Meetup.com, Steve Jobs and The Meaning Of Innovation

On April 18th, Sprouter organized their monthly Sprout Up event at The Courthouse. It’s a useful event for those interested in hearing about new startups in Toronto.

April’s keynote was from Matt Meeker, one of the founders of Meetup.com. Matt talked about the inside story of Meetup, how they got started and their journey. The best part of the evening.

Interestingly enough, as Matt was talking, I was reminded of my favorite Steve Jobs talk. It was a talk Jobs gave at age 26, before the Macintosh, ¬†at the Academy of Achievement. In the talk, Jobs defines innovation as “connecting two experiences together” and that true innovation could only be done by people who “go out into the world and get experiences outside the normal course of events.” I always loved this because it speaks directly to things I care about: Human experience over theory; courage; discovering a path that’s truly your own.

Matt talked about two transformative experiences: 9/11 and reading Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. In “Alone,” Putnam describes the disappearance of community in post-industrial America. Where once Americans participated in at least one social event a week is now reduced to once per month. At the same time, Matt spoke of his first-hand experience of spontaneous community building that sprang immediately after 9/11. About strangers reaching out to others offering help right there on the street. So while America was moving further apart, there was still a craving for meaninful belonging.

As such, Meeker and his cofounders created Meetup to solve this problem. Meetup offered a platform for others to connect in a community again. In other words, Meetup was about connecting two experiences together.

Innovation is a funny word. We often think of it as a Eureka moment, a brief moment of brilliance, a falling apple–an apple with a mind and existence of its own. Matt Meeker’s story taught me again the importance of your own experience.

Sometimes the best ideas are not ahead of you, but right beside you.