How a chance meetup could boost your career

September 22, 2015, 4:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Meetup

The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How can a connection with a stranger lead to your next business success?” is written by Brendan McGovern, co-founder and CFO of Meetup.

In 1994, I walked into a room and sat next to a stranger, and that changed my life extraordinarily.

I was a junior in college and had taken an accounting internship at Sony (SNE) in Northern New Jersey. During my first week, I attended an intern orientation and picked a seat next to a kid who was skinny and nerdy, just like me. That kid was Scott Heiferman, and he and I hit it off immediately. A year later, when he went on to start an Internet advertising agency, he told me he figured he would need a numbers person, and asked, “Isn’t that what you do?” So at 22 years old with little more than an accounting internship under my belt, I joined Scott and his partners at his new ad agency and called myself a Controller. Over the next four years, we grew that business into a four office, 150+ person agency, and then sold it to an acquirer who would later be rolled into Omnicom (OMC).

In 2002, Scott and I co-founded Meetup, a community building app that enables our 23 million members around the world to ‘use the Internet to get off the internet,’ and connect with neighbors in their local communities: real, in-person, face to face Meetups groups about whatever is important to them in their lives.

Meetups lead to conversations, relationships, and ultimately opportunity. Take for instance, the Founding Moms, a network of (kid-friendly) Meetups where mom entrepreneurs gather to trade ideas and resources to help them build better businesses. Or, the CodeCrew Meetup, started by husband and wife team Felicia and Jamal O’Garro when they lost their jobs in the last recession and wanted to learn to code to improve their career prospects. Now their Meetup is 8,000+ members strong, and personally responsible for getting dozens of people into a high-paying career in tech. Or Dale Choonoolal’s NYC Soccer Meetup, where a former investment banker turned his love of sports and the outdoors into a small business, powered by Meetup.

Meetup is built on the premise that you haven’t met everyone who will be important in your life yet. When people Meetup, they go hiking, or expand their business networks, or learn from other new moms, or practice new languages. Friendships are made. Companies are formed, or funded. People get job offers, or other opportunities emerge. Conversations happen about topics where opinions disagree, and people leave Meetups understanding each other a bit better. Relationships begin.

Had Scott and I not met, my life would have taken a different track. I see the value of connecting with strangers. In fact, 21 years after first meeting, we’ve built a company that does that very thing, tens of thousands of times a day.

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