Last night in NYC the NY Tech Meetup was held at the IAC headquarters in Manhattan. I’ve been covering the monthly event for nearly two years now and try to get every presentation on video for those of you who either couldn’t make it or are located elsewhere. Over the past few months I’ve received several emails and chats wondering if I had any insight on how to actually get on the list of presenters for the meetups. I enjoy attending the meetup each month, meeting CN readers and helping to expose a bunch of NYC startups to the world. Meetup organisers Dawn and Scott do a good job in organisation and event night management. Things move along on time better than most events I attend.
As I started to look back, one thing seemed to stick out. “Friends of Meetup” seemed to grab an abnormally large number of the presentation slots. It’s not just one month, it’s multiple months with multiple companies.
After Charles Forman presented for the 3rd time in a year, I asked event organiser Dawn Barber how Forman was selected to present again tonight as he didn’t even post on the “I’d like to present list“. Dawn said that “this was something new” and that “people want to see this”. Not sure when that survey of “people” was completed but I wasn’t provided a ballot form. I explained that I’ve heard from several people expressing their frustration with the way the presenters are selected. She said excuse me for a second and jumped on stage, whispered something to Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman and then sat back down. Immediately thereafter Scott said “I should probably note that I have a relationship with iminlikewithyou and the next company (familybuilder)”. I wonder if he would have said anything had I not asked. Of course not. Well now my Columbo hat just got a bit higher on my head – what else might be going on here?
Let’s take a look at the companies that presented and see if there are any potential conflicts:
- Adarky – I can’t find any direct conflicts but the founder Steve Spurgat was able to present 2x in under a year – no post on the messageboard
- Change.org – Josh Levy is also editor of Personal Democracy Forum where Tech Meetup organiser Dawn Barber serves as Director of Marketing & Events – no post on the messageboard
- ImInLikeWithYou – founder Charles Forman has been able to present 3x in a year, always gets bonus time (my camera counts the time) and is able to present just a powerpoint (something no one else is able to do). Meetup founder Scott Heiferman is on the board of this company – no post on the messageboard
- FamilyBuilder – Meetup founder Scott Heiferman is on the board of this company – did post on the messageboard
- CollabFinder – I couldn’t find any conflicts but this site didn’t post on the main message board as directed – will need to investigate further
- RmbrMe – followed the proper protocol
- Aquahoops – the founder of this game, E.J. Mablekos, is an employee of ImInLikeWithYou (Dan Frommer notes that E.J. is a former employee)
- The Ladders – 3 presentations in the last year – I am guessing last night’s was a paid slot for the company sponsoring drinks afterwards
Scott makes it clear each month that the NY Tech Meetup is separate from the company Meetup. I still don’t get this frankly. Meetup is the only company to get a “free” table each month to pimp their goods. There’s no transparency on the funds for the group – we will save this part of the discussion for another post.
So what happens when Dawn and Scott select companies that are either friends, associates or that they have a financial interest in? The simple answer is a lot. There are actually two different issues but they compound to cause an even larger overall issue.
First, many good NYC startups lose their chance for press and buzz. There are plenty of startups on the list, but those were passed over for “friends of meetup”. Second, the “friends of meetup” walk away with the worldwide press. Check out the recap of last night’s event on Alley Insider. The only company mentioned was ImInLikeWithYou. Out of the 8 companies, Eric picked this one to discuss. The two apparently non-conflicted startups got nothing, zip, nada. I am by no means calling out Alley Insider, it’s just something I see across the board at many conferences where conflicts are evident.
I’ve setup a new rule on CenterNetworks. We will no longer post the videos of companies where there are apparent conflicts. I thought about this long and hard and if we did, we would be exacerbating the situation. I’d rather spend the time on the companies that actually need the media attention.
The bottom line is simple – if we want NYC to kick arse in the world’s tech community, we have to stop favouring a few “friends” and let everyone get time on stage. While I agree that many of the apps that request to present aren’t actually in the right stage to present, there are plenty of others who deserve their time on stage. Let’s hope that corrective action will be taken swiftly and there will be no more conflicts. For my other suggestions on how to improve the meetup, check out my 5 things post from last year.
Lastly, I totally understand that it’s very difficult to stand up and voice your opinion even though ya’all will share it with me in private. Don’t worry – I will keep fighting for transparency and will post a “connected list” each month until we see some positive change – call me Maverick Allen.
Feel free to place your bets on which “friends of Meetup” will present next month :) I have a couple ideas on who will get a nod.
Allen Stern is the founder and editor of CenterNetworks, where this post was originally published.