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May 28, 2013 at 4:49am

How to bootstrap your monthly User Group meetup

The Viennese Ruby user group in it’s current format only started in February 2013. In a 3-month time frame we found 100 Rubyists in our group, 30-40 people attending our monthly events, enough zest for talks and the interest of companies sponsoring our meetups. Hurray for free drinks!

Who ‘we’ are? Well, there’s Andy (Andreas Tiefenthaler). And Tony (Anton Bangratz). And me, obviously. Andy and Tony both work at RadarServices as head of DevOps and head of Development. I do all kinds of stuff but in the Ruby world I’m probably most known as a vivid Rails Girls supporter.

Photo on 5-9-13 at 6.18 PM

We’d love to share our learnings as we learned greatly from the Bratislava user group (Rubyslava), who reached out to us when they saw us getting started.* So here we go, some tips on how to bootstrap your user group:

How to get your organizing team organized

We keep in touch via our own little mailing list, Google Talk Hangout things at random times and it’s not unlikely to see us debating stuff over a coffee or a beer in a local cafe in Vienna. All three of us have access to the GitHub repo to maintain the website and host the slides and we share custody over the group and the Twitter account.

We noticed pretty soon however that everyone quickly picks their tool of choice. I like to tweet and write blogposts and press releases around every event. You will also see me running around the event venue to make sure everyone has a drink and is content. Andy is great with handling sponsors and regularly checks the meetup group for new RSVP’s and comments. Tony is the capo of the website. We all try and get people to do a talk at a next meetup.

How to get sponsors aboard

Funnily enough, we never had real troubles finding sponsors. Do your homework, check what Ruby shops are looking to hire people and ask them to sponsor your event. For a group of forty thirsty developers we need about 200 euro to pay for drinks at Sektor5, the co-working space that we usually host our events at. Which is great, because they don’t charge bar-prizes and I bet they like having a large group of young programmers roaming around their venue every now and then.

Why settling down is a good thing

Which brings me to my next point. Initially we thought hosting the meetup at a different company every time would be a grand idea. Viennese people aren’t known to be very keen on traveling, so that way we would just serve a different audience every time. With an overwhelming show-up at the first event however, we decided we just need the resources to cater a substantial group. Where else than at Sektor5, with it’s comfy couches, stable Wifi, and startuppy vibe? Located in the 5th district, it’s not far from the city’s center and reachable with all kinds of public transport.

Keep producing content between meetups

To keep our Twitter account and website up to date we aggregate Ruby news (in Vienna / Austria) and we have our weekly ‘picks’. We stay in touch with the companies that sponsored or talked at one of our meetups, so we’ll hear about their features / endeavors first. Creating more contact moments than around meetups only helps building a community and an open and (warm and fuzzy) welcomy feel.

Work together with other user groups (even of other languages)

Attending the ‘Bratislavian’ Ruby meetup was a humbling experience for me. Rubyslava organizes Ruby programmer meetups in Bratislava and they have been doing it for years. They merged with the Python user group and they are quite open to JavaScripters. We didn’t think such an ‘open to all languages’ thing possible, but attending a Rubyslava meetup I was in for more surprises. As most talks were in Czech or Slovak, one of the organizers had arranged an interpreter for me. Even though I had still to organize the first event for vienna.rb – I went to Bratislava for inspirational reasons – I was welcomed like a rockstar. After this meeting all these guys actually followed up on whatever we talked about during the networking-part of the meetup. And they returned ‘the favor’, showing up with a van with place for 9 people to every vienna.rb meetup so far. Meeting all this friendly and incredibly smart and hard working people from Slovakia really made me want to create the best experience possible for the people attending vienna.rb events.

What’s next for us? Well… there’s a hackathon in the planning. And we definitely need to print stickers. Or notebooks. Or both. And we’d love to do exchange programs with other Ruby user groups, enabling the really outstanding talks to make the rounds in Europe. If you think you could help there, or if this post convinced you to attend one of our meetups, we have one planned for the 6th of June.

* I actually send (a summarized version of) this post in for the CFP of Eurucamp. Unfortunately, this talk didn’t make it. But I wanted to get it out there anyway! :)

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