Starting your own local PHP usergroup

I’m a regular visitor of local usergroups. Especially if there’s an interesting talk and the location is within driving distance (which is not that hard to find in a small country as the Netherlands) me and my friends like to pay those meetups a visit. In the spring of 2015 when I was still working with Kristian Zondervan and Erik van Wingerden we often talked about things we wanted to do in our lives and Kristian talked a few times about starting a local PHP usergroup. A few conversations and a couple of football games further Erik also joined forces. As always with new things I was a bit sceptic, but I also gave it a shot. And so BredaPHP was born.

There were no guides on how to start your own meetup so we just did what we thought was good. Below you’ll find a summary of steps we took to get our meetup up and running.

Getting started

First things first: find a crew and audience.

Find co-organizers

When you want to start a local tech usergroup first try to find people who are willing to help with the organisation. Depending on how often you want to organise meetups, it does take a considerable amount of time. We are with three people and we have bimonthly meetups. We all work fulltime so we have to do the preparations in the evening or weekends. Also communication does take some time (twitter, email, meetup etc.).

Find audience

We registered our meetup on meetup.com. This is not free, but the prices are very reasonable. When registered, potential visitors will be notified by meetup.com about your new meetup. Once people join your meetup page, you’ll see others will follow quickly. We announced our first meetup a few months after the registration if I remember correctly. So it’s no problem to be inactive the first couple of months.

The first meetup

So you have some members on meetup.com? Let’s take it to the next level and prepare the first meetup.

Location

Every meetup needs a location, food and some cold beverages. Because nearly every company has one or more open PHP vacancies it shouldn’t be hard to find a location. We made a list of cool companies working with PHP in the area. We selected two companies and sent them a mail with:

  • who we are (BredaPHP, local usergroup for PHP developers)
  • what we do (organise meetups)
  • why we do that (meet other developers, see other companies and how they do it)
  • what they can offer us (a location for our meetup with drinks)
  • what we can offer them (a lot of potential candidates and some time for a talk about the company and how they use php)
  • requirements and planning for a meetup (start and endtime, schedule, requirements as beamer etc.)

Almost every company we asked so far were happy to host and sponsor a meetup.

Speaker

Speakers like to practice their new talks on meetups. Also, it turns out speakers are perfectly normal people, and when you ask a “famous” speaker most of them will come over and do a talk if they have the time. We just mailed some people with interesting talks we would like to see ourself. Also we used the Dutch PHP NL Slack group to find and invite speakers.

Depending where the meetup is hosted, we pick up speakers from the train station and bring them to the location. When the location is within walking distance, we don’t always do this.

Raffle

We also included a raffle in our first meetups. It’s relative easy to find prices:

  • JetBrains does sponsor licenses
  • O’Really does usergroup sponsering
  • authors often supply free copies of their work to raffle

We received some negative feedback on the raffle (visitors preferred an extra talk instead of the raffle) so we skipped in on the last meetup. Perhaps an occasional raffle will happen but we removed it from our schedule.

Next meetups

Once the first meetup is done, enjoy the positive feedback and do something with it. It’s advisable to host future meetups on recurring moments (every last Friday of the month or something like that) so people know when to expect a meetup.

Now comes the hard part: keep the meetup going. This means investing time every month. But in the end it’s all worth it. You’ll meet a lot of new people and companies. Visitors will be inspired by the meetup. After we started our meetup, two other local companies also decided to host their own development meetup, so our work didn’t go unnoticed ;).

I hope our story will help someone out there to start their own meetup!

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