Out of the ashes: Meetup.com, a 9/11 baby
Ten years after the harrowing events of September 11, 2001, all eyes are on the city where the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history unfolded. Those of us who lived through it, whether in person at one of the crash sites or through our televisions as we watched, stunned and horrified, will never forget where we were, what we felt, how we spent those next few days. Since that day, 9/11 has become a symbol of vigilance, of hope, and of our strength as a nation. An event that was meant to tear us down, weaken and demoralize us, brought us together stronger than we’d ever imagined and now, even ten years later, that spirit of camaraderie and generosity thrives in our national culture.
Out of the ashes of 9/11, came a small community site with one goal: let’s get people out of their houses, off their devices, and into each other’s lives. Meetup.com has since grown into one of the most successful social networking organizations in America. A year and a half ago, I was living in Austin, lonely, with few friends that didn’t live more than 3 hours away. I lived my life almost completely online, and while I cherish all the friends I made during that time and love them dearly still, I needed more. I needed people I could have a few drinks with or celebrate my birthday with or just goof off with to blow off some steam. Through meetup.com, I found a small group of truly amazing ladies who shared my addiction to The Twilight Saga. Having new friends who love the same thing you do and will harmoniously squeal in delight at the newest Twilight movie trailer? Special. Having a group of ladies willing to camp out for 4 hours to see the new midnight release of the vampire phenomenon that’s so popular to love to hate, without having to drag your reluctant spouse along? Priceless.
In the last year and a half, our group has grown from a fairly quiet 5 or 6, barely able to qualify for the private small room at our local coffee house, to a boisterous nearly 20 expected at today’s meetup. We’ve grown so large that we no longer fit in our old room even on our smallest day, and have had to reserve the largest room available at Genuine Joe Coffee House… complete with a door that actually closes, so we can keep our ridiculous noise level away from the more reserved patrons of the shop. The Austin Twilighters is thriving, setting new membership and attendance records nearly every month. How appropriate that our first meetup in the “big room” is on the 10 year anniversary of the event that started this whole she-bang.
So thank you Scott Heiferman and all the other dedicated people at Meetup.com, who have made the friendships and stories just like mine a possibility and a reality over the past decade. Our hats are off to you as our hearts are out to those who still mourn friends and loved ones lost in the tragedy that changed our nation forever. Here’s a letter from Mr. Heiferman. It really touched me this morning, so I wanted to share it with all of you…
I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.
Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I hoped they wouldn’t bother me.
When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.
A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities?
We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another.
A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11.
Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups, Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of 100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one thing.
Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s powerful stuff.
It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks to everyone who shows up.
Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11.
9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!!
The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started with these Meetups.
Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City