The Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup recently turned five years old. We’ve hosted 90 meetups and our guests included our congresswoman, representative Jackie Speier, and the founder of Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi. We now have over 1,000 members.

It’s been a joy to help run the meetup. Looking back on the five years, we were thrown some curveballs that we managed to overcome. You might say that we hit those curveballs out of the park.

In this article, I’ll share three examples of challenges, how we overcame them and the lessons we learned.

First Challenge: Finding a New Home

Before the pandemic, we met once a month in person. When I launched the meetup in 2015, my boss was kind enough to let me use our office space after hours. It couldn’t have been more convenient for me — while others had to fight traffic to get there, I could stand up from my desk, walk to the front door and welcome everyone.

And then our first challenge arrived: my employer was acquired and it was announced that the office would close down. For an in-person meetup, the loss of our physical space was an existential matter. But a serendipitous encounter saved us.

During one meetup, I was chatting with members in the building lobby. Out walked a building tenant. One of the members (Chris) recognized the person walking out (David). Chris introduced me to David, the CEO of a digital marketing agency. Chris said, "David, you should come speak to this group some time."

It turned out that any building tenant could reserve the first floor boardroom at no cost. Reservations were first come, first serve, but since our meetups were after hours, we could almost always get the room. I asked David if he’d be willing to have his company reserve the room for our meetups and he said yes!

A year later, David’s company moved out of the building, so we could no longer reserve the room. We reached out to other building tenants, but got no traction. Another existential crisis was upon us. At the final meetups in that building, I told members about the situation and asked if they knew of physical space we could use (including their own employers’ spaces).

Cori approached me and said that she just started a new job. She’d ask her colleagues about using their space after hours. As luck would have it, Noémie, a long-time member of our meetup, was a colleague of Cori’s. When Cori mentioned the opportunity the next day in the office, Noémie worked out the arrangements with her office manager.

Thank you, Cori, Noémie and Talend!

Lessons:

  • You need some serendipity to find success.
  • People who are helpful and giving can help you overcome obstacles.
  • You never know what you’ll get if you don’t ask.

Related Article: The Exciting Future of Events: Online, In Person, Hybrid

Second Challenge: A Global Pandemic

In March 2020, California imposed shelter-in-place orders due to the global pandemic. We had two meetups on the calendar, one later in March and another in April. I contacted each presenter and asked if they’d be willing to speak over Zoom. Both said yes. We charged $5 for our in-person meetups to cover the cost of pizza. When we switched to online meetups, I made them free to attend.

During that first online meetup in March, one attendee (Athar) joined us from Bangalore, India. That was a lightbulb moment for me: why don’t we keep doing these meetups online? That way, anyone in the world could join. 

Learning Opportunities

We now meet every Thursday at noon PT. Long-time member Rich Schwerin came up with the slogan “Zooms at Noon.” Of our 90 total meetups, 33 have been online. This means that more than a third of our meetups have happened since the pandemic hit. Our membership grew rapidly as a result. When the pandemic hit, we were below 800 members. Today, we are over 1,000.

We see our Bay Area members in Zoom, but also welcome regular attendees from Italy, the UK and India. Ester, an entrepreneur in Italy, likes to attend our meetups because it’s evening for her and the house is quiet. 

Lessons:

  • When one vehicle is shut down, find other ways to connect with your audience (e.g., Zoom).
  • Act quickly on lightbulb moments.
  • Consistency is key: members know to find us every Thursday at noon.

Related Article: Shifting to a Virtual Events Strategy

Third Challenge: Video Recording Capacity

I record each Zoom meeting for members who can’t join us live. I take the link of the recording (hosted by Zoom) and share it with the meetup group. After the first few months of online meetups, I ran into a problem. Even though I have a paid account, Zoom notified me I was near storage capacity for my recordings.

What to do?

If I deleted an older recording to free up space, someone who wanted to watch that presentation would get a broken link. At first, I considered using my own storage space (e.g., Dropbox or Google Drive) to upload the recordings there, then provide folks with the link. But then I thought of an even better option: YouTube.

I created a YouTube playlist and uploaded all of the recordings there. Now, with each week’s meetup, I simply add the new recording to the playlist. As of this writing, you can watch 33 meetup presentations.

Compared to the Zoom links, YouTube makes our meetup content available to a far wider audience.

Lessons:

  • Sometimes a technical limitation is a sign from the universe that a better solution exists.
  • Instead of replacing one solution with a similar alternative, think bigger and better.

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