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👩 Sahiba Sethi, Founder - HelloMeets on building a strong community in the face of the ongoing pandemic
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👩 Sahiba Sethi, Founder - HelloMeets on building a strong community in the face of the ongoing pandemic

In this episode of CommunityHub Spotlight, we speak to Sahiba, Founder at HelloMeets. Watch the video and get to know more about how it all started, how to build the community from scratch and bouncing back stronger after the pandemic affected the engagement rituals.

Pramod Rao
July 13, 2021

In this episode of CommunityHub Spotlight, we speak to Sahiba, Founder at HelloMeets. Watch the video and get to know more about how it all started, how to build the community from scratch and bouncing back stronger after the pandemic affected the engagement rituals.

Here's the transcript of the entire conversation :

Sahiba: I think  be very strict about what you want in the sense, don't compromise on your focus key areas.

Our main aspect is learning and community is around it.

In case of networks right, there are a few things that you can just do without like actually working, because you have that network. So those kinds of opportunities, I think that have been coming a lot, like in the last two, three months. And I think thanks to that relationship compounding.

Pramod:  Thanks Sahiba for taking the time. Just to give you a context this is for CommunityHub by Threado. We are essentially putting together resources and best practices for community builders and speaking to many community builders like you, so that, you can share your journey. And what's been your , over the years of being in the space so that others can take the best parts and apply it in their context.

Would love to get started to know more about you and HelloMeets and, just walk us through the concept, why it exists and get started from there. Over to you.

Sahiba: Yeah, sure. Thanks a lot Pramod. Happy to contribute to your podcast. Yeah, so HelloMeets is basically a startup community where we help startup professionals learn with experts from the community like product managers, product designers, marketers and all. Yeah, so we focus on like very, key, actionable insights so basically, the aim is the people who come to these meetups, have to get some work done.

Let's say Pramod is coming today and, telling them how to set up their lead generation on Quora. So why we started this,  I'd just graduated from college, so there was no calculation. Like now, it's been six years, so of course I've met all the founders. To me, that world looks completely different, where founders where evaluating ideas and gauging market size .In my case, there was no market size. There was nothing. I didn't look for anything. It was simple that the things that I was doing, before it hit on me.

After graduating and before HelloMeets,  I thought okay, let's monetize meeting funda and why we were able to monetize it- simple because we were not focusing purely on networking. Networking is just a byproduct.

In our case, it's about learning.

Pramod: Yeah I think just getting started with it and then shaping it are some of the best ways to start up rather than a well-laid plan. So because it's been so long, it's been five, six years over the journey, the format would have changed   over the years as well. So maybe go deeper into the zero to one. So when you initially started, because that's the toughest part for a community to get going, how did you think about, okay, these are the set of people we are going after, these are the experts that we are going after.

How did it take off?

Sahiba:  So initially, we were doing things that don't scale. Like we were meeting people offline. So our first meetup idea was a speed dating hiring event. I knew zero founders, zero speakers. So we had to get both the sides, right? Founders to hire people and candidates. So what we started doing was we used to, go to campuses ourselves one day we used to go to IIT Delhi. One day we went to DC. One day we went to IIIT Delhi. This was our way to get that fresher pool. We remember the people who were in that batch. And for professionals, we used LinkedIn. We used spam, startup professionals. We used to just put in the filter of all these top company names and start spamming their employees saying that, we are doing a speeding hiring event and you will directly meet the founder. Because it's compulsory for the founders to attend that event and hire.

So that was very exciting for them. So even people who are not exploring for looking for a job that time, they came. Similarly, we used the founder network, like we used to spam them on LinkedIn. And then in case of founders, we actually met a few offline. I used to ping everybody. Whoever was in the limelight that time we used to just ping them. I used to be like, I'm about to like launch. I need your help. I need your feedback. And then we used to go on a call. And so that's how,  I got a chance to build that connect with them.

Pramod: Definitely. Great to hear how it was almost like hustling through on both sides to get it going. And if you could just explain what all you do that'd be good to recap, what are the offerings today?

Sahiba: Yeah, sure. So I think meetup wise,  there was a time like first year when we were doing maximum four events. So now we're getting like 35 to 40 meetups and I think it would have been more, I think I slowed down a bit.

So what I mean by slow down is, see if it's a long journey you can't say that you were always focused. I have had my own times, I felt I didn't give my a hundred percent. But that's fine because this was my early twenties. And now I'm like 29. So I have grown with HelloMeets and I come from a not very startup- friendly college and not a very startup-friendly city.  I come from Kashmir. Then college also was like a regular private college. There was no startup network. It has been like, you build it from scratch.

So I think the number of meetups are more, and of course, like with the number of meetups you build that relationship capital also. Recently we added one more product it's a subscription-based video library. So you pay a monthly amount and you get access to all HelloMeets, meet ups.

Pramod: Awesome. Yeah. So I think with everything moving online, you're now able to capture this also and provide it for a slightly more static audience. If I want to go back to some of the learnings, I can do that essentially, yeah. Okay, great. So you are doing about 30, 40 meetups? I think that's evolved over the years. So what have been some of your top learnings and you started it, like you said it was first time you also learning and, so for anyone who is in this phase in the community space or even thinking of a startup with a community, so what would be the top three or four learnings that you've had in your journey that sort of stays with you?

Sahiba: So I think be very strict about what you want in the sense, don't compromise on your focus key areas. Let's say, for example, we have always done paid meetups. So you should know what you want to monetize, what you don't want to monetize.

Pramod: I've not been a product manager myself, but I get the concept that, if you're able to monetize from day zero, have that focus that these things will not waver. What were some of the outcomes that comes to you top of mind? Any stories from the community that, stayed with you over the last six years?

Sahiba: Yeah. Yeah. Lots of small things job is one, like lots of freelancers, finding them. Clients through HelloMeets, then also lots of people who are working in corporates they could being a volunteer of HelloMeets and then realizing that, let's jump into startups, let's do like a simple internship or a side project, and then, let's start over.

In fact, I have a very good story to tell you there, but it's a long one. We were doing a lot of offline events in Chennai as well before. We have done events with Chargebee, Paper Flight, Zoho and all these companies. Recently, when they wanted to get some events done for their internal company, they reached out to us and the reason must be simple, right?

Because now they have us in their mind because we keep doing events with their employees. So that's just one example. I never take up second work because it has to be like my full time thing. But see, in case of networks right, there are a few things that you can just do without like actually working, because you have that network. So those kinds of opportunities, I think that have been coming a lot, like in the last two, three months. And I think thanks to that relationship compounding.

Pramod: Great. And yeah, coming to compounding, you started off with the Indian startups and product management kind of, domain. But today there are a bunch of people and experts across the domain and not just India, global as well. So how does the  thinking behind getting experts work for you in terms of HelloMeets? How do you decide that, let's get someone from newsletters? Some of the best newsletter writers to do a session and so on.

Walk us through some of the thinking of how do you build the umbrella of these other topics that are relevant for the community, because content plays a key role. So that'll be super helpful to everyone.

Sahiba: Certain things are very pattern based, right? You have to be very active in the community and identify those trends. Like I'm very active on Twitter. I think Twitter is the best thing actually. I have realized newsletter, not a lot of people know, even in our community . I think it has happened in the past few months that we posted something about the newsletter and people like, what is newsletter?

Pramod:  So today, where does your community exist? Is it on newsletter? On Zoom meet ups. So what is the tech stack for HelloMeets? Like how do you juggle between various formats?

Sahiba: Our main aspect is learning and community is around it. So we don't have like a fixed place where, people are meeting it's in different forms. We have like tons of WhatsApp groups around,  150 plus of them.

Pramod: Okay. Got it. And then do you have a newsletter and where does the workshop happen to use like Airmeet or Zoom for that?

Sahiba:  We use Zoom for that.

Pramod: Okay. And how do you manage everything today? You have a team behind all of this? Is it volunteer driven? Is it just like a one person show you've been doing it over the years?

Sahiba: Before COVID it was of course we had a fixed team. But these events were run by volunteers. We were responsible for content and the details bit of it. But the logistics and on ground duty, it was for the, volunteers. In fact, even the events that we were doing in Singapore and Toronto before COVID, they were looked by the volunteers. A simpler psychology for now that you know, you are a product designer, then of course you would be interested to meet a product designer from Instacart, just for example. Same thing we used to do like everywhere. Chennai, Bangalore. Now after COVID so we have formed a team of students who host these events.

Pramod:  Is it like a new set of volunteers? Are they all more comfortable with hosting online events or is it like less than number of volunteers, but doing more events?

Sahiba: So now we have students, whose motivation is to, let's say, get a certificate and explore that particular career area. Earlier our volunteers were  equivalent to our speakers, profile wise, we were having principal engineer, principal, product manager.

Pramod:  That's great to hear. And so you mentioned that the COVID and then post COVID. So how did COVID essentially impact HelloMeets? What were the key things? Obviously, you had an offline element, which was pretty strong before, and with that going away how did that phase help you change as a business and also in the format that you do.

Sahiba: Like it happened in March, right? So we had fixed all events for March. I remember the date also. It was third, fourth, March. And I suddenly saw people are buying hand sanitizers. Like we have some events like three, four days later. So then we started exploring tools, frankly speaking. I think I knew about Zoom, but I had never used it cause the meetings used to happen on call or email.

Or meeting personally. So we were just exploring these tools like Google Hangouts and Zoom in on this is how it, and so basically we were preparing ourselves. Speakers will remain same and attendees will come. They want to learn. Fourth was the day I saw people with the hand sanitizers and fifth night we announced - now all the events of March will happen online.  

Now we can invite speakers from anywhere. We have had speakers from lots of places like Germany, Thailand, anywhere basically. And of course, attendees can come from anywhere, but they're also, there is one hard reality that it's easy to get speakers from anywhere, but it's very hard to get attendees from anywhere. For that we'll have to work.

There are two, three things for HelloMeets next when it comes to meetups, so we want to take it to 100 by let's say Feb, and then for Rewind we had a target, a numbers target because now it's already validated being three, four months and people are like using it really well.

So next thing is having that international audience thing specifically for the USA. Then second thing is hundred meetups and the third thing is scaling Rewind.

Pramod: Yeah, this was amazing, Sahiba to get to know the journey of HelloMeets and also to hear, how it's evolved and, what's up next over the next six months or so. Thanks a lot and wishing you all the best looking forward to what's upcoming from HelloMeets .

Sahiba: Thank you so much Pramod.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pramod Rao

Pramod aka Prao is the Co-founder of Threado. He is an avid Chelsea supporter, loves to travel when free and spends time being a pet parent. Prior to Threado, he was an early core team member at Zomato leading user growth, content and community.

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