Is there a vision for Burchill’s MeetUps at the Waterfront hotel? Yes, but it isn’t crystal clear.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON April 12, 2012  Literally hundreds of people continue to register for the Business in Burlington MeetUps that are currently being held at the Waterfront Hotel in Burlington.  But no one, not even the man that made it all happen, is really certain where this is all going to go.

It’s clear that the people who take part have decided against organizations like the Chamber of Commerce; they don’t see any value in the $400 membership fee. The Chamber argues that there is a lot of value for that membership fee.  We will let the different opinions stand.

James Burchill is delighted with the growth in his membership which has reached more than 1,000 individuals following his grouping.  That’s pretty close to what the Chamber has.

They shouldn't have worked - but they are most certainly working. For how long - no one knows.. Until they no longer serve a purpose says James Burchill.

So what’s going on? Why do people want to be part of this and why do they register for MeetUps that are taking place more than two months later?  Well they want to be certain they can get in, space at the MeetUps is limited, mostly because the size of the room they use.

Burchill thinks there is more to it than that. “I’m meeting a need.  These people have chosen what I have to offer over what organizations like the Chamber offers.  Burchill doesn’t have a membership fee and he doesn’t make a dime out of what he has created.

He is also very quick to tell you that when he started this – less than four months ago he “didn’t know what he didn’t know”.  This has been like flying in the dark with no instruments and as you listen to Burchill you get the impression he just loves it that way.

“We are all in this together” claims Burchill – he just wants to mobilize people and thinks social media, which means different things to different people, is a tool that can be used.  At this point everyone is dipping their toes into social media.  The big brand corporations are pretty sure there is something going on out there – but they really don’t know –  have decided to throw some marketing dollars at it anyway.

Burchill is putting time and energy into this because he thinks there is a group of people who want to be part of something – even if they aren’t sure what it is they are becoming a part of.  There is no membership, they aren’t asked to be on a committee – it’s all quite loose.  And yet every month a couple of hundred people arrive at the same place, spend a couple of hours together and go their own way when it’s over.  The cash bar is open but you can walk in and not spend a dime – and throw back some of the nibbles that are set out by the hotel.  They love the traffic – they fill a space that is close to empty on a Wednesday between five and seven.

It's 50% business and 50% social - and that's about all I can tell you, says Burchill

Burchill did little to no research on this project.  “They shouldn’t have worked he will tell you.  They aren’t a  “will I manage to make out” evening – even though there is a bit of that evident.  Burchill thinks his MeetUps are 50% business and 50% social and behaving like the “benevolent dictator” he describes himself as – he thinks he can guide this in a direction that will become a service to people who aren’t part of any of the mainline social groupings.  A MeetUp is certainly not a Rotary meeting, nor is it a country club.  There are no rules – you just show up and be who you are.

He does think that in the not too distant future he might be able to offer this crowd services and information that they need and can opt into if they wish.  Burchill who has a publishing background thinks the people who attend his events have a need for information but don’t want to spend a fortune on accountants or lawyers.

Take the HST rules – Burchill thinks he could put together a document that would sell for a couple of bucks – would have everything you needed to know without all the “what does this mean” words that the bureaucrats drop into what they write.

Less than the cost of a beer for the report – but something that would produce revenue for Burchill who strives to make the point that he isn’t in partnership with anyone and is not working his way through some grand plan.

There is a vision but it isn’t crystal clear.  The vision is being shaped by what he sees from the people that turn up for his events.  “There’s something going on here, that much I know” says Burchill.  Other than that – he’s just riding the wave and having fun along the way.

Having fun – that could be the vision.

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