Occupy Wall Street protests have rapidly spread across the globe this month -- with some help from Meetup. In early October, the NYC based organizing platform integrated its technology into Occupytogether.org and saw groups form everywhere from New York to Islamabad. In all, over 16,000 people in more than 2,000 cities have joined Occupy Together Meetup groups to date. Meetup is working to keep the momentum going, recently hosting a nine-hour hackathon in an attempt to bolster the movement's use of its platform.
Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman is not watching from the sidelines. He has visited the protests and frequently takes to Twitter to post movement related quotes. While he's careful to make the distinction between his personal views and those held by Meetup the company, he recently spoke to Fortune about the protests and what they mean for his company.
You're a CEO in support of these protests, isn't that an awkward spot to be in when they've been labeled anti-corporate?
Not at all. And I should also make clear that any support that I have is not with my Meetup hat on. As a CEO, the way I think of Occupy Wall Street is that it's about seeing a true capitalism winning over a crony capitalism and that a strong economy comes from a level playing field for small business and the middle class. It's like the 1% of business versus the ninety 99% of business. Ninety nine percent of businesses are in worse shape because the 1% of business is in a winner take all mentality. Everything that everyone says about the 1% and 99% applies to the world of business too. You can't have a strong economy without a vibrant ecosystem of small businesses. Occupy Wall Street is about the corruption of the economy and the corruption of government by the 1% of business. The movement is not anti-business or anti-capitalism.
Meetup has been active in its support for Occupy Together; how does Meetup decide to get involved in something like this?
We have a couple of people here that are always reaching out to anyone and anything that would benefit from our platform for self organizing. As long as there's no hate involved or anything illegal they just go and schmooze and want to be helpful to whomever. For example, Herman Cain is about to announce a new Meetup strategy. We really, at our core, believe that if people are having a conversation in an open environment that is probably a good thing for democracy.
So you would say that the reach out done by Meetup is apolitical?
Absolutely, no doubt about it. When we are hiring people, one of the things we are testing for is whether they can see the beauty in that. We want to know whether they can get over any intolerance about not seeing what's good about people who don't agree with them meeting up with each other. That's just the fundamental mission of the company, which is to say that if people are meeting up it's a good thing.
As the protests grow, how does that affect Meetup?
None of this movement stuff has ever made much of a dent in our larger network. Even in the Howard Dean days, the vast majority of Meetups were about people trying to make good stuff happen in their lives having nothing to do with politics or movements or that chattering class kind of stuff. We are really proud to help give people the power to self organize and make the world better for themselves, but when the dust settles and the smoke clears what's left are resilient communities that have strong small businesses and people working together and helping each other out -- they'll be selling to each other, renting to each other, buying from each other, loaning money to each other and insuring each other. That's what Airbnb is about and Kickstarter, Skillshare, Meetup and Esty as well. These are the early signals of what the new economy is going to be. As my favorite sign from the protests says "the beginning is near."
Where do you see the movement going?
I do predict it's going to keep growing and I predict that there's going to be a lot of divisiveness in the country. But it's not going to go towards some sort of 60's revival. And this notion that it's the hippies vs. the business people again is just an antiquated 20th century idea. Most of the country will start to realize that this is really just about trying to get a good people powered economy and a people powered government again. There may even be common ground amongst the Tea Partiers and the Occupy Wall Street people. I think we all have a lot more in common than the partisan warfare would have you believe.