I recently completed my first semester in the Interaction Design program, and in my second semester, joined Meetup as a part-time intern. From my very first day at Meetup, I felt my school and work worlds overlapping.
Every new hire receives the book “Bowling Alone”. My group partner, Guri Venstad, and I both took inspiration from this book for our final in Strategic Innovation in Product / Service Design. The book documents the decline in social capital in America. The example (and inspiration for the book title) is that although bowling has been on the rise since the 1980s, the actual number of bowling teams has decreased. There are fewer people sharing the sport together, which results in missing out on the community that can form around a team. Essentially, Meetup seeks to rebuild these relationships. I found myself thinking that my project with Guri which aimed as essentially an exchange of skills amongst neighbors to build a community, was just a different answer to the same question about connecting people to build social capital.
There was a full day of orientation at Meetup, and while a bit dizzying to take it all in, was nevertheless very useful. One of the early parts of the orientation was with CEO, Scott Heiferman. He didn’t lecture us, and he didn’t show us a Powerpoint explaining why Meetup was producing a better product than company “X”. Instead, it felt very much like he was trying to instill in us the ethos of the company. He talked about what he believed Meetup was, how our best ideas were yet to come, and he asked us genuine questions. I came away thinking that Meetup provides the tools for people to form communities. Individuals must see a value for themselves, before committing to a meetup. That’s the importance of groups – they provide a premise and a common interests for strangers to meet. Although people come for a specific interest, they end up staying for the relationships formed. Guri and I tackled similar problems in our project.
When Brendan McGovern, CFO, explained the Angel funding and the rounds of venture capital invested, I understood this from my Entrepreneurial Design class, which, coincidentally, is being taught by two great Venture Capitalists from Union Square Ventures – who funded Meetup’s last round of investing.
So there we go, I am working with Meetup to better improve user experience using basic interaction design skills such as wire-framing, mockups, and other visual design tools. I am also thinking about what I learned in my strategy class, and I am understanding and appreciating Meetup in a way I don’t think I could have before tackling a project based around the same goals. If I am appreciating and using my skills and knowledge from classes already, after only one semester, I can barely imagine how the next three will go.