By Michael Schaffer — June 24, 2016
Whether it’s the combination of caffeine and conversation or just something about entrepreneurs and drinks sharing the same meetup space, the axiom is real: Coffee plus cool people equals inspiration. Skype Co-Founder Saul Klein must’ve had this axiom in mind when he started the first coffee/business networking group in London back in 2007. Called the “OpenCoffee Club,” the group’s goal was to bring entrepreneurs, developers and investors together at informal gatherings that might inspire greater transparency in the investment industry. Klein’s ultimate hope was that this transparency would encourage entrepreneurship in the industry. And, it worked.
The Innovate Pasadena Friday Coffee Meetup has Grown to the Point Where 100–150 New Members Join Each Month.
Today, the Innovate Pasadena Friday Coffee Meetup is one of more than 100 such groups that meet in various places around the globe every week. But what really sets Friday Coffee apart is the rather insane growth we’ve experienced over the past three years. “Insane” is a dramatic word, I know. But a rate of 100–150 new members per month is dramatic. In the spirit of sharing, we decided to write about the secret to our meetup’s insane success.
Twelve Entrepreneurs, a Little Coffee Shop and a Big Vision
“Love this group! High-level attendees, to be sure.” — Nick L.
Back in March 2013, Innovate Pasadena Co-Founder Andy Wilson invited a few like-minded friends to meet at Jones Coffee to hang out and talk about business and ideas, forming what would be the first Innovate Pasadena Friday Coffee Meetup. When I imagine that group of 12 entrepreneurs sitting around a table in a little coffee shop’s back room, I can clearly see the (not-so-secret) secret to how the group went on to achieve such great success—local, innovative companies run by people with real passion for a shared vision.
You might be thinking, What do you mean ‘real passion’ for a vision? Of course we have that, but our group isn’t growing!
But have you ever considered what real passion for a shared vision looks like in action?
Passion is a Verb
“We have amazing presenters and presentations that focus on helping our members grow personally and business-wise—everything from bootstrapping to venture capital investment, trials and tribulations to amazing exits, persevering to pivoting” —Mike M.
We tend to think of passion as a sort of ethereal state of being—we’re passionate about this or that because we hold strong feelings toward it. While feelings are great and often quite nice, they are really quite useless in and of themselves. Real passion, however, is always backed by action. Our other tireless organizers—Mike Mills, founder of Edge Holistic Fitness, Tyrone Howard, co-founder of Get Social, Financial Planner John Chou and Bayfish Creative Director Chuck Chugumlung, together with all our other dedicated members—are well acquainted with that kind of action.
When members of a group—no matter the size—share a genuine passion for a common vision, magical stuff happens. Or, to put it in less mystical and more sociological terms, when a group really wants to achieve a goal, there’s a sort of exponential power in their combined efforts. Efforts being the operative word. This philosophy of action is what Friday Coffee was founded on. Three years and 3,000 members later, it’s the same driving force behind our growth today.
Passion is Contagious
“A great start to a Friday morning. Always inspirational.” — Ken Y.
Because they were each motivated to grow the group and promote awareness of the incredible innovation going on in and around Pasadena, the first 12 members made it a priority to invite their friends to meetings and stay on the lookout for relevant speakers. They were constantly thinking, doing and planning with that shared vision in mind; investing great energy by reaching out to our network of speakers and asking if they might be willing to share their thoughts with the group. Today, these folks are coming to us, and we’ve got a speaking engagement schedule booked out several months in advance.
Thanks to these efforts, Friday Coffee has consistently hosted amazing speakers and operated as a breeding ground for great business opportunities—two things that have served to attract even more people driven by that same brand of genuine passion.
Passion Keeps on Keeping On
“A fantastic resource for dialogue, discussion, resilience, and reinvention... How did we get so lucky? We are so fortunate to be creating this community! I hope it lasts forever. We need it to last forever!” — Ken G.
From Jones, the group moved on to Vanessa's Cafe then to Copa Vida and the Pasadena Convention Center. Today, we’ve achieved one of Innovate Pasadena’s earliest objectives (to recruit a tier-one co-working facility) and so spend our Friday mornings at Cross Campus, Pasadena. Today we’re also one of the greater Los Angeles area’s top 10 start-up/tech meetups, often pulling in as many as 200 members on any given Friday morning. More than a venue for education, Friday Coffee has also evolved to become a hub for hiring, deal making, fundraising and even a bit of group therapy every now and then (after all, we are passionate people). We’ve also become the engagement gateway for Innovate Pasadena—a group that’s served to connect more than 38,000 people through 450 events in the last three years.
The bottom line is this: There’s really no magical formula for growing your meetup group. Friday Coffee has grown because we’ve really wanted to grow. And when people genuinely want something, they do stuff to make it happen. So our ultimate secret to insane meetup group growth? Just start doing stuff that’ll make it happen: invite your friends to meetings and invite awesome people to speak.