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In my time working across innovation and Product Management in the advertising, energy and shipping industries, I have helped create a bunch of different products, businesses, campaigns both in and outside of work. But those things were usually quite deliberate, until now.

Let me tell you about IndieBeers, the semi-accidental Indie Hackers meetup I started. It all began with a “Where is everyone working from?” thread on Indie Hackers.

I’ve never launched a meetup before, but in that moment, it made complete sense. I saw it as an opportunity to finally meet other existing or future makers, all while building  something that would hopefully become helpful for the community. So why not?

Six months later, I couldn’t be happier or more surprised with how things have turned out. We now have over almost 200 Meetup members, and an average attendance of 40+ fantastic makers, hackers and entrepreneurs at each event. Plus, I’ve had some of the most thoughtful and interesting product conversations of my career.

If you want to make friends, grow your network and learn a lot, start a meetup.  Here are some tips that might help you get started.

1. Don’t give up

The first meetup may have gone smoother if I had shared a working invite link, generally told more people about the event, and not selected the worst possible venue for it.

Of the two heroes who did come – shout out to Matt and Grey! – one had already left by the time I arrived, triggering some rather desperate Twitter DMing from myself begging him to come back, which, to my amazement, he did.

When we did finally all get together, it was great. But in the back of my mind I was worried if I didn’t improve things next time around, it would just fizzle out. I had an honest look at everything that went wrong and made a plan on how to do it all better. From the location, to the start time, to how I reached people, I started completely anew. Luckily, that seemed to work.

2. Create an angle

When creating anything new, I subscribe to a school of thought from books like Zero To One and Positioning. It can be summarised as: “Don’t compete.” A unique proposition isn’t always necessary for success, but it does make things easier.

The London tech scene is healthy, and the fantastic Indie London has successfully caught the indie hackers wave in the capital over the past year or so. I didn’t think it would have made sense to start a meetup competing directly with theirs, so instead, I built the opposite.

Indie London have an enviable track record of large events, great speakers and workshops several times a year. Looking at different corners of the London tech scene, it seemed that regular, informal meetups in relaxed environments like pubs also seemed to work. So why not try it for this?

And just like that, IndieBeers was born.

3. Don’t underestimate branding

Everyone has some form of unfair advantage, and mine’s starting from a creative industries and branding background. While our branding is not striking fear into the heart of Nike just yet, I can assure you spending some time considering and creating distinctive brand assets – name, logo, look and feel, tone of voice etc. – pays huge dividends. Done well, it can make your meetup more memorable and more likeable.

To me, branding seems oddly disregarded in the maker universe. Many SaaS products big and small look like carbon copies of each other. They have essentially the same landing page and illustration style applied across a range of industries.

Consider the fact that, according to BBH Labs, for large companies, brand value accounts for roughly 20% of the total market cap. For further reading, I highly recommend checking out the whole thing.

Source: BBH Labs 2018

4. Do things that don’t scale

The old Paul Graham aphorism really works. In getting off the ground, having surprisingly good ‘customer service’ can be the difference between success and failure. For me, it was as simple as:

  • Sending new members a personal message upon sign-up
  • Greeting each new attendee individually at the event
  • Gathering email addresses manually
  • Sending a personal follow up to each person

It’s getting harder to do this as we grow, so I might have to switch tactics in future. But I’m convinced if I hadn’t initially made the extra effort, we’d have far fewer attendees today.

5. Get feedback & iterate

If you’re reading this, you’re already very aware of gathering audience feedback often. It’s no different for meetups. Since IndieBeers started we’ve done the following things based on member’s feedback:

  • Created merchandise so people have something physical to take away from the event
  • Introduced little IndieBeers stickers so people know who else is at the pub for the meetup
  • Moved pubs, as the previous one was too loud / busy
  • Added a mailing list
  • Added IRL ‘community managers’ to help ensure everybody gets a proper welcome
  • Got hold of cool Indie Hackers schwag to hand out (T-Shirts for all!)

And there’s much more in the pipeline. If IndieBeers doesn’t look very different one year from now, I haven’t done my job properly.

I truly see the thinking underpinning communities like Indie Hackers and Maker’s Kitchen as a new paradigm for how people can live, work and contribute to society beyond both a traditional 9 to 5 and the well trodden VC route.

For the movement to spread, it needs a healthy and vibrant base, IRL meetups being a key cog in this machine.

If you can attend a local event, go. If there isn’t one, start your own. If you want some advice on how to do this, get in touch – I’ll do my best to help. In fact, we’ve already seen a sister event arise in Paris. And I hope to see many more. Oh, and if you’re in London this Thursday 21st March, make sure you swing by. You can RSVP here.

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