Growing the largest per-capita Docker meetup outside of the US (and the 7th largest in the world!)

Group of people sitting in a livingroom smoking

At Implicit-Explicit it’s our business to catch trends early. Following the Lean Startup scriptures, we organized the very first Docker Amsterdam Meetup in Mark Coleman’s (CEO at Implicit-Explicit) living room!

Despite the fact that nobody knew exactly what to do with Docker at the time, we ended up having to run the event over two evenings as the aforementioned living room wasn’t big enough!

Your turn

Those days are long gone. Now we’re the largest per capita Docker meetup outside of the US and the 7th largest on Earth. That’s right. And you are just five tips away from achieving the very same.

Tip #1: Big names mean big crowds

Popular speakers have tight schedules and naturally want to go to events where they will have more impact. Now how to get those big names? Right! Good question… How do you get big names when you’ve just started? You’re just one meetup group among many. Sending an e-mail is bound to land you in the spam folder, right? Calling? Fireworks? What?!

First we tried poaching: whenever there was a conference in town, or relevant speakers at a related meetup group, we’d steal them. This takes a bit of persistence but if they’re in town anyway, your chances are greatly improved. Second we partnered. For us co-hosting together with Container Solutions was a smart move. Their network is large and still growing. Not to mention they provide many good meetup speakers. Lastly, be on the look out for rising stars. Things change real fast in tech and this week’s nobody is next week’s big name. Know who these people are and pounce on them…fast.

Being able to get Bigger Names at Docker Amsterdam turned out to be the number one driver of growth. If anything, make sure you put your resources, time and efforts there.

Tip #2: Bring learning, be fun

Have you heard the one about the woman who goes to a meetup, meets loads of new interesting people, has a great time and then refers that meetup to everyone she knows? If our experiences are anything to go by; probably not. At Docker Amsterdam we do games, we throw around t-shirts, drink craft beers and get people to hug each other. (They are allowed to just shake hands if they’re shy…)

We do this because many meetups are static. Too static. Speakers speak, people clap like they’re at a golf tournament and then everyone goes home. For selfish reasons we couldn’t do that. We are in the habit of transferring our considerable amounts of energy to others. So, Mark shamelessly decided to provide comedy relief in the pauses before, between and after speakers. The word soon got around. He has hosted DockerCon Europe ‘14 and will be hosting DockerCon SF ’15. Both amazing opportunities to spread the word further, wouldn’t you say?

Find someone who will do this for your meetup group. Better yet, think hard about what makes people engage more. What makes them feel welcomed, appreciated and what will have them leave with a smile on their faces.

Tip #3: Ad hoc is a good thing

And then we thought it was necessary to have the meetup on a fixed day each month. Very much against our own nature. We foolishly thought this was how it was supposed to be. But sure enough, routine rots. See it like this. When you’ve just found out that there’s a really good speaker in town, what do you do? Or someone from the community just got accepted for ycombinator? Do you respond with: “Oh, gosh, we don’t have a meetup scheduled…shame…” Or do you rise to the occasion and start mobilizing the network to meetup, “anytime now!” Much to our surprise we found this really, really works. As long as the speaker is relevant you can even “have a meetup tomorrow night! In a cafe with space for 20 people and cram 40 in anyway.”

This approach helps to keep things real and crisp. A tell-tale sign might be that these days we rarely get below 70 attendees and regularly hit 100+ before the abstracts, bios and location are even posted. So when you think regularity is good, remember that it’s actually exactly as it sounds, boring. We let opportunity and content drive the meetup dates.

Tip #4: Sharing is growing

Joint meetups! One time we co-hosted a Docker meetup with Devops Amsterdam, close friends of ours and massive contributors to DockerCon Europe ‘14. But this was at a time when Docker was still perceived as threatening to certain voices in the ops community. Heated debates, red faces, fun! Net result? Loads more members for both groups. We also joined forces with Microservices Amsterdam once. Miscommunications galore, attendees couldn’t find the venue. Such fun! Net result? Loads more members for both groups. Joint meetups are much more work, but they are worth it.

Tip #5: Keep on talking

I regularly get emails from meetup groups that read like War and Peace. I’m seldom in the mood for it. Absent-mindedly I scroll down, suddenly realizing that it’s going to cost me 15 minutes. Delete! Surely you don’t want that. So keep your message direct and to the point. Summary at the top, headers with content below and then say goodbye.

The funny thing is that much to our own surprise we found that e-mail is far from dead. Maybe it is because we make sure to mention the other meetups, events and conferences our members love so much. We’ve even sold out other people’s events this way! People really are reading. If you don’t waste their time and bring presents they will read again.

The World Is A Software Circus

Once we conquered Amsterdam we looked around and thought… Now what? We changed the name to Docker Randstad and are now doing meetups throughout the Netherlands starting at the Blendle offices in Utrecht in July. The joint meetups are also way too much fun and at least as beneficial, so we’re now actively pursuing them. We’re removing geographical constraints and starting a series of virtual joint meetups where groups in different cities across the world will come together online.

And last but not least we are proudly introducing Software Circus. Our new meetup group for expert generalists from around the world. Any subject is welcome so long as it’s fun and interesting. And that means we’ve killed the dreaded Q&A section, mostly they are boring for anyone but the one asking questions. So at Software Circus the talks are short, focused and high-paced. Each speaker has just 10 to 15 minutes to state his case. Afterwards we let them run free in the arena, where you’ll catch them to speak to them face to face. Just as it should be!

By applying our own tips, Software Circus is already growing faster than Docker Amsterdam without being backed by a hugely popular tool. In fact, the Software Circus meetup group is growing so fast that we’re again teaming up with Container Solutions to organize the Software Circus conference. Our first conference will be about programmable infrastructure. The venue will be somewhere in Amsterdam on the 10th & 11th of September 2015. More news on that soon.

The End

So that’s it. You can now achieve the same. Move the couch to the side and cram your living room full of inquisitive early-adopters. Apply our five tips and you’re golden. What are you waiting for? Seriously, if you need help growing your community then just get in touch with us. We’re friendly people.

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