“You can never be smart enough to know how it will evolve.” Such was the advice from Scott Heiferman, CEO and co-founder of Meetup, the online platform for organizing face-to-face meetings that now boasts nearly 200,000 meetup groups worldwide. Early recognition came when people started using the platform to organize for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, something its founders had not planned on. “Whatever you’re doing, you need luck; you need a hook. We had politics.” Heiferman explained.
The occasion was the launch party for Goodnik’s skill-sharing platform, an online community for people to swap services and support social impact projects. It was a good example of how the Meetup platform has inspired and enabled other groups to pursue their own missions.
Heiferman shared several tips for success with Nate Heasley, Founder and Executive Director of Goodnik, an organization that since 2002 has provided training and resources to start-up social entrepreneurs. And when Heiferman talks, people listen. With over half a million monthly meetups and 21.47 million members in 180 countries, he and his team have figured a few things out.
Preserve the Core
Primary to his philosophy is the concept of empowering people to do what they want to do. “It’s not about you,” he insists. “It’s about others.” With that, he also believes that success lies in knowing who to listen to. Heiferman reminded the audience of Jim Collins’ advice in Built to Last, “Preserve the core, but stimulate change.”
Preserving the core, to be useful to others, Heiferman has not been afraid to take chances. Four years after launching Meetup, Heiferman decided to start charging for services. The initial backlash was huge, resulting in a loss of 95% of their activity. But with the fees came more discerning customers; they built it back up and continue to work hard to empower others through the platform and to simplify the user experience. Reducing their sign-up process from three steps to one, for example, brought in three times the number of users.
The model must be working, as Heiferman announced last night, they have reached the $100M revenue mark.
An Alternative Currency Model for Social Entrepreneurship
Goodnik currently deals in a different kind of currency. In his quest to encourage people to do good for others, he has developed a “time-based alternative currency” called Goodnikels that are earned in the service of others and which can then be spent in seeking out the expertise of others in the system.
In honor of the launch of the online Goodnik platform, Heasley organized a face-to-face skills-sharing experience wherein attendees sought advice from technical, legal, and business experts; paid for their services with Goodnikels; and then mined others for advice, paying them as well. The activity mirrors what will happen on the site as well. Judging from the level of engagement, people got a lot out of the exchange and were appreciative of the expertise shared.
When asked what he expects in terms of the growth of the network, Heasley noted “During our beta test we were working with a group of several hundred members. My expectation is that this will grow rapidly as communities like co-working spaces, alumni groups, meetup groups and others become aware of the value a skills-exchange provides to their members, and how it can enhance community. But really it’s not just about the number of users, it’s about how they’re connected. A person can find someone to work with even in a community of a few dozen fellow coworkers or alums.”
How Will It Evolve?
What about the concept of Goodnikels? Will it catch on? According to Heasley, “There are thousands of Goodnikels in circulation, and there have been many successful exchanges so far. Most of the exchanges have been for ‘consultations’ where one person is looking for just an hour’s worth of advice on a particular topic. That’s how we recommend our users to start their projects, since otherwise they might not know what is realistic on a bigger project. As the system expands, we expect to see more projects of 10-20 hours, as well as people continuing to use it for one-hour consultations.”
Will Goodnikels become the currency of choice for social entrepreneurship? And will the Goodnikel skills-sharing platform help drive more social impact projects? Time will tell whether or not the system works and how it will evolve. As Heiferman pointed out earlier in the evening, “Everything we thought it was going to be, it wasn’t.”