you made.

David Siegel [00:16:56] And some people learn well by talking.

Andrew Tarvin [00:16:58] So it makes. Yeah, makes it makes a lot of sense. And so from this. Right. So you had these mentors early on and like you said, you kind of like the more Buffet style of thing. How do you pick the opportunities that you then went after? Because we may have some people listening that are like, how do I know if it’s time to leave an organization or go to this opportunity or otherwise for you? What was that decision criteria or was it just stuff that fell in your lap? Was it kind of a specific rubric? Was it the idea interest you? What was that kind of decision making criteria? We go from these different places.

David Siegel [00:17:32] OK, great. If you look at the company that worked at Duane Reade is a retail store everyday. Health is a health focus company. Then I went to investigate. It’s really all over the place. So the answer in my mind is I think people get overly focused on a specific industry to their detriment. And so they don’t even know about how interesting other industries can be. In my mind, I think the the the most important thing to look for in a company is who you’re going to be reporting into. Now, you can say, well, your manager could end up changing and then you get screwed. And yes, that could happen, of course. But typically managers stay around for two or three or four years and you develop a relationship. But I would say that I prioritized who I’d be reporting into and how much I could learn from that person and how much broad learning and exposure I could get to how companies actually work and how they run. That kind of more senior level was my dream job initially out of business school, was to be an assistant to the CEO, which was to like, you know, help the PowerPoint presentation strategy or text or whatever, because I thought it would give me a broader range of opportunity is possible. I couldn’t get that. But but I got something similar to it, which was like business development, strategic planning at this at the pharmacy chain called Duane Reade, which was ultimately acquired by Walgreens later. So I would say people overemphasize industry and underemphasized who they’re working for and who you work for is ultimately the person that could set the stage for your career that could give you opportunities. That would be my advice. So I was back.

Andrew Tarvin [00:19:14] When I think I think it’s a great reminder of that, that you’re not working just for a company, but you’re working for a person and that your manager and the support system around that can have a big impact on your success or failure within that within that role or with the net that job. And so what was it about then? Meetup, especially the CEO, is that then looking at the board of directors that, you know, that.

David Siegel [00:19:39] Once you’re getting a CEO job you’re not looking for your reporting into? Really, because that’s a that’s a different story. And I was reporting and ultimately, like Adam Newman, we work and you know that that’s a whole nother thing. So I think as I kind of progressed in my in my career mission became far more important to me than nearly anything else. So and Investopedia, we are the company is the world’s largest financial education business. And I actually love personal finance and financial education. And I love education generally and teaching the power and importance of education. And and I’ve seen with my own eyes people that squander their savings or didn’t save enough or didn’t save for retirement, et cetera. So that mission actually deeply spoke to me about how can we help people to become more financially savvy and learn more and then meet up even more. So because Meetup is all about building community, it’s all about where the world’s largest platform for building community. We have fifteen thousand meetup events every single day and we have events that help to support people through everything from parents of children with ADHD to breast cancer support, to lawyers who want to become engineers, you name it, we have it hiking groups, etc. and and the importance of people and the importance of connecting with people really spoke deeply to me, possibly all the way back to my days of working in human resources and how important that that generally is to me, the people side of things. So I would say mission orientation is like my number one and I would not work for a company now. I mean, you work more hours than you do anything else, so you better do something you’re passionate about. And and that that now is my priority.

Andrew Tarvin [00:21:35] Absolutely. And I think that with a little bit of a of the younger generation, they they put that meaningful work even more important, not just meaningful, that their work has contributions to the organization, but that the organization itself is doing something that is meaningful. And this was language I hadn’t seen until doing a little bit of research for this interview, to be perfectly honest. And the phrasing around even the numbers, that meetup has an understanding, the impact of loneliness. Right. So that loneliness can have the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarets a day. It can be more dangerous and obesity. And that you’ve done the research to know that Medha can help to people to feel better and fight that long is in fact in one study saying that 80 percent of people who go to meet up events feel more connected to others. And so was that type of messaging that kind of brought you in or down that you’ve been in there of even elevating that messaging so that people know the the mission of the the organization even more.

David Siegel [00:22:31] Painful. I’ve been going to meet up events and environmental groups for a decade, so I had seen it kind of firsthand in terms of groups that have been a part of groups of friends, have been a part of I have friends that unfortunately have had serious bouts with depression or loneliness, anxiety, etc. and the best one of the best ways to help to address it is to find people that could help to support you, that could help to learn from and not to try to think that you could fix it on your own, not to try to think that, like, you know, getting into your phone and just reading random articles on the Internet is the way to go. It’s not the way to go. It’s like really dangerous, actually. So I would say I always believed in it. And then when I got here and I read statistics like forty two percent of people regularly trailed, only crazy. Twenty five percent of people don’t even have a single one. Not one trusted confidant, not a single, just terrifying. Sixty three percent of Danziger’s regularly feel lonely, which is even more terrifying than younger people feel lonely. So, so. And then I meet with like I get emails from therapists who say something like literally a therapist will reach out to me and say, I subscribe, meet up to all of my all of my patients because it helps them so much. And then I get emails from people who are learning technology. I’m like, hey, I would never have learned whatever programing language if it was not for for me. So it was very gratifying.

Andrew Tarvin [00:24:04] Yeah. You get a you get a balance of both. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I would have my career that I have now, if not for me up my ass. And my background is very shortly is degree in computer science and engineering was at Procter and Gamble, but then started using humor because I was doing improv and standup and fell in love with this idea of speaking, because speaking is almost standup with a message. And I could bring the engineering kind of effectiveness and efficiency along with humor as a way to execute it. And so when I was early on in my kind of speaking career, went on meet up dotcom and reached out to a bunch of maybe maybe I should be revealing this. I don’t know if this was spam technically, but I reached out to a bunch of places in New York City on Meetup that were like, hey, you’re speaking about blank. And I come and talk about humor and agile networking or humor and programing or humor and dating or whatever. And that got me kind of my first couple of gigs as a speaker.

David Siegel [00:24:54] That’s awesome. I love it. That’s fantastic. That’s so great. Very entrepreneurial. That’s so right.

Andrew Tarvin [00:25:01] And but like you said, there’s there’s an opportunity to go and you’re finding people who are like minded in some way. As an introvert, it’s very helpful for things to be event space because it’s one thing to go to like a networking event. It’s another thing when it’s like centered around a topic or a passion, because you just start talking about that obvious passion or topic as opposed to like, do you want to be my friend? It’s more of like, hey, let’s talk about quantified self. That’s a fascinating subject. Oh, yeah. Now we’re building a relationship.

David Siegel [00:25:28] Yeah. For introverts. I was just speaking to an introvert on Friday who’s a meetup organizer, and I asked him how we got in to meet up and he said he’s always loved boardgames because it’s easier for an introvert to play board games. And he went to a board game meetup group finding his wife to meet up here. He’s organized three different groups. He’s at four weddings happen through his meetup groups. I mean, it’s really the really mixing of the personal. And the professional is one of the most beautiful things. I think that that’s that that exists. But it really has the opportunity to help to to change. Great things happen when you get together in person with other people. And when you can’t get together in person, then Zoom is a very distant second. But it still is is is more valuable than not getting together with people.

Andrew Tarvin [00:26:19] Absolutely. Well, that’s and that’s a great line. I want you to share that. But but that’s an interesting thing that I do want to talk about because, you know, Meetup fifty two million members worldwide have three hundred thirty thousand meetup groups. Astonishing. Number one hundred and one hundred and ninety three different countries as well. And then the end of March happened. Right. If you corona virus is like basically shutting down all social events, also kind of this kind of like no longer with me work and getting you know so.

David Siegel [00:26:50] March twenty seven.

Andrew Tarvin [00:26:51] Yeah. So this confluence of like first of all, I want to talk about the pivot in the strategy, but what was your like mindset like that week where you like. Yes. Opportunity for change or you’re like, oh no. Like what happened. Like how do you handle that news as the CEO of of an organization where you’re feeling both these two difficult things at the same time?

David Siegel [00:27:14] Yeah, but I, I we were had told me that they were going to put the company up for business back in September of two thousand and nineteen. So it did a six month process. Meeting with 30 to 50 different companies at the at the last minute, I was able to bring in someone who I’ve known for over 20 years, Kevin Ryan, another investor, and they acquire the company from work. So the biggest feeling was just deep breath and very happy. He’s getting friendly, someone who I trust. I also like on a personal level and and just huge deep breath because I knew that he would not take a just short term perspective. And the challenge of the of covid was frankly built into the price of the company. Had had the company been acquired two or three months prior, it would have been a different price. So so I needed I needed to have a partner that was going to take a long term perspective and not just say, oh, my God, the sky is falling, fire half of your team or whatever the message would have been that went to work for me, I wouldn’t have ended up staying. So they definitely came ahead and had I would say in terms of covid when we were in March, most people did not think nine months later we’re still here. So I was just like, OK, it’s a blip. It’s, you know, March. By the time it’s it’s April, we’re we’re all going to be celebrating Memorial Day barbecues together. Worst case. And and, well, we were all wrong. So I think in March, no one realized, few people realized how impactful it would be, especially in China. It’s amazing how less impactful it actually was considering the origins. But so I was just kind of more more big sigh of relief that we got this thing done and we have great owners and everything will work out great.

Andrew Tarvin [00:29:26] OK, and so and you actually did a session for the U.S. conference on How to Pivot, which I think was great. And in that you talked about different strategies for pivoting. But one of the ones that stood out to me was how you said to make sure to leverage your data almost as kind of this competitive advantage or at least part of the pivot strategy. And I guess to you and for Meetup, what did that mean? How did you leverage data to inform the private?

David Siegel [00:29:54] Yeah, of course. So, you know, starting in early March, you started seeing China. China’s meetup events go down by like ninety five percent or so. And then the events went down by like 90 percent, like, oh, this isn’t good. And then and then we started seeing the data moving in that direction. So we said, OK, this this is this is major. We can’t just like tiptoe around this and then other people within me upset, but we’re all that in person. We’re giving up our soul. If we if we allow for online connections that in fact, the number one reason why we denied Meetup group groups from joining was because it was online only. That was the reason why we had a group. So so it didn’t take long. I kind of decided SEO top down. It’s not about in-person, it’s about human connecting and we must have it and that’s it. So in terms of leveraging data, number one, as the data was obvious that we had to had to pivot quickly. Number two is we got an understanding from data of kind of which aspects of our business, which aspects of our iOS or Android app or web we needed to change as quickly as possible. So we used data in terms of our product product solution. And then we also shortly thereafter, we started seeing, for example, in Black Lives Matter after George Boyd was murdered, we started seeing a tremendous number of groups growing on meetup around that. So we looked at the data. We constantly looking at data to see what trends are happening for now, for example, now not surprising, spirituality, wellness, taking care of oneself as all kind of going through the roof, those types of meetup groups. And we made some important decisions like making Meetup free for anyone who organized a group focused on racial equality and social justice. So so I think any entrepreneur who is not. Deeply data centric. Is better find their number two and number three, who are highly data centric. It’s just it’s just the most important thing to not just got these decisions, but to make real data driven decisions.

Andrew Tarvin [00:32:12] As an engineer who kind of considers emotions to just be data. I appreciate you say It does help me feel like right that because you’re right and it’s giving insight, because as an entrepreneur, you sometimes have a thought of what you want your product or your brand or your identity. But a lot of times it’s what people say about it anyway. And I think that’s a great point to recognize and go from. Were rejecting meetings because they’re online only to being like, no, we get up, Meetup like community is connection. Going back to that bigger picture goal of what the organization was about allows you to say, oh, well, if we have to be physically distant, maybe we can. Doesn’t mean that we have to actually be socially distance, that we can be you know, we can do these things virtually, which I think is is a really cool part of the story. And you have the data to back it up as well. And and so along with in addition to being the CEO at Meetup, you are also a professor. You’ve been adjunct professor at pace. Now you’re a professor at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where we teach entrepreneur, organization and strategic management to master’s degrees. My question is why? I mean, is is Meetup not I don’t mean that kind of facetiously, but I mean, it seems like Meetup is probably in and of itself a good amount of work for you. What’s the what’s the value or the draw or the passion for educating others?

David Siegel [00:33:37] Yeah, I mean, I really think that when you’re teaching strategy or you’re teaching entrepreneurship or you’re talking about culture, it has happened to me dozens and dozens of times that I will be taught. I be preparing for class a case study. I’ll be talking to students about something. And then I realize, oh, my God, I’m not doing this in my life right now. There are so many times that I definitively not just feel, but I know that I am a better CEO because I am forced to verbalize like we had talked about earlier. I’m forced to kind of confront theories or practice and remind myself of things that kind of work in the back of my head and then bring them like all the way to the front of the head. So so I think I’m a better, better, better professor because I’m a CEO. Anything or better still, because I’m professor and I am number one. Number two is, I think Fallot philanthropy comes in all stripes. And obviously charity is very, very important. And I try to commit myself to charity in addition to money philanthropy. I think there’s something to be said for time philanthropy. And I absolutely I tell my students this that they feel it’s funny. But but but I actually see teaching as philanthropy. I think it’s taking something that’s a skill set of yours. And and at this point, I have, of course, curriculum at the beginning. It a tremendous amount of time. It’s easier now and using and providing philanthropy of your time. And and that makes me feel great. And frankly, when you do things that feel great, it’s an investment and you end up having more time. So it’s efficient to spend an hour and a half doing something or two hours a week, whatever it is a week, to give you more energy, to be able to accomplish more things and other aspects of life, and to spend the two hours watching more Breaking Bad or whatever things I mean, nothing wrong with being bad. I like show, but but I would say is that just like exercise, teaching is also a positive investment in time because it creates more positive energy for yourself and that energy could be used for other things with family work, etc..

Andrew Tarvin [00:35:50] Well and what would a great phrase of a positive investment of time. I really like that distinction because I think you’re exactly right. Of course when I speak on, it’s kind of annoying. I don’t know if your if your family does is as well, but like, I speak a decent amount on stress management. And so then when I’m feeling stressed, my wife is like, shouldn’t you be doing the things that you’re talking about with stress management? Don’t tell a group about that yesterday, like, all right. Yeah. You practice what you preach a little bit more when you’re constantly saying it’s I love that distinction, that even just vocalizing it out. But I do think for the entrepreneurs listening, because they’re such as I feel like mentality that it’s you’ve got to put in one hundred and forty hours a week of one hundred and sixty eight hour work week or whatever to be successful. And there’s almost a romanticizing like how much you’re just solely focused on this one thing. But to your perspective, by getting back in the form of time, not only are you actually helping people, but you’re helping yourself as well.

David Siegel [00:36:52] Yeah, I mean, listen, if it’s in TV shows, then it must be true, right? That’s what entrepreneurs say. So I mean. There is an incredible danger to working those number of hours, it is not a sustainable thing and doesn’t necessarily get people to be their best, can you work 60 hours a week? And that could be sustainable. Yes, but something anything more than that, I think is is potentially really detrimental to all other aspects of life and relationships, et cetera. I mean, I think one needs personal health and personal life and the balance between that in order to ultimately be successful in one’s professional life. So, yeah, I agree.

Andrew Tarvin [00:37:34] That’s great. And so now and obviously as a professor, you teach a lot, but at the same time, you’re getting exposed to a younger generation of people. Is there anything that you’ve learned from your students that kind of resonates with you, aside from the stuff of you kind of speaking things out loud?

David Siegel [00:37:49] Yeah, well, first, I would say also I’ve hired probably six to eight students who as interns or as employees. And and that’s great because then Meetup has benefited from from the hiring from from teaching as well. So so, again, that’s an example where as a company we could win and I never hire them personally. They get an interview, of course, and then whoever on the team ends up.

Andrew Tarvin [00:38:15] I’m gonna say, so it’s not “Hey, it’s David’s class” to be like you’re going to have like 30. I’m going I’m going to sign up for this master’s degree course, which makes.

David Siegel [00:38:23] It hard to get a job learning wise from the students, I would say. I have found it. We talked about the the focus on mission and and really caring about about one’s cause, and it’s really important to help to understand the mindset of that goes into into it. And as part of my course, I will take two or three different times. I’ll get together in a bar with students and we’ll just ask the professor anything kind of things. And that’s been fascinating for me, just understanding how people’s focus on social causes and what where that comes from and why that’s so important to so many people. That’s number one. Number two is, I don’t know, I get incredible motivation by specifically specifically international students, of which CPA has many at Columbia who parents our families are from China, Thailand, wherever, and they may have come from just more challenged surroundings or just very different types of government systems. And their ability to persevere and their grit and their zest for curiosity and learning is just so infectious. It’s just so infectious. I would say that that’s been another incredible learning for me and in particular, just really understanding the different different cultures and and and people from different cultures and how that relates to human communications. When you have someone from there, you talk about the importance of smiling and you have a couple people, the former Soviet Union, being like like, no, that and really having discussions about that. It’s really interesting.

Andrew Tarvin [00:40:23] Yeah. Humor is one of those things that we talk a lot at an international level. And my kind of belief on it is that what people laugh at change is culturally, but that people laugh is a universal. It is something that everyone does. And so it’s adapting to the culture is very much a part of the human experience. But I love that you get that perspective by putting yourself in this position as a professor. So you get the CEO up your professor as well. So we’re also curious, right, because you’re also talking a little bit about this idea of not working eight hundred hours in a week. What’s your what’s your morning routine like that? One of the questions that we like to get up early, like in 60 seconds or less. What are you doing when you hit that? When you wake up at five a.m. or six a.m.?

David Siegel [00:41:09] OK, wake up. Always drink like two giant glasses of water because hydration is really important. In fact, I but electrolytes in my water just to even super hydrated, get some food and and two different vitamins, vitamins. And then usually I find some either yoga stretching or exercise all about weight lifter. I should do more but I would say running in the morning. Biking in the morning. Fortunately it’s snowing outside. So I went downstairs and run on the treadmill this morning and ran there. But but I’m a big fan of kind of some yoga, maybe a little bit of meditation to me that just gets you get too excited and gets you for me, it just you have tons of energy from the day. And if I don’t do that, I feel sluggish most days. So I would say almost every morning I’m doing some kind of some kind of exercise, yoga or the very least rapid walking outside.

Andrew Tarvin [00:42:07] All right I like it to your ear. Maybe a fan of the sub Reddit Hijrah homies. I love that. Starting with that, there’s some people that just love drinking water out of the water right there early in the morning exercise. When you’re just curious, when you’re exercising, is it like are you trying to zone out and not think about anything? Are you thinking about the day in structuring it? Is it kind of whatever thoughts happen to come up? Are you thinking instead.

David Siegel [00:42:31] Always listening, always listen to something. I’m always listen to a podcast that’s not you either reach out to a friend and we’ll set a time at like seven thirty eight o’clock to kind of go walking together or with my wife. But if I’m walking by myself, I’m always listening to something or if I’m running by myself then I’m always this is someone running which is some kind of podcast, you know, the live podcast one. I’m one of the best ones out there, so.

Andrew Tarvin [00:43:03] David, there he is. OK.

David Siegel [00:43:05] All right, there’s a slight yeah, I’m almost always listen to a podcast when when when I’m running in the morning for sure. For sure.

Andrew Tarvin [00:43:12] I like it. Freakonomics, excellent recommendation that was going to be my question of what to do. OK, so last segment, we have various segments that we do on the podcast. This particular segment is is called Shared Name. So I’m curious when when doing a little bit of research on David Siegel. There are a few other David Siegel out there, you know. Are you aware of them? Do you know what they do?

David Siegel [00:43:40] So first of all, I am linked and connected to for David Siegel and very proud of that. When I graduated from Penn, there were three other David. So that sucks. One of the was in my peer group. He actually couldn’t stand being referred to as the other David Siegel. So he changed his name to Damien Siegel because he was so tired of being known as the other David Siegel. But the famous David Siegel is known as like principal or something like that. He owns the largest house, I think owns a house in the Hamptons and has, like, I don’t know, bedrooms or some crazy thing like that. And he’s he’s the founder of a vacation of a vacation home. But but like many people, you type in your name and I’m like, oh, my God, I’m finally moved up to like the second page of Google at the bottom. And that was that was a very exciting moment.

Andrew Tarvin [00:44:33] Very exciting day. Ahh, I love it. There’s also David Siegel, German ski jumper, but I’m currently in Germany. So it’s possible that that’s why that’s why they came up. Yeah. Andrew Tarvin is it used to be there’s a small town in England called Tarvin England and there’s a St Andrews church there. So if you used to Google Andrew Tarvin and you got the church first and luckily my SEO is better than a small church and in England I think so I’m now the top spot if you Google that. But certainly you can go Google David Siegel to find out more. But how else can people find out a little bit more about you that they’re like, hey, I love this message. I want to follow on on social media or something else? What’s the best way for people to follow what you’re up there?

David Siegel [00:45:16] Sure. I would say you can link in with me that I’m very easy to find just type David Siegel on Linkedin. I’m trying to get more volunteer at David Meir Siegel. So there’s my middle name M E I R. And I’m actually starting a podcast which will be launched next month a couple and a couple of weeks from now called Keep Connected, which is another way to learn more about what’s going on. Meetup we just had our first first four tapings last week.

Andrew Tarvin [00:45:41] That is fantastic. So be sure to find a keep on connecting. Is that the name of it?

David Siegel [00:45:47] Sorry. Keep connected.

Andrew Tarvin [00:45:48] Keep connecting. Yes, I’ll be sure to look up, keep connecting and also subscribe and write that once that comes out. Same thing with the Ascent podcast as well. Be sure to connect with David on LinkedIn. Well, David, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s an honor to chat with you to hear more about your story and to learn about the human behind the tech leaders that we have out there for those listeners. As a reminder, this has been the Ascent podcast brought to you by the Ascent conference, which you can find out more about at Ascentconf dot com, as well as Gobbi humor that works myself Andrew Tarvin, which you can learn more about at humor that works dotcom. But be safe out there, of course. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time.

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