If you’re raising money, it’s good to have a sense of the zeitgeist — the spirit of the times. Investors hear about startups 3-12 months before they hit HN or TC, and sometimes you end up inside a major trend without realising. For example, during a 6 month period, every other pitch was a location-based events app. You appear infinitely more capable during fundraising if you know as much about the cutting-edge of the market as the VCs do. On the other hand, you sound awful silly claiming that you’re “the first” when they just sat through 3 similar pitches. Meetups are the place you figure out what people are starting next instead of now.
For mid- and long-term hiring, you’ll meet a lot of guys starting companies that ultimately fail. They are often strong freelancers, employees, and co-founders, but they don’t stay available for long, so you need to already have built a relationship by the time their company tanks.
If you don’t have a good support network, you can pretty quickly poach one from meetups. A lot of guys there will be super-flaky, but you only need about 5 good people to get 90% of the support, encouragement, and advice you’ll need. I like to meet for an hour, every 2 weeks, and have each person do a 2 minute update about their progress/problems/plans followed by a couple minutes of discussion. The whole format fits in an hour and you get a ton of benefits.
And finally, you can always justify meetups if your users are there. I’m going to a ton of board gaming nights at the moment. I’m spending 10+ hours a week at them. That’s a lot of time. I’m not there to sell, and I rarely talk about my work, but you can get a ton of learning in a very short time if you ask a couple questions and listen a bit. When I was building this site, which was for founders, I went to multiple startup meetups per day. I carried a permanent hang-over due to all the free beer, but I was also able to talk to many more users than I would through coffee meetings or phone interviews. One of the convenient quirks of customer development is that it tends to lead to a very interesting conversation for whoever you’re talking to. Strangers rarely ask each other meaningful questions about how their day or industry works, but people love talking about it.