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New York virtual-to-real-world social community firm Meetup acquires email collaboration firm Dispatch

Sea­soned com­mu­ni­ty man­agers will be aware that when a social media firm decides to make an acqui­si­tion, it’s start­ing to lay with inno­va­tion. And that appears to be behind the deci­sion by Meet­up, the New York based-online plat­form that helps con­vert vir­tu­al social com­mu­ni­ties into real world get-togeth­ers, to bag its New York neigh­bor, Dis­patch, which offers an e‑mail col­lab­o­ra­tion tool to ease project man­age­ment tasks. The move is Meetup’s first acqui­si­tion since its launch in 2002.

A spe­cial­ist in col­lab­o­ra­tive communication

Since its launch in 2011, Dis­patch has switched its orig­i­nal focus from cre­at­ing an online work­space to help­ing teams col­lab­o­rate through the cloud on work projects by link­ing Ever­note, Box, Google Docs and Drop­box. Despite the clever idea, the mod­el wasn’t gain­ing enough trac­tion, so the firm switched empha­sis this sum­mer to enhanc­ing email col­lab­o­ra­tion instead (co-founder Jesse Lamb had dis­cov­ered that peo­ple were revert­ing to email after falling off the orig­i­nal Dis­patch platform).

So why, the inquir­ing com­mu­ni­ty man­ag­er will be ask­ing, has Meet­up decid­ed to bring Dis­patch into the fold? It’s already got 14.4 mil­lion mem­bers and is on course to add anoth­er 5 mil­lion by the end of the year, it’s arrang­ing up to 20,000 real world mee­tups per day, and it’s been prof­itable for three years (its $15-a-month sub­scrip­tion busi­ness trans­lates into a $20 mil­lion year­ly run rate). Things appear to be going swim­ming­ly, and most job­bing com­mu­ni­ty man­agers would be delight­ed with suc­cess like this.

A serendip­i­tous meeting

But can­ny busi­ness­es can’t afford to stand still in a dynam­i­cal­ly evolv­ing envi­ron­ment. Meetup’s CEO, Scott Heifer­man, says that he was aware that the firm’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy was in need of a refresh. As he puts it, “The tech­nol­o­gy is stuck in 1997 – basic mail­ing lists, basic mes­sage boards and basic commenting.”

And just as he was think­ing about tack­ling the prob­lem, he bumped into Dis­patch co-founder Alex Godin (who was just 17 when the start­up was launched) in an ele­va­tor, of all places. Both were attend­ing the Per­son­al Democ­ra­cy Forum event. When Godin told him about what Dis­patch had built, Heifer­man real­ized it could seri­ous­ly help improve Meetup’s communications.

The inte­gra­tions with Dispatch’s tech­nol­o­gy will be live by Q1 2014, and will make it eas­i­er for Meetup’s groups to com­mu­ni­cate by mobile and online.

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