Ghyslain Gaillard (@iamghyslain) of Indie London knew that he wanted to be at the heart of the indie startup scene in Europe, but when he couldn’t find his birds of a feather, he decided to start his own meetup from scratch. In this episode Ghyslain and I discussed the major benefits of getting energized with a group of like-minded indie hackers, why it's so worthwhile to ask others for help, and the practical value of cold outreach in growing your product.
Hey there. This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you’re listening to the Indie Hackers Podcast. On this show I talk to the founders of profitable internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it’s like to be in their shoes. How did they get to where they are today?
How do they make decisions, both in their companies and in their personal lives? And what, exactly, makes their businesses tick? The goal here, as always, is so that the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build on our own, profitable businesses. Today I’m talking to Ghyslain Gaillard. Ghysalain, welcome to the Indie Hackers podcast.
Thanks for having me Courtland, thank you.
You are the founder of a Meetup. It’s called Indie London. Tell us about that, what is Indie London, exactly?
Indie London is the London community of bootstrappers, Indie Hackers, Indie Makers, that want to help each other and meet to grow their online profitable businesses.
We do quarterly events, usually centered around key business concepts and offering the opportunity from our attendees, who are Indie Hackers, bootstrap entrepreneurs, or people who wish to start their own business to learn from other people in the community.
People that have succeeded already, people that have some key skills. We have had, to give you an example, some people that were on the podcast not long ago. We had Ari Tried (ph) from Marketing Example(ph) as a speaker.
We had Louise from Salesforce founder, talking about sales, we’ve had some really successful bootstrappers such as Jonny from Ticket Tailor. So it’s really the opportunity for Indie Hackers and others to meet, connect, share their struggles, and learn from each other.
I have been to one of your events. It was about a year ago. You had an Indie London workshop day and it was a whole Saturday of people just getting together in groups and I think everybody worked from basically nothing to coming up with an idea for a business, to figuring out exactly what kind of road map they would use to bring it to life.
At the end of the day we got together and gave each other feedback on our ideas. So it was super fun. And that was one of the many different formats that you’ve had for the Meetup. Why do you run a Meetup? What’s the point of even doing this?
It all started, I think it’s been a year and a half, two years ago that we started the Meetup. I’ve been in London for four years now. About a year in, living in London, I moved to London to be at the center of the tech opportunity in Europe. Still, today London is the place to be if you’re into startup, into online businesses, into tech.
I really wanted to grow my network and to meet like-minded people who wanted to start their own business. That was really my goal for me, to find people I could share my struggles with. I did not think at the beginning of starting a Meetup because that’s not the most obvious way to go and meet people.
The way it was started is a few duration (ph) with at the beginning I went to other Meetups, so I went to visit the usual tech entrepreneur Meetups, I went to software developer Meetups but there was always something a bit off. Tech Entrepreneur Meetups, it was really interesting events, really interesting people but often you have people who are past my stage where I’m just a software engineer that built this project where in this Tech Entrepreneur Meetup you have people that have raised tens of millions and now are easy way past that.
On the other side on Software Developer Meetups, it was software developers like you and I but maybe not with a scratch to be in business. One day it clicked, I don't remember how but I was hanging out on Indie Hackers. It had been two years I’d been there.
I’d been following when you were doing the interviews, posting them on Hacker News, then build a forum, build a podcast. But then that’s the community that’s most similar to me so why not simply meet those people. It all started with Boston, the forum, back in February 2018. I asked, “Are there any Indie Hackers in London, people working on a project that would like to meet?”
And we met, we organized. About five or ten people replied. We organized ourselves on Telegram, found some times that worked for all of us and I think that’s how it started. Really a motivation to meet like-minded people, be together in a room and from there I guess, it just grew.
This is also how the Indie Hackers Meetup program started. It was a very unofficial thing. I didn’t set out for there to be Meetups. You created this Indie London on your own initiative on the forum and people showed up. Mark Fershteyn in San Francisco did kind of the same thing, like, “Who’s in SF? Let’s all meet up.”
Again, this was early 2018. I was honestly kind of resistant to it. I’m like, “Ah, man. This is going to be so much work if it’s going to meet people in person.” Then I went to Mark’s Meetup in San Francisco and it was amazing. It was so cool to see actual people who were Indie Hackers who were working on projects or thinking about working on projects and feeding off of each other’s energy.
That was what? A year and a half ago and today we have something like, I think an average of 60 Meetups a month. So pretty much any day somewhere in the world there’s two different Indie Hackers Meetups going on.
And Indie London is regularly one of the biggest. I think the one I came to there were something like 80 or 90 people there, all learning together in the Stripe office in London. Let’s talk about how you grew from five people attending your first Meetup to 100 people attending your Meetup.
It grew a bit naturally. You said something interesting, you used the word energy. I’ve tried to describe why I’m still doing it and why people are showing up, and I think it is this. Maybe it sounds a bit hippie but I don't know how to say it differently, but there’s this energy you get when you’re in the same room with other people that care about the same thing as you.
We all hang out online, we hang out on Twitter, but being in a small room just 20, 30, 80 people, there’s really something different about it. That’s why I keep doing it. I kept in touch with the people that came in. We discussed a bit what was the type of format people wanted. I tried to gather a bit of feedback.
We got a lot of help from Stripe at the beginning, so a big shout out to Ross, who helped us at the beginning and having that location helped to keep the momentum. I think that’s what really helped the Meetups grow, I think, is the momentum.
You guys have done a bunch of different formats. It doesn't seem like you’ve settled on one tried and true format that you’ve used for every Meetup. Walk me through some of the different ways you’ve run your Meetup.
The very first Meetups were kind of standups. People were coming in. There were maybe 10, 15 people. Everyone was sharing what they are working on, what their struggles are and being able to connect with a person that you can help, the person that can help you.
Something we have done quite a while now is the speakers’ format where we have two speakers from the community. I always try to find people from the community because, one, big learning I had when trying different formats is that people want to get out there something actionable. I think speakers from the community help that.
We have done the workshop, so that where you were one year ago, now. The workshop has been really amazing. To tell you how there’s this need for people to meet. People show up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. It was, “Woah, wait.” It was really the very beginning of the Meetup and we ask these 80 people to come up on a Saturday morning to work together and everyone was there.
So that’s a bit different format to try and I’m really impressed again how people are really willing to come and to get that energy and to share what they’re working on.
One of the things I liked about that workshop Meetup was you had a lot of help. It wasn’t just you by yourself trying to put this thing together and carry all the weight on your shoulders. You worked with Stripe to use their office.
You had Anne-Laure there, who now runs Maker Mag helping you out. You had Alex and Peter. People were giving talks and presentations. A lot of other Meetup founders on Indie Hackers will do smaller events that are just run by themselves, solo, which are cool, too.
But I think the fact that you weren’t afraid to ask for help, to work with others and collaborate, meant that you were able to put on something that was unique, that other people don’t have the bandwidth to do.
You mentioned Peter was helping me for a while for this event. We had a few other people as well. I thank them a lot for that because a one-day event is not something easy to pull off. I think what has been interesting is that in London, maybe because it’s such a big city, there is a certain mass and we have different type of events.
I have a friend Charlie, who runs Indie Beers in London, which is a different type of event, more relaxed where people meet at the pub, which I guess is the typical English tradition. Yesterday I was with him, I was doing workday session where people came in and worked together.
So there is a lot of space to experiment with different things. I think waiting to have other people help and other people do their own things, it’s amazing for the community.
Charlie is also one of our official Indie Hackers Meetup founders. The story behind that is, after you and Mark and some others put together your unofficial Indie Hackers Meetups last year, I build a super simple Meetups page on Indie Hackers where you could submit an event.
Then I talked to my boss, Patrick, and he was like, “Hey, why don’t you make this even more official? Why don’t you put up a form where people can apply to be official Meetup founders?” And I did. It went from a small trickle, of just a few Meetups every week, to 200 people filled out this application to become an official Meetup founder, which is funny because we don’t do that much for Meetup Founders.
I think we have all of you in a Slack room together and I just got some stickers I’ll be sending out. Charlie is running Indie Beers is an official founder. In London you’ve got your Meetup in London. There’s Meetups in New York, Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Bali, Australia, Paris. Paris is huge.
Paris is big as well. There’s a little competition going on now and that’s with one of the organizers. It’s a big city as well, so lots of demand to do different Meetups.
Joan in Barcelona has got a pretty big Meetup. Forever it was just five or ten people meeting in this dark warehouse. They would send pictures and look like a very Illuminati type meeting. Now I think he’s up to 40 or 50 members coming to his Meetup every month. How do you gain steam with a meet up? How do you make sure you get more and more people coming to the successive events you are throwing?
There’s a lot that happened just riding a wave saying there was really a need for people to meet and being broadcast on Indie Hackers which you did with the Meetup Section, being included in the newsletter, having it on Twitter. All of that helped.
Something that helped at the beginning was doing some cold outreach. Whenever I was seeing someone on the forum mentioning London or whenever I saw someone saying they were from London I reached out and I told them about the Meetup. All of that helped. I would not focus on making it as big as possible.
I got some advice when I started. I reached out to a friend of mine, Dmitry, which was running one of the biggest tech Meetup in London back in the day. He told me to be very careful once it reached 100 people because at that point in terms of logistics it becomes very heavy on you. In terms of the dilution of the people there, meaning that the real value of the Meetup is to be with other Indie Hackers, other bootstrap entrepreneurs.
You don’t want growth at all costs and then have people that may not be really the target audience for Indie Hacking. I think that’s what helped us, was to keep things really tight, and to keep your target audience always in mind.
Since we are speaking of growth, I think one thing I want to mention as well, is that maybe in London we are 1800 people now but already when we were only 10 people there was a lot of value from meeting. I guess people listening, it would be very helpful for anyone listening at the end of the podcast to just reach out, to go on IndieHackers.com on the Meetup page to see if anything is up in your city.
If nothing is up, just post in the forum, “Is anyone in my city? Let’s meet.” It can start from a coffee, it can start from lunch. I’ve had dinners with a few people from London. It was as great as the 80 people Meetup we do. It’s about that connection with five, ten people. That’s enough really.
Yes, some of my favorite Meetups are the really tiny ones. There are a lot of parallels between running a meeting and running an early stage company. The way it looks early on, when it is small, might not be anything like what it’s like later on.
You might have people coming and presenting, presenting slides, and giving talks at your bigger Meetups, but early on it might be just what you said, three or four people sitting around a dinner table. Or two people getting coffee can be the start of the Meetup.
It actually is how most Indie Hackers Meetups get started. Someone is like, “OK, I’m getting coffee in this city. Are there any Indie Hackers here who want to join?” It’s kind of like putting a Bat signal in the air and one or two people will show up and it becomes a regular thing.
Exactly, as I was saying earlier to you, I have a full-time job and this Meetup is a bit my side project. I think I tried to incorporate some of my learning from building products where you start small, you do things that don’t scale.
All the things that you read out there applies as well for this type of product, this type of event. I would encourage anyone listening to go out to coffee with another Indie Hackers, go have lunch, go have dinner. Go to library, book a room. There’s plenty of options, right.
Tons of options. For me, my favorite use case is just putting up a Meetup to meet people when I’m traveling in a foreign country. It’s guaranteed there’s going to be some Indie Hackers there that are down to talk shop. What do you get out of this?
As somebody who said your primary side project is this Meetup outside your full-time job. What’s the biggest way that hosting a Meetup improves your life, Ghyslain?
As the organizer, the advantage I have is that I get to meet everyone because I go and try to greet everyone, make everyone feel welcome, try to understand what everyone is working on. The speakers we have are people that are very successful. It’s interesting to keep in touch with them.
The incentive for me, which kept me motivated to keep doing it personally is that I’m growing my network. As I was saying earlier, my goal at the beginning was to meet other Indie Hackers and grow my network. That’s exactly what I get out of the Meetup.
That’s my main motivation. When I feel it’s a bit difficult, finding the time I remind myself that this is the objective of getting to meet people. Then the Meetup happens, I spend an amazing three hours getting a lot of energy from all the attendees and I just go back and try to put the next one together.
I get a ton of energy, too, going to the Meetups. When I came to Indie London last year, it was a trip. I stopped in Ireland first, we had a Meetup there. I think there were 60 people there. I interviewed John Collison as a live podcast episode. Then I came to Indie London and we did that awesome workshop day.
Then I flew back to Toronto and Henry, who runs a Meetup there did this cool, unconference format where everybody can suggest topics they want to talk about and we broke up into sessions to talk about those things and then we reconvened. Then I came back to SF and there’s a Meetup. After four Meetups in row over two weeks I was so energized.
All I wanted to do is code, all I wanted to do is build something. There’s something about it as being a guaranteed refresher. If you’re ever feeling down, if you just go to a room full of a bunch of other people, if I go to Microconf, or if I decide I want to have a small Meetup in SF and I just put a little post on the website and people show up. It’s always just super motivating.
The best thing someone said at the Meetup was, “Yeah, there was this talk about putting his project up there, putting a landing page and I went home and I did exactly that. Now I’m selling my software and I’ve got 10 sales already.” I was like, “Woah.” We made an impact. Something came out of it.
I’m sure now it’s multiplied by 10, 15 across everyone attending. Just thinking that a bit of time I give to put that together, having those three hours, every three months or so, allows people to create and to be productive and to fulfill their goal and their dreams. What more do we want?
What goes into running a Meetup? What are the essential boxes you need to check off if you’re deciding to try to do one of these?
I think the main one which helped at the beginning was making sure your communication with the attendees is right. Someone who is listening and wants to start, I would encourage you to put up a Whatsapp group, a Telegram group because when it’s only two, three, ten people, that’s the best way to connect.
Later on, let’s say you figured this out. I guess the main check box is location. It’s an offline event so you have to find a place where to meet. In our case we were lucky to have a friend that could give us some space, then we have Stripe in London that gave us some space. Now that we have outgrown, I spent some time trying to be very cheap and find some bigger companies with bigger spaces that could host us.
In terms of logistics here, the main one is finding a space. It goes back to some advice I’ve heard in the podcast which is, “How do I find the space?” It’s called a lot of cold outreach. In the end I end up doing a lot of sales, emailing locations, saying, “Hey, we have this event. Can you host us?” Emailing speakers, “Hey, I saw you last time at the event. Would you like to speak?”
So practice your cold outreach skills. It’s good training.
Yet another way that starting a Meetup is similar to starting a business. Do you think you’ll ever monetize your Meetup and turn it into a business of its own?
I thought about it at the very beginning but then I felt like, I was worried to decrease the value of it, let’s say. For instance, the obvious one is to charge the attendees but I think given what I’ve just explained in terms of how we can enable people, how much people can get energy, I don't think that would be the right thing to do.
Now that the Meetup has grown to a certain size I have been thinking of taking on sponsorship because they are obviously 80 bootstrap entrepreneurs in the same room. It’s an opportunity for companies to spread the word about themselves. That’s something I’ve been working on but I haven’t been worried about that, to be honest.
If people come and enjoy it enough in terms of cost for me, it’s a couple of hours here and there. On the day, I’ve had help from Stripe at the beginning, from Email Octopus for everything that has to do with food and drinks, so I keep it simple and I try not to worry about it.
Did you see this post we put in Slack earlier this week? I think the offer will be expired by the time this episode comes out but Postmark, which you use for sending transactional emails, they’re doing Meetup sponsorships and they’re paying anyone who is hosting a qualified Meetup $300 to cover pizza and the space and anything like that.
There are lots of companies that have initiatives like this, which is so cool. It’s a way to do something a little bit upscale, a little bit more useful for attendees and easy for them because you’re providing food, while also promoting another company.
We were talking earlier about what goes into putting a Meetup and the logistic of finding a place. Here again, tons of companies would love the opportunity to have developers, to have entrepreneurs in their office for an evening. It’s an opportunity to reach out and for them to spread the word.
What do you think about the Indie Hackers Meetups program in particular? I’m always struggling how to run this. On one hand it’s energetic. The value of one person at an Indie Hackers Meetup is like having 10 or 20 people on the website.
But on the other hand, in terms of the scale, the website is massive. So even though we have 100-something Meetup founders and they’re running 60 Meetups a month. On any given day the website will get 100 times that many people. So it’s hard to say, “OK, I’m going to spend a whole week implementing Meetup related features on the website.
If I could do some change to the forum it’ll affect 100 times as many people.” But you’re looking at it from the other side. You’re an official Indie Hackers Meetup Founder. What do you think about how we run it? What suggestions do you have for how we could make it better?
That’s a tough question in terms of suggestions. What I can share with you is the challenges we have. One of the main challenges, how do I bring offline and online together? Because as a product, and that’s something for you to think about and that could be helpful for you to think about as you decide what to work on.
The challenge we have is that we provide value, the value of the Meetup is four hours an evening every three months. How can bring value to the attendees? How can I bring value to the branded site or to myself outside of these four hours? In terms of the attendees, what we have tried to do is build our own Slack Community so people get to still connect and talk to each other.
That’s on the attendee’s side. So maybe here and away from the forum there would be a way to tie the Meetup section to the attendees, to the profile on Indie Hackers. Maybe that could be something we could do or that could be done.
For ourselves on the Meetup site, what I’ve tried to do for the brand is start recording the videos and sharing on Twitter, sharing on our website, sharing on the Indie London website. Just brainstorming if there was a page for the Meetup where I could share that video.
I’ve been doing that with the new milestone feature you’ve been doing. I’ve been updating the whole story. Probably once I have recorded the video I can put the video on and people can start getting the value of the Meetup outside of those four hours of offline interaction.
I think the challenge is how do we – because there is definitely value, I guess interesting stories, because of the Meetup and because of the Slack group we have one attendee, Jonny, was working on this company called ProgressionApp.com.
He had been working on it for a year and coming to the Meetup he met (inaudible), his cofounder and how it all happened is they kept in touch on Slack, then they went to Meets on their own and now they are cofounding this company.
So you see that connection between the Meetup that happens offline and how can people still connect online? That’s really where the challenge is. I don’t have the solution yet, but I guess that’s where the pain is, I think.
I think it’s really cool that people meet their cofounders and collaborate on projects together because they met at an Indie Hackers Meetup. I hear you about bridging this offline/online gap.
Because you have this Meetup and there is so much energy, and people are talking and helping each other and then it’s like a month or two or three until the next one. How does everybody stay in contact? The fact that you have a Slack group is really cool.
Perhaps I could do an Indie London group on Indie Hackers. I’ve been so tempted to just clone Meetup.com’s features for the Meetup features on Indie Hackers but it’s so much work. You have RSVPs and send email notifications based on all these different events, the location changes, the details change, notify people.
So I could easily see myself getting bogged down in coding that for several weeks. At some point I might do that. I’m looking to hire a developer pretty soon, for Indie Hackers, to work with me. I’ll have some more bandwidth and perhaps I can add some cool Meetup related features.
We tried to get feedback from people. One feedback on that exact same point was that the Meetup is two, three hours and there is 80 people in the same room. As an attendee, how can I know who is there?
How can I make the most out of it and meet really the people I care about? I would love to find a way to where it ties back to their Indie Hackers’ profile. Maybe I will tell people to share their profile. That is a simple way to do it. To give you some concrete example where this bridge can be built between online and offline.
All right. I’ll keep it in mind. Ghyslain, thank you so much for coming on and telling me about your Meetup. Can you tell listeners where they can go to learn more about Indie London?
We have a website so they can go on Indieldn.com, Indie L-D-N dot com. We have a product page on Indie Hackers and you will find every time we create a new event. The next one will be in December.
Anyone from London listening that hasn’t been to a Meetup, you will receive – go check out our page. We have a newsletter, we have a Meetup page. Let’s keep in touch. Anyone in London listening, we meet soon.
Thanks so much, Ghyslain.
Thanks a lot for having me, Courtland.
Quick note for listeners. If you are interested in coming on to the podcast like Ghyslain to have a quick chat with me, go to IndieHackers.com/milestones and post a milestone about what you’re working on. It can be pretty much anything. People like Ghyslain have posted about their Meetups.
Others have posted about launching or finding their first customers. They’ve posted about growing their mailing list, reaching a certain number of Twitter followers, or reaching a certain number of Twitter followers or a different revenue milestone.
The sky is the limit. So whatever it is you are proud of, come celebrate it on IndieHackers.com/milestone and other Indie Hackers will help you celebrate. We love supporting each other and celebrating each other when we hit these milestones.
And what I do, is I take a look at the top milestones posted and reach out to the people who posted them to invite them on the podcast for a quick chat. So once again, that’s IndieHackers.com/milestones. I’m looking forward to seeing what you post.
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