After the recent launch of the Umbraco Ireland Meetup I thought it might be worth putting pen to paper and write down a few of the steps and considerations that can be need to be thought of when putting something like that together.
It was a bit of a journey for me as it was the first Meetup I’d organised and there were certainly some learnings along the way that might be useful to someone else down the road considering doing the same thing.
Why Umbraco Ireland and why now?
I set up the meetup group in 2014 (yes, I’m a bit of a procrastinator!) with the best of intentions to get something off the ground soon after. With each Umbraco event that I’d travel to (Codegarden, UK Fest) I’d get a new sense of “the time is right, let’s do this” (thanks @Ravi!) and then life would get in the way again. Part of my hesitation was rooted in the knowledge that there wasn’t a large pool of people that I knew in Ireland using Umbraco that would be beating the door down to a meetup. It was going to take the equivalent of some door-to-door sales work and a bit of persistence.
Things started to take shape when Dave dropped a message in the group amid the tumbleweed and reminded me that I was out of excuses. The time was now. Couple that with Dave’s offer to speak at the first meetup and an after-party conversation with Callum at this years Umbraco Poland Festival committing do the same (is there anywhere the chap won’t travel!?) and we had ourselves a line-up!
So that’s what led to the tipping point, I’m going to rewind a bit now and tick off a few of the things you should be thinking about if you haven’t taken the step of creating a home for your group yet.
Start a Meetup Group
Yes – it sounds obvious, but it is an important starting point – whether you intend to have your first meetup now or four years down the road – you need to have somewhere to call home that’s easy for people to come by, hang their hat and show their interest. Meetup.com is the home of thousands of meetups around the globe and is likely already home to many other technology-related meetups in your area that could have members interested in yours.
What kind of meetup do you want to run?
There’s many an Umbraco meetup that have started over a beer and a chat and that can be as fine a place as any to start. For me, I thought that to plant a bit of a flag for the Umbraco community in Ireland, it would be important to be able to get people who may know little (if at all) about Umbraco, in a room and make the case for why it merits their attention. To do that, venue and atmosphere would be important. Ideally, it would need to be somewhere that you could deliver a decent presentation and fit the friendly vibe that comes with being involved with the Umbraco community.
Reach out to Umbraco HQ
Drop the friendly folks at Umbraco HQ a note and let them know what you’re planning to do. I did this with Illham (Umbraco’s Community Engagement Officer) and she couldn’t have been more helpful. We had a good Skype chat about what I was trying to achieve and how HQ could help. They were able to give me some helpful pointers about companies to approach in Ireland that may be using Umbraco to see if they’d be interested in joining the meetup. Soon after I had a box of Umbraco swag winging its way to Dublin courtesy of Vera and the friendly Umbraco community support team. Things were gaining steam.
I got lucky with this one. Callum and Dave very generously offered to speak at the first Umbraco Ireland meetup which was a huge part of the event made easier. Callum spoke about how to get a site up and running quickly in Umbraco and Dave tackled what options there are to consider in the e-commerce landscape. Something for both new and existing users of the CMS was the intention.
I decided to intro the evening with a few slides giving a bit of grounding in the world of Umbraco, what the ecosystem looks like and one might go about plugging into the community.
Needless to say – this is what will make or break the group – you need people! And it’s not necessarily a case of build it and they will come. It depends on how well-located you are to attract people who either already know Umbraco or to whom it’s possible to make the case that they should give their time to learn about it. Either way – you’ve got to figure out the right channels to find both sets of people. Meetup.com will do some promotion for you, showing your group to members they think will be interested and that will be a help, but believe it or not – not everyone is on that site and you may have to do some sleuthing to get the word out.
I did a mixture of the below and over time plan to tick off a few more.
Here’s some options to consider:
Who’s talking about Umbraco in your area? Find them and get in touch!
I’ve also been running some ads for Umbraco Ireland-related searches for a while to grab the attention of anyone who might be curiously searching on Google. I haven’t seen much of a result from them, but it can’t hurt to have them there!
There’s an active group of Umbraco folk on Twitter, let people know what you’re doing – you might be surprised who reaches out to help you.
There’s an Umbraco Slack Channel, LinkedIn and Facebook could be a good place for some targeted advertising of your group.
Get in touch with other Meetups
Reach out to other similar groups where there might be a chance that their members could be interested. Ask the organisers if they’d be so kind as to send out a message on your behalf. Prepare that message for them, tailor it to the type of group that it will be posted in:
- .NET Groups, Microsoft Groups;
- Other CMS Groups – WordPress, Drupal, Sitecore etc. Yes, they are different CMS’s and sometimes different stacks, but I think there’s always something to be learned by seeing what other communities are up to;
I certainly got some signups from trying this out.
Umbraco users around you
See if there are any community members around you. There’s a community map page which is a good place to start:
Speak at other Meetups
Offer to speak at other meetups where you think the audience would be interested. They don’t have to be development-focused either – from content editors, digital strategists, UI designers, UX designers, digital marketers and more – there is likely to be someone in those segments who will find the prospect of an editor & designer-friendly CMS really interesting and they could be your new best advocate for raising awareness about Umbraco in your area.
A popular format that some meetups rotate in and out of is doing lightening talks. Five mins should be all you need to pique potential members interest in your new Umbraco group.
The hub of community activity on Umbraco centres on the Our Umbraco Forum. This is another good place to stich your thumb in the air and gauge interest.
Here’s where to start asking that question: https://our.umbraco.com/forum/using-umbraco-and-getting-started/
Find a Venue
Did you know there is an Umbraco Pro network? There are some benefits to this – among them, WeWork. There are two WeWork venues in Dublin but only one that hosts events for the Meetup Pro network, and that venue only facilitates events once a week (which means they are stacked full of bookings). While they were super helpful in trying to figure out when they might be able to host us, the difficulty came when I wasn’t able to guarantee that we would have at least 50+ attendees at the meetup. Dublin has a vibrant meetup scene and 50+ attendees would not be unusual. But for a new Umbraco meetup in a market where it’s not well-known to begin with, 50 was going to be a stretch. A good place to start is to look at the types of venues that other meetups similar to yours (e.g. the development community) are currently hosting theirs.
The usual suspects – There’s lots of venues that are consistently hosting meetups in Dublin (co-workspaces, banks, in-house company meetups). The fact that there is a vibrant meetup community can work against you. The usual suspects are booked months in advance and they have a bunch of mature meetups with large numbers of attendees on their books – it’s hard to find a slot that isn’t booked three-months-plus ahead.
Pubs – They are an option but may not be suitable for a couple of reasons – not always great for presentations unless you have your own room and decent presentation facilities. Also, not everyone may be comfortable going to a pub.
Hotels – Often there are function rooms that can be rented for a small fee in a hotel. I couldn’t find one where I was happy with the quality of the presentation facilities and the kind of atmosphere that I wanted for the first meetup.
Local Umbraco Agencies – If you’re lucky to have one in your area get in touch and ask them would they like to be a part of growing the local Umbraco community by hosting an event - It should be a perfect match!
Where did we host the first meetup?
The sweet spot for me is somewhere that you can be heard, present on a decent screen and have a comfortable atmosphere so that people can feel relaxed and mingle in between the presentations.
AIB to the rescue – It was AIB Bank who in the end offered the event space above their flagship store on Dublin’s Grafton Street for the occasion. I got in touch with their branch manager, explained what type of event I was looking to host and how I felt their space would be a great match for Umbraco Ireland’s launch. They were on board with the idea and couldn’t have been more helpful. They are host to many types of events, but we were the first CMS-focused one. It was a massive help to us in getting off the ground. Big thanks to AIB and especially Barry & Stephen on the ground there for getting behind us on this.
Any good host aspires to feed and water their guests and sponsorship is the holy grail that greases the wheels of the evening. If there’s an Umbraco agency in your area it would be worth giving them a shout to see if they’d help out. I was lucky that the team I work with at Fort Privacy (who are Umbraco fans themselves) were happy to help with food on the night.
Pizza & Beers/Soft Drinks
Which brings me on to the choice of food and drinks. Yes – pizza is the de facto food of meetups and it’s easily doled out on the night. Consider that there will be mix of meat-lovers and vegetarians in the audience and maybe that super-extra-spicy-hot cajun pizza that'd burn the tongue off your granny is best kept for your Netflix and chill evening at home.
Think about the format of the evening – how many presentations are you having? where does a break in the evening best fit for food? Arrange with the pizza place to deliver on-time (mine were 20 mins early despite this!) and factor in how long this padding of people eating and chatting will add to your event if you have a time limit on using the venue.
Need to calculate how many pizzas to order – here’s what I used!
As for drinks – well it isn’t all about the beers. Some in the audience will prefer soft drinks so factor that into your planning. Does the venue have a fridge? If the venue allows you to bring your own drinks, maybe dropping them over early to be nice and chilled would be a good idea.
The night has arrived. Run through the sequence of how things should work, have it clear in your head. Check the venue facilities to make sure they’re working as expected. You don’t want to find out when you rock up to do the first presentation that there’s no HDMI cable. Make sure you have somewhere to set up the food and drinks.
Talk to the people who’ve been good enough to turn up. Get to know who they are and what’s brought them there tonight. Hopefully they’re going to be with you for the long run.
Remember to thank your guests and attendees – this wouldn’t be happening without them! And needless to say - make sure you leave the venue in a good condition!
Most important of all - enjoy it!
I’ve put the above suggestions into a Trello board that might be handy:
Plan for the future
So you’ve launched, all that hard work has paid off and you’re feeling good! Now is not the time to let that momentum slip. Had a hard time finding a venue? – that could be the same for the next one [makes mental note to start looking for my next venue!].
Everyone’s experience will be different and no doubt you’ll come up against your own challenges and pleasant surprises along the way of setting up your own meetup. You’ll be taking those learnings onboard and each new event will get progressively easier (or so I'm told!). We’re all about iterating after all!
That’s all I can think of for now, hopefully there’s something of use in there for someone looking to set up a new Umbraco Meetup in the future. The first and last thing you need is a passion for the product and the type of community that it fosters around it. If you have that, everything else will fall into place with a little bit of work. Good luck!