What Event Planners Should Make of WeWork’s Meetup Acquisition

A company known for helping people organize events was just acquired by a company known for its buzzy approach to workspaces. The merger underlines the fact that local events are big business, too.

For more than 15 years, Meetup has been a social media workhorse based around a simple idea: It’s a site that drums up online connections for the sake of bringing them offline.

This feature, simple as it sounds, has made the tool a secret weapon for local chapters of associations, among other uses. And this week, one of the buzziest companies in the world saw the value in what Meetup had built—and acquired it.

WeWork’s purchase of Meetup, claimed by Axios to be valued around $200 million, brings together one of the world’s most prominent owners of office and meeting spaces with a company that helps people find opportunities to meet. What does this purchase say about the nature of local events? A few takeaways:

Local events are big business. Certainly, monthly hangout sessions, hackathons, or presentations might not fall on the same scale as a major conference, but they represent economic drivers nonetheless, and those local meetings aren’t necessarily looking for the same old, same old. A recent American Express Meetings & Events report noted that nontraditional facilities were becoming trendy for meetings—and WeWork, with its high-style approach, could definitely claim it’s nontraditional.

Meetup’s model is a portrait of stability. The fact that Meetup doesn’t get brought up in conversation as much as more recent social networks isn’t necessarily a fault. But the company, at times, has done some things that frustrated its audience—specifically in 2005, when it started charging monthly fees to meeting organizers. The decision, beyond just the business model, was driven by a desire to encourage creators to take their events seriously. And it worked—something that reflects on the value of the local meetings sphere as a whole. But while the company has grown successfully and in a stable way, it isn’t afraid to change its model for the modern day—something it did just last year. According to The New York Times, Meetup, which hadn’t taken outside investments in years, saw the acquisition as a way to grow. (Growth is a good thing for Meetup right now, as the company faces competition from Facebook.)

WeWork (and its competitors) probably shouldn’t be ignored. The fast-growing startup, with a valuation in the tens of billions, is looking for ways to maximize the value in its spaces, and events could do just that. In his Times article, Michael J. de la Merced emphasized that Meetup solved a problem for WeWork: “WeWork’s roughly 10 million square feet of leased office space, spread out over more than 170 locations in 16 countries, is used primarily during the day,” he wrote. “By contrast, meetups happen primarily outside of working hours.” WeWork isn’t the only company focused on creating open workspaces—even firms like Capital One are trying to nudge into this territory. Local event planners might feel a full-court press from these companies in the coming years.

Of course, while Meetup is one of the biggest players in the professional space, it’s far from alone. Companies such as Eventbrite, which recently acquired competitor Nvite, sport values of above $1 billion, and more specialized players specifically targeting associations are likely to make themselves known in the local event space in the years to come.

The just-announced deal won’t monopolize the market by any means. But the combination of conference and venue run by the same company could prove an easy sell for many event planners.

(Meetup screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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