Pivoting When Your Business Model Gets Upended

David Siegel, CEO @ Meetup
Main Stage
Ascent Conference 2020

[00:00:05] Hello Ascent entrepreneurs and leaders. My name is David Siegel, the CEO of Meetup. We are going to be talking about pivoting when your business model is upended and perhaps there’s nothing potentially more relevant to many leaders than the need to pivot at this time than Meetup. We’re an in-person business, we’re one of the largest organizers of events and groups for in-person, well during covid in person is obviously not the way in which one should be getting together and meeting. So we’re going to be talking about how we pivoted our business during this particular time and hopefully sharing some learnings that can be helpful for everyone. So before we get started, I really just wanted to make sure to share with everyone, especially entrepreneurs, our founding story and our founding story is a really special one for our company.

[00:01:03] In 9/11, after 9/11, our founder, Scott Hiraman had seen many people.

[00:01:12] Needing community and and getting together in their buildings and outside of buildings and on his floors, and he had it of his apartment and he met all these people that he had never met beforehand. And he thought to himself, “Tragedies should not be the reason why we need community. We should always have community, and it shouldn’t necessarily be a tragedy that’s essential to getting us to have to prioritize community.” And it was through the ashes of 9/11, that Meetup was ultimately born.

[00:01:50] And here we are today, we have 52 million members worldwide, we have three hundred thirty thousand Meetup groups, which is an absolutely amazing number. One hundred ninety three different countries, everywhere but Korea and China and Iran.

[00:02:05] And we have fifteen thousand Meetup events every single day. And as I said, most events are in person and we’re going to talk about how we had to pivot our business. So before that, what I will say is that right when the pandemic hit in March, as of the date is March 30th, WeWork decided to sell us, so it was the middle of a pandemic we were with our corporate owners, decided to tell me that.

[00:02:34] And then the coronavirus pandemic came, as we all know, and then suddenly all of our key metrics started kind of going off a cliff. So, for example, R.S.V.P. took a significant nosedive, obviously, during the pandemic, as you can see from here, number of events, these are not great charts. You want to see charts up into the right. This is definitely not the up into right. Number of events also took a nosedive. There were no organizers also took a nosedive. And we said, oh my God, we literally just got sold. And every single key metric that we have as a business is taking notes that we need to do something.

[00:03:20] And then we did something we pivoted to. And one of the things we said is that while in person is critical, the goal is not about one person. The goal for us is staying connected. The goal for us is keeping community. And as long as the goal is about keeping community, we need to make sure we do it in a safe way. So since we lost I mean, this is kind of extraordinary in our 18 year history, we have almost no online events where in-person campaigning in the last five months, we have had one point two million events, ATM, over nine million people have RSVP and are attending events. And of course, one hundred thirty six different countries, different countries are speaking. And that’s the picture that we’re going to be talking about here today and things that we can learn from that. So what you do is I’m going to share a pivoting principles and best practices that hopefully you can learn through your business, because the only way to survive is to make sure we pivot. So talking about a pivot, when you think about the term that’s used in basketball pivoting, it’s it’s you have your heel on the ground and you’re moving your foot back and forth, that would be a pivot in the game of basketball. The key, though, in a pivot is that there’s something on the ground, there’s something cementing you to an anchoring it. And for us, what was occurring was our mission and our vision and our values. That’s our anchor. And as long as we didn’t lose sight of our mission and values, we knew we would end up being able to succeed in this pivot. If you pivot and you change your mission and your vision of values, that’s where things go awry. So what’s our mission to empower personal growth for real human connections? And our vision is a world where people turn to each other to improve their lives. And we have very important values that go into every single thing that we do, every decision that we make. And we’re not impacting those values either. The mission, our mission and our values is so important to us because it’s so important to our members and organizers, 90 percent of our independence, that it was done by the University of Pennsylvania and 90 percent of our members feel like they increased knowledge or skills to the. Seventy eight percent of them felt that the positive impact of companies. Eighty nine percent of our organizers felt that they impacted the lives of others, which is really what it’s about. And that’s why our mission is so important. In fact, according to another independent study, media, 63 percent of people felt like me that made their lives better and only one percent worse, whereas Facebook, one percent made it worse and twenty five percent made it better. And if you look at the right hand side, the more that people use up the happier that they are.

[00:06:15] So keep it in mind, but the key learning here is in pivoting, you don’t want to change your mission and your values, and that is principle number eight. So now we’re going to go to principal number seven. Principal seven around pivoting is the importance of supporting your pivot with an infrastructure and best practices. So, for example, when we launched online events, we didn’t just say we’re going to launch online events, but we set up a weekly webinar which will show you a little bit more about called Meetup. Like we organize tons and dozens of organizer workshops for organizers to help them to become more successful at pivoting to online. We launched something called Community Matters, which will show you an image of a blog focused on online leadership. We had a private meeting room for discussions. We’re actually now creating a mentoring program for Meetup organizers and members to help them through this pivot. So the key message here in terms of a pivot is you need to support it with best practices. So, for example, we shared templates with all of our different organizers on how to organize an online group, which is different than most people had. You had to set an agenda how to give advice for what attendees should be and shouldn’t be doing. We did this for dozens and dozens of different groups, whether they were meditation groups or yoga groups or book club groups or photo sharing groups. We advise them on kind of how to set online agendas, what attendees are going to need, or the idea of that is sharing best practices around their. We created something called Meetup Life, which I encourage everyone to join this been over twenty thousand people that have attended meetup live events so far and helping people to market their meetup groups and helping people to pivot to best practices. We’ve created something called Community Manners. If anyone’s interested in signing up for the blog to learn about best practices for building community as entrepreneurs, go on to this site here meetup dot com slash blog. And it’s about best practices for building a community as an entrepreneur and as a leader. And then we spoke at a significant number of events to make sure we really get out there in the community and support on Twitter. That’s number seven. Now, let’s go to number six in terms of best practices for facilitating a pivot, as you think about your pivots for yourselves, just want to look at the clock to make sure that I do not go over.

[00:08:57] The key is to be able to pivot by understanding the needs of your users.

[00:09:04] You can’t just abstract think to yourself, what should I do? What’s right change?

[00:09:08] It’s about looking at what’s happening when your customers are already doing and then double click and lean into those areas. So here’s an example, something like that. When George Floyd was murdered.

[00:09:25] There were a number, a significant number of Meetup groups that started springing up all around the country in Oakland Black Lives Matter Group and Franklin Black Lives Matter Group and Las Vegas Black Lives Matter Group. And Dallas, and Orlando, and Knoxville Black Lives Matter groups.

[00:09:43] And we realized that there was an opportunity here for us to pivot to online and to pivot even deeper into what was really happening on racial equality.

[00:09:57] And we had to pivot even more towards that and understanding what was actually happening in our ecosystem. So we decided to create a group and make it free for anyone who wanted to organize a community around black justice and equity and racial equality, they could become a meetup organizer for free. And on the right hand side, you can see some examples of groups that have been organized. We now have 24 groups that are and we want to expand it to hopefully hundreds, if not thousands across five different countries with 50,500 members. And that’s part of our pivot, which is how can we help the world in this particularly crazy time that we’re looking at right now. And we and we are putting up significant numbers of banners and calls to action around voting as part of this pivot. We created a meetup live group and every month we have a different folks are all focused on dismantling social injustice that occurs in the country. You can see some of the events that we’ve had in the last couple of months. We we put ads really all over, are set with an ad all over our apps. And we’ve had over two million impressions around them and awareness on racial equality.

[00:11:20] And so the key learning here is when you’re looking for a pivot, really focus on what’s happening in your ecosystem.

[00:11:31] Going to number five. Number five practice around pivoting, just understand how you can minimize the risk of your pivot when you decide to pivot your business and many of us are doing so, figure out how to minimize risk. So we still have in-person events, especially in certain countries that are safer, like in Australia, there’s a higher percentage of in-person events. And there’s countries like Brazil where there’s a teeny percentage or almost no in-person events that are happening. But we we talk to all of our organizers and we said here are some ways to make sure that we’re safe as possible when it comes to in-person events, make sure we’re wearing masks when we’re outside, make sure you’re promoting social distancing, make sure hand washing is needed, that we wash our hands as well. Figure out how to minimize risks of your pivot when it comes to online. Minimize risk bites by thinking about some guidelines and best practices, whether it’s things like engaging organizers, asking organized to engage their members in break out groups and scavenger hunts, making sure that organizers are even more organized with setting agendas, having chat games, assigning specific roles for people. Really think about how an online event needs to be different in order for it to be great than an in-person event and the work that’s required to do that.

[00:12:55] Now, let’s go to number four best practice around pivoting. Number four is understand your UVP. Your UVP is your unique value proposition. Why is your company special? Why are you special? And you need to understand that and lean into that around your UVP. So for us, we saw that there was a significant growth in outdoor events because of obvious reasons and other events were not obviously quite that strong. So we have gone all in in terms of our pivot around online and our pivot to really emphasize more and more outdoor events. And you could see some imagery around outdoor events and meet up on the slide. And then we continued to have our focus, which has always been the case around tech and making sure that tech events are able to be very successful online and pivoting around our unique value proposition.

[00:13:55] Now, let’s go to number three. Number three best practice around pivoting is making sure that you plan around your current situation for us is the impact of covid. But you double down for your future. You can’t just only think about the current situation because we know that the world is going to be changing. So one of the things that we did is we took this as an opportunity to make it free for every college student. And it’s been absolutely so incredible. College students. I have a son who is 19 years old. College students are even more in a different place and a harder place then than they’re used to and the need for community college students at graduate school students actually free from anyone with a duty to, you know, the duty to feel free to become a Meetup organizer for free.

[00:14:52] Find ways to double down into your future for us, our future is is Millennial’s and Gen Z. So since we’ve launched our campus initiative around pivoting to support our future, we’ve had over 400 groups, 10 percent of our growth is attributed to this college initiative. We have over sixty seven thousand people RSVP.

[00:15:14] And as a result of these college groups and to us it’s everything because we know how stressed and challenged college students are. So as part of our pivot to online and outdoors, we also emphasized even greater our future.

[00:15:33] Number three. Excuse me, this is still part of the future. We decided to also start a real focus to get back together movement as part of doubling down for our future and preparing for the time where there’s some three months, six months, 12 months, where we’re going to be finally able to get back together in person. And we’re now in the process of this movement where we’re joining 50 percent of subscriptions payments towards global giving as part of incentivizing people to get back together, only safe when we’re able to actually do so. But planning for the future. And this is a little bit of our kind of landing page and our tracking in different countries around the recovery and planning for the future.

[00:16:24] Number two, there’s only two left here. Number two is make sure when you’re pivoting, you’re really leveraging data and figuring out the strategy that you need to employ. So I thought I would share a couple of interesting pieces of data around covid and how we’re using data relative to our pivot. So in this we’re going to show you four slides right now. The first is this is the percentage of in-person events around the globe. So you can see Australia, China, Mongolia and apparently Uzbekistan are very high percentages of in-person events within Europe. There’s a much higher percentage of in-person events in Western Europe where Sweden, France, Spain, etc., than in Eastern Europe for covid has been more hit. US, Canada, obviously significantly higher percentage of in-person events in South America, where, again, it’s been very, very it’s been really hit tough over the last month, certainly. And now this is actually what the growth of in-person events.

[00:17:33] So interestingly, over the last several weeks, Russia has had a much more significant growth than in-person events, perhaps is related to the vaccine that they’re working on. I can tell you the exact details of why, but there’s been significant growth in Russia has been greater growth in Norway and in South America. Peru has had the highest growth more recently and in-person event. And how you look at the US and what percentage of of of of different states have.

[00:18:02] In-person events, and it’s again, interesting to see how, for some reason, Idaho and New Hampshire seem to be having the highest percentage of in-person events and South Dakota and Washington state have the highest percentage of actually online events today.

[00:18:20] And you can see what’s happening there and that same kind of thing, which states are increasing the numbers of in-person events where there’s greater recovery around covid. So Rhode Island is seeing greater recovery more recently. And New Mexico, we’re seeing greater recovery, and that’s evidence. But this is a leading indicator, which we believe it is a lagging indicator.

[00:18:45] It’s interesting data. And when you think about your pivot, think about how you can make sure to leverage your data in terms of your pivot strategy. And last but not least. Make sure that you’re really trying to unlock new customers and revenue sources. One of the things that we’ve done is we have built a a a new business area giving companies the opportunity to sponsor or own different meetup groups and events.

[00:19:19] And there’s a list of some of our clients who are sponsoring and owning different Meetup events and Meetup groups. Some of you may even be part of some of those organizations. And the key for us and if anyone wants where we are offering a 50 percent discount for anyone who would like to become a sponsor, my colleague is going to share something and chat, if you’d like to avail yourself of of that discount. And then ultimately, when organizations decide that they want to sponsor meetup groups and build their brand, what we do is we identify different groups that share common interests. So if you’re a tech company and you want to sponsor a group, then you can engage those groups and then we’re able to analyze and give you access to all the data and all the people who are part of those groups. So you can really build your brand and build your business around it. So we’re focused as part of our pivot on unlocking meaningful new revenue sources for our business, which I’m sure you’re doing as well as part of yours. And the results has been amazing. So if you look at finally you saw the charts are down, now you’re seeing charts which are up and to the right and on a consistent basis, on a consistent basis. If you look at the red eye URLs in real life, you’re seeing in real life events continuing to grow. But you also see what a percentage of online events represents for our business online is. Now, half of our business today wasn’t for that pivot. We’d be in deep trouble and look back in May online represent 75 to 80 percent of our business and the same thing happen. This is the case for people who are spending RSVP to events, our members, and this is the case for our organizers. And the same story here that we’re seeing a recovery. We’re seeing people recovering and everything returning, starting to return. But a big part of that is the major pivot that we did towards online and really moving our numbers up and to the right. Once again.

[00:21:27] A recovery last month and our recovery this month and increasingly more green happening around the world, very largely due to the online meet up and those charts that were down to the right are now are now slipping because of that work. I just have to say.

[00:21:48] Anyone who has not read Lean Startup, most of you have, but if you haven’t, of course you should read it. Most of we have not, however, read Running Lean and I and for anyone who is focused on pivoting and to focus on entrepreneurship, I strongly, strongly want to encourage everyone to read Running Lean as well. So just to finally sum up their eight principles that we have in our business around pivoting, making sure never to change our mission of values, making sure to support online pivot’s with best practices, learn to pivot based on the user behavior, minimizing risk, understanding your unique value proposition, doubling down for the future, leveraging data and finding new revenue sources. I hope that this was incredibly helpful for everyone. If anyone wants to email me, my email address is up here and wants to learn more about our pro business and how to organize and support and and build communities around your business and your product, you could go to this. It’s a little hard to read, but you can also email me and get that. But I just want to thank everyone. I want to thank Ascent, and I believe that it is momentarily going to end. And I’m sorry I was not able to answer any questions, but feel free to email me at any point in time. I look forward from hearing from each of you. Take care, everyone. A wonderful rest of the day.

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