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Digital platform spurs real human interaction

The Meetup platform is not just a social tool. It also brings together a lot of businesses people, especially in the tech sector, providing a good background for future deals.

Alongside bringing people together in cyberspace, the internet has also proven invaluable in helping arrange face-to-face meetings. Here in Budapest, the online Meetup platform is frequently used as a way to create communities of like-minded people – sometimes with benefits for their business.

Meetup was founded in 2002 with the mission of bringing people together locally. The web page makes it easy to find members with similar interests – whether that is travel, parenting or business. The platform is widely used to organize social events and special interest groups, but companies have been getting involved as well. Meetup has more than 190,000 groups globally with 21.4 million members in 180 countries. There are more than 300 Meetup groups registered in Budapest.

“We don’t sell, we give,” the slogan of the Budapest Business Club, is a good fit for the ideology of many of the businesses involved in Meetup gatherings in Budapest. Rather than seeking immediate commercial benefit or rolling out some kind of sales pitch, which can scare participants away, Meetup organizers seem to be seeking to create communities and share information, as a way to improve the overall knowledge level and business environment in Budapest. They do find, however, that in-person meetings build trust between potential business partners – and they can work as powerful marketing tools.

István Maczkó, organizer of Marketing Budapest, a Meetup group, is one person who notes the business benefits of the platform. “I am building my company brand,” he says. 

He explains that he started the group because there was a lack of general knowledge in his field of marketing, and he wanted to change that. According to Maczkó there were many low quality providers in operation that were merely taking advantage of the gap in users’ knowledge. He noted that he often even invites competitors to speak at his events, and comments: “Educating the customers together brings more customers for all of us.”

But along with improving the quality of customers’ overall knowledge of marketing, Maczkó is also improving his business through these meetings, which he says have grown from 50 attendees to more than 100. 

“I have received more requests for services from the Marketing Meetup than from any other platform and these clients tend to spend more on services,”

he says. “We usually get one or two new customers from every Meetup event, and that is just us, I don’t know how many customers our participating competitors get from these events.”

Tech is a top topic

For others, especially startups and various groups involved in technology, the meetings are less about deals and more about building a supporting community. Perhaps that’s why there are more than 130 local groups involved in technology, which represents the fastest-growing category of Meetup group in Budapest. The Meetup with the most members in the capital is the Budapest New Technology Meetup group, boasting more than 3,000 members, according to the Meetup website.

Prezi is one of the most widely known companies active in this segment locally. Gabor Török, one of the Prezi Meetup organizers, explains that the company’s involvement in Meetup events is in line with its vision of sharing ideas and building up the technology hub in Budapest. “We want to show that Budapest can be a center for technology and innovation, to show that you can build success here. If you make your environment a better place, it will be better for you to be there,” he says.

In other words, a better environment is better for business.

Richard Gellai, co-founder of the local startup Ziteboard and organizer of the Budapest Business Club, echoes this sentiment. “The success of the group is evident in the partnerships that have formed among members, more than 200 that I know of.” He says he originally started the group as a response to what he considered to be a general lack of public knowledge in business development.

The companies interviewed all say they also use Facebook, Twitter and Google+ but add that Meetup is best suited for bringing together like-minded people in a community setting. Török of Prezi says, “It is a platform for dialogue. With Facebook and Twitter you can keep in touch but it is far from sitting together and having an in-depth conversation. This way you can build stronger relationships, build communities. It can be a really powerful thing.”

‘Positive’ opinion

It is clear that a direct sales-pitch approach will not work with the Meetup community. Groups with such an approach fizzled out during the first four-to-six months, according to Gellai. Many organizers agree that holding regular meetings is key to a Meetup group’s success. In addition to providing interesting content (speakers, ideas), it is also important to allow time and space for networking among the attendees.

While some may come for the speaker, others come for the social aspect. Petra Kaiser, a member of nine Meetup groups who most recently attended the Product Hunt event, comments that her opinion of companies involved in Meetup is “absolutely positive”. She says she sees it as something that young, new and innovative companies are involved in: “It is a good way of networking with people who have similar interests and you can get to know industry leaders better, sometimes see their human side which is interesting.” 

Gellai of the Budapest Business Club is also interested in giving that human side a voice. He also organizes the KudarcKonferencia or Fail Conference, which provides a platform for business leaders to share their stories of failure in hopes that others can learn important lessons from these experiences.

One of the biggest challenges that Meetup organizers face is finding space for their events, which is where company partnerships come in. Renting a space can cost up to HUF 15,000 per hour. Back before he joined Prezi, Török was running the JavaScript Meetup and Prezi offered it a space for its events, which at the time was a rented flat that could accommodate 30 people. Prezi has since changed locations and at its current office has a space specifically designed for this purpose, hosting up to 150 or 200 people. The company allows various Meetup groups to hold events there, and also uses the space for company-wide meetings.

Certain government entities have also supported Meetup groups by sponsoring space and or snacks, especially in the tech sector. Maczkó of the marketing group notes that a few of his events have been held at the National Innovation Office’s installations. Gergő Szonyi, organizer of Frontend Meetup, adds that sponsor companies can benefit from the events by being able to recruit employees and introduce the public to their company.