He started a company at age 23. In just four years, the firm grew to over 100 employees, was beating the competition, including larger, established businesses, and was being eyed for take-over.
To many people, that may look like extraordinary – even enviable – success. But for Scott Heiferman, his booming business, the online ad agency itraffic, felt like a burden.
“I realized soon after getting into that world, that I hated it,” he told an audience of about 250 budding entrepreneurs at a Meetup event organized by Startup Grind in Palo Alto, California, which I attended, yesterday evening. “The company grew and it got some success, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
When the business got bought up by another ad agency in 1999, Scott couldn’t have been more relieved to walk away. He once told the New York Times: “I was so sick of working with lawyers and accountants and investment bankers that I worked the counter at a McDonald’s in Manhattan for a couple of weeks.”
He moved on to become something of a serial entrepreneur, starting up other online businesses, with varying results. And then came 9/11. What struck Scott was the way people connected with each other in the aftermath.
“For a little bit there, New York became a pretty friendly place,” he told the audience, yesterday. “I talked to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than I had in recent years
of living in New York, having moved to New York from Iowa, a few years earlier.”
Inspired by this experience to use his online skills to make it easier for people to connect with others in their local community, Scott launched Meetup.com in early 2002. Backed by investors such as eBay, Omidyar Network, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Esther Dyson, and Union Square Ventures, the company today boasts some impressive stats:
- 9.5 million members worldwide
- 92,000 monthly local groups
- 90,000 meetup topics
- a presence in 45,000 cities
- 280,000 meetups organized.
As CEO at Meetup, Scott heads a company with some 80 employees, and although that puts him in right about the same position he was in with his online ad agency, there’s no running away from this gig. In fact, he says Meetup may be the last company he starts: because he is so dedicated it, he plans to stick with it to make it the best it can be.
“Life, and work, and success is just about getting to work on something that you think is important or is worth doing and is interesting and will help people,” he said.
Who would argue with that definition of success?
My life work is my gift to myself, and to the world. It is the unfolding of my promise; it is the legacy that says I lived. I will fight for it. I will struggle with it. I will do that work which I love, for doing it is its own reward.