Do you want to start an event series? Are you working in a niche space and want to expand your network? Or maybe, like us, you're a design studio that wants to tap into their local community and amplify topics you're passionate about. Regardless of who you are or what you're trying to achieve, starting a meetup or event series is a lot of work. That said, it's also the best way to connect with people, reach a broader network and make new friends and business partners.
This article will highlight what we've learnt the past five years creating and growing the Product Crunch design community in Berlin and Munich and provide you with some tips & tricks on how to kickstart your own meetup series.
Assemble the right team
Sure, you can start a meetup yourself, but with the right people on board, it can scale faster and most importantly be fun! None of our growth would have been possible without the team that started the humble meetup formerly known as “Designing Mobile Experiences”. This soon morphed into the Product Crunch event we all know today, spearheaded by a motivated team of Goodchies excited about engaging with the Berlin & Munich design communities.
Most importantly, we have been lucky to have the backing of a full design studio, giving us access to a location, but also the most valuable resource: time. Product Crunch wouldn't be possible without the support of every team member who serves drinks, designs logos, creates stickers, cleans up the pizza leftovers, and so much more.
When you set up your core meetup team, make sure you have a balanced skillset: the techie, the networker, the organiser. Give yourself clear roles and responsibilities, and avoid a scenario where everyone is doing everything. Then assign separate, individually manageable tasks to anyone else who can volunteer on an event-to-event basis. Keep a little wiki or todo list of all the tasks that need to be done. If you don't have a full company to support you with a location and volunteers, consider collaborating with another company or bigger brand to kickstart your event.
Find a niche, but accessible, topic
The first step is to find a topic area that you're passionate about and might not have received the coverage it deserves. Ideally, you'll be stuck with this new meetup community for a while, and you're interested in meeting like-minded people. Try focus on an 'evergreen' space that isn't just a fad. You want to keep it broad enough to attract a wide range of people, but niche enough to make it interesting.
By giving our event a clear focus: Product design, we attract the entire product community: designers, project managers, product owners, business designers and developers and we try to add the niche aspect when we plan each individual event. We set edition-specific themes like mobility, UX writing, sextech, health, editorial and so on, which opens the event up to different industries while keeping a clear focus on design.
Name it to claim it
People tend to underestimate the name of their meetup groups. Again, hopefully, you'll be stuck with the meetup for a while, so choose a name that is easy to remember, gives a hint of what the topic is, but won't get annoying any time soon. A good example is Pitch Tuesdays, a weekly event by APX Axel Springer and Porsche and the name says it all: (startup) pitches on Tuesdays, by the APX network. Another one of our favourites is Service Design Drinks - again the title gives you a taste of what to expect: Talks about Service Design over after-work drinks.
Next to the name, it helps to keep the event on a regular schedule, making it easy for people to remember: last Thursday of the month, every 2 weeks and so on. There is so much going on it helps to keep the regularity and lets people block the slot in their mental calendar. You can also mix the name and the dates - see the infamous “Thirsty Thursdays”.
Get to know your audience
Of course, you should do some research before the event and figure out what people are actually looking for, but use each event to learn more about your audience. Why are they there? What do they want to know? Are they attending your events for knowledge, networking or on the lookout for the next big investment opportunity?
At Product Crunch, we purposely call ourselves a “learning community” because we know that is the main reason people come to our event, next to the free beer and pizza. We ensure the speakers aren't just pitching themselves or giving a marketing talk about their company, but that they offer a behind the scenes view of their industry. They give talks like “How to go from Product Manager to Product Leader” or “Not NSFW Design Research” giving the audience a sneak peek behind some of Berlin's most prestigious companies.
Your speakers are your content
This brings me to the next point: choose your speakers carefully, as they are what your event will be all about. Again, do research on your audience and your industry - find out what hasn't been said yet. Which topic deserves more airtime? What needs to be heard? Be on the lookout for hot topics, interesting points of view and curate your event accordingly.
Our little trick to achieving a balanced lineup is to have one headliner from a 'hotshot' company (like N26, soundcloud, highsnobiety or adidas). This name tends to pull in the crowds and creates a buzz around the event. Secondly to find a “diamond in the rough”, someone from a lesser-known company, that you might know personally from another event or workshop. You'd be surprised how “smaller” brands spend the extra time and effort in giving an excellent talk. Also, they usually have very loyal fans and a direct line to their social media/marketing teams and making reshares and promotion of the event a lot easier.
Show your speakers some love
In our case, the speakers stake the stage for free - this is something you need to decide on beforehand and communicate transparently. Our mission was always to offer a free event and give back to the community, we never had intentions to earn big bucks hosting the monthly event. So value your speakers time, make sure they don't need to worry about logistics or tech setup and can just pitch up and do their thing.
A little gift or card can go a long way, we like to give our speakers a book and a Japanese snack and/or bottle of wine as a thank you gesture. A little appreciation goes a long way! A new tradition we started is a so-called “Speakers Dinner”. As this community continues to grow, it has become a great networking opportunity for the fellow speakers to get to know each other. This annual event has a more exclusive touch the Product Crunch Speaker Community has become an extension of the Goodpatch family.
Engage with your audience
Your audience are the people that show up, so make it worth it for them! One way to know if your event is good is if the same faces keep popping up. They deserve a little appreciation too, so make sure to have some drinks or snacks ready for them - they are usually coming from a hectic day at work. Also, keep slots for Q&As and give them a chance to interact with the speakers. The smartest questions come from our audience and add value to each and every event.
Try to keep your engagement both online and offline. A great idea for online engagement is to raffle off a gift for social media shares - we usually let the best linkedin post win. Ideas for gifts to raffle off are company merch, stickers, software accounts (see sponsorship below) and books. This little gesture will in return create awareness for the event online and get new members interested in the meetup.
Collaborate with sponsors
If you can, work with sponsors! Think out of the box when it comes to thinking of various brands and partners you could work with. They have an interest in sharing their product or service with your valuable crowd, and there are endless ways to create value for both sides. Ask that new food startup to offer their snacks and have a stand and give them a short pitching opportunity before the event in exchange. Check-in with all the software companies like Adobe XD, sketch, etc they often have subscriptions you can raffle off to your audience members: a win-win situation for everyone involved!
Stay flexible and embrace uncertainty
The past few months have all made us realize how quickly things can change within seconds, and in-person events have had to be reinvented. Thanks to our nimble team, we were able to switch to an online event in no time and have already hosted three editions of our event on twitch.
Our main piece of advice here would be to embrace the positive aspects of these new and uncertain situations and make it work in your favour if possible. For example, going online lets you include people from all over the world, and we were able to have our Japanese colleagues, designers from South Africa and keynote speaker from the US on our virtual stage.
We hope these insights help you set up your next event and be sure to share your tips and tricks with us! We plan to grow the meetup and are always interested in your feedback, growth hacks and ideas. We'd also love to see you at one of the next Product Crunch events, so if you're interested, join our meetup groups in Munich or Berlin.
If you prefer to enjoy previous talks from the comfort of your home, check our Goodpatch Global youtube channel. Here are our two favourite talks:
Sarmishta Pantham, UX Lead at Marley Spoon, Designing for the Intangible:
Frank Rausch and his talk: “Typography is code”