Do meetups actually make it easier to meet new friends?

There are many ways of finding new people to socialise with in UAE. A very popular one is Meetup Groups

David Rigby

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Every week I seem to be invited to join four a five new groups. And these invites are targeted at my chosen topics.

But first, what is Meetup? According to their website, meetup.com, Meetup helps people find others who share their interest or cause, and form lasting, influential, local community groups that meet regularly face-to-face.

There are some very well established Meetup groups in Dubai such as ExpatsClub35plus which has 2500 members and 40 regularly booking for events. There are groups supporting professional organisations such as Toastmasters, and stay-at-home mums’ groups. Some of them use their high attendance to negotiate pretty good deals. But many only last a short while.

Anyone can set up a Meetup for between $3 and $5 per month. Not so expensive when you consider that the group is then promoted for free to the meetup members in the area who have expressed a preference for the topics.

Not as simple as it seems

Because entry is easy, there are over 200 of them in Dubai. So what happens – the organisers see lots of people joining and get enthused. But Meetup is not a chat room – its purpose is to create an opportunity to meet. And this is the big question. Where do you have your important first meet?

Let’s assume that the organisers don’t wish to sponsor the cost of a venue. The initial challenge is to decide what day, what time and which part of Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Dubai is big – and people will not travel speculatively from one end to the other. Similarly in Abu Dhabi there are many meets at Al Raha and I suspect not so many turn up from downtown.

Typically if you want a formal venue then you can reasonably expect an attendee to pay between 50 to 100 AED. And this is where attendee enthusiasm suddenly vanishes. Or you chose a coffee shop and lose ‘exclusivity’. With say 800 members, you set up your event, maybe 12 people sign up, and of those four actually arrive. The next time it’s a different four. And this is where the organiser’s enthusiasm vanishes. It can take a lot of effort to arrange these events, and all for what? The organiser gives up, stops paying his $3 and the group either vanishes or a new organiser steps in and takes the 800 members in a different direction.

Meetups is flawed, but not useless

I have found Meetups very useful, made good personal and professional friends, learnt great things and discovered new venues. But some of my best ones barely got past three meets.

Discover people who have similar interests who are local
Appreciate the effort it takes the organisers to set these events up
Actually turn up

If you want to set up a Meetup group, you really have to know what you want to achieve and how to go about it – but that’s another article.

I attended a neuro-linguistic programming meetup in Abu Dhabi a few years ago and got to know the organiser. She moved and I eventually stayed with her in Oman, and now she is in Australia we are still professionally connected.

One group I belonged to, I attended their first meet at Atelier bar in Pier 7 (nice and posh), and their third at Gloria Jeans in Ibn Battuta. I got there, no sign of anyone, I phoned the organiser who told me there are two Gloria Jeans in Ibn Battuta! She personally came a fetched me from the wrong coffee shop to the right one. That’s great customer service. And while the Meetup group has vanished we are still great friends.

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