A Guide to Establishing a Thriving .NET User Group from Scratch

February 18, 2024 by Aneesh Gopalakrishnan

The year is 2015, and I have recently moved to my new home, New York City. The city has been merciless in slapping me with alternate-side parking tickets. I wanted to help myself and fellow poor souls (mostly myself, though) from this atrocity. An immediate solution that came to mind was to build an app that reminds me to move my car. The idea is good, but I need to learn how to build an app. I already knew C# and .NET. I wouldn’t say I liked the idea of different code bases for iOS and Android. I looked into several cross-platform native app development tools and settled on Xamarin. As a .NET developer for a decade, Xamarin was an easy choice for me. There may have been alternatives, but learning something new - meh!!

Now, the immediate challenge is - how do I learn Xamarin? Sure, take it to Google. I saw the pricing on Xamarin University and thought it might be cheaper to pay for a parking garage at that point instead of building an App.

Enter the .NET User Group

I found this .NET Mobile Developers User Group on meetup.com. So, I started attending their events in Microsoft’s 11 Times Square Office. Learned some and started building my app.

Hold on - I live in Queens, and going to Times Square for events was too much. I know, I know - the World pays a lot to be in Times Square. But we New Yorkers dread it. So what is the alternative? Build a user group where I live? Why not!

Thought is good. But how do I start a meetup group? And how would folks know it exists? What if I am the only one who shows up for the event? I also need an event space; who has that? So, I decided to do some digging.

My first event

Years passed by. I even just remembered that I needed to do my events. Then, one fine day, I started volunteering at a Code Academy in New York. I am back to where I hate most - a stage. I finally decided to build and publish my event on meetup.com and Eventbrite; I contacted “Austin Space” in Forest Hills, Queens. It is a small co-working space in the locality where I live. The owner was kind enough to provide me with a meeting room large enough to host 30 folks. All of a sudden, everything started to come together. I published my event - “Native C# Xamarin cross-platform iOS/Android app,” under my group “Good Coders NYC (NYCGC)” on meetup.com (The Group is dead now) and Eventbrite. I saw a sign-up of 25 folks, and on 27th April 2017, about 20 of them showed up for my talk. I built a small Xamarin App live for the audience. I started a programming talk series, “What they didn’t teach you about programming,” at the same space and held some more events. 

Pandemic and all is unwell

The Pandemic put an end to in-person gatherings. I never enjoyed talking to a camera. So, I shut down my Group (As the meetup.com fees were exorbitant) when nobody was doing in-person events. The idea of running an event was dead in me. Then, around the end of 2021, I saw an interesting post from “.NET Foundation” on LinkedIn. The post was a call for volunteers for the “Outreach” committee. I did not know what the meeting was about, but whoever is on that call might know when Microsoft’s office event space opens up.

Volunteering at the .NET Foundation

I joined a call using the link provided, a usual teams call. Phew, some of the renowned programming folks were on the call. Though I did not get an answer about when the office space opens up for events (no one knew), I learned that 400+ .NET Meetups, including the one I used to go to a long time ago, were under the .NET Foundation umbrella. Several of these groups still need to meet due to the difficulties during the Pandemic. It strikes me, well - what if I reach out to some of the organizers of these “inactive” groups? Would they be happy that I would host events for the Group? In short - That’s exactly what I did. After contacting their leadership team, I became a co-organizer of the “.NET Mobile Developers User Group” in New York City.

The next challenge was to find an expert to present at my first event. I wasn’t aware of the speaker list under .NET Foundation website. .NET Maui was coming out, and a talk on it would be fantastic. I took extreme measures to create a discussion under Maui CommunityToolkit on GitHub. Found Pedro Jesus, a Maui Toolkit Insider, as a result. Looking back, I realize that finding a speaker without knowing where to look was terrible.

In each of the events I held with the Group, I had the proper knowledge on “how to” promote it better because I knew all the resources available at the .NET Foundation, which helped me do so. I used their template, theming, and Virtual User Group postings to get the events I hosted to reach newer viewership numbers.

.NET Foundation to the rescue

Had I known all the resources available for my discourse in 2017, I wouldn’t have spent half the time running the event. Talking at an event is easy - I do this plenty, but running an event is a different ball game. Running an event where you are also the speaker - Brutal!

.NET Foundation offers several essential resources that help organizers across the globe run meetup User Groups and events successfully. Here are the steps I would take if I had to start and run a .NET user group now.

1. A new .NET User Group (Or Not!)

1.          Create a user group only if it is necessary.

            Identify if other user groups are in your area - Use this interactive map.

            For example, New York City already has two User Groups. Adding more would add little value.

            Check if the identified UGs have active events; if not, contact the leadership team about your intentions to host events for the Group.

            If you became a co-organizer to an established User Group - congrats; proceed to Step 3.

2.          Submit a request to create a new .NET User Group

3.          Provide the details below for your new user group.

            Name your Group. Here are some templates

             [City] .NET Developer Group - Quite inclusive of all .NET Dev.

             [City] Mobile .NET Developer Group - Attracts Mobile Developers such as Xamarin and Maui Folks

             [City] .NET Web Developer Group - Focus here is ASP.NET/ASPNET Core Developers

             [City] C# User Group - C# Enthusiasts here.

            Here are some examples using the above templates

             Allentown .NET User Group, Scranton Mobile .NET User Group. You get the idea.

            Cheat Code - Ask Chat GPT on an excellent group name if nothing strikes

            Provide a motto and some content for your User Group. Again, looking at other user groups would be of help here.

4.          Once the new User Group is approved. Follow these steps immediately.

            On meetup.com, under Group Settings -> Basic Info, modify the direct group URL. Make sure this is easy to remember. Also, provide the correct Zip code.

             e.g. meetup.com/allentowndotnetdev


            On meetup.com, under Group Settings -> Basic Info, Select the right topics and tags. This helps with Google search and search within meetup.com. After all - you would want folks to find your events. Don’t you?

             For a Mobile .NET Group, tags like “.NET Maui,” “Xamarin,” “Cross-Platform Development,” etc. help.

            On meetup.com, under Group Settings -> Basic Info, Link social media details such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

            On meetup.com, under Group Settings -> New Member settings, provide a warm welcome message to New members, tell a bit about what the Group and its events are about, and what to expect out of these events.

            On meetup.com, under Group Settings -> Optional features, provide an easy-to-remember mailing list address. This helps members to identify your emails as “not spam.”

             e.g. allentown-mobiledev

            Finally, you may design your Group’s group home page image. Use canva.com if you need help with how.

            There are other features and settings on meetup.com at your disposal. You can revisit these as your Group gains traction and visibility.


2. Plan your first event

The key is to be ready to host the first event as soon as your new User Group request is approved. Better yet, plan for 3 events at the start itself. Some organizers desert the Group after the initial event. Consistency is the key here.

             Find speakers, and reach out to them. Get an Agenda and date set.

            You may look into the .NET Foundation’s Speaker list.

            Microsoft MVPs love to talk.

            .NET Content Creators list is great as well.

             Key Info: It is essential to know that meetup.com promotes new groups with an event on their home page for relevant zip codes for a few weeks. Use this crucial period to make an impression and gather a good attendee list for your first event. This is another important reason for launching your Group and first event together.

             Need a PowerPoint template for a head start? Use this

2.1 In-Person event

The below section only applies to in-person events. With the pandemic jeopardizing the plans of several event organizers, some have resorted to doing virtual events. Still, the best form of events is in person. In-person events allow members to create personal connections, create networking opportunities, and generate an overall “went to an event” feeling!

             First things first, make sure to declare your event is in person. We are in 2023, and folks assume all events are online. Declare it explicitly like this on your event title Eg. “[In-Person] Maui .NET - A Deep Dive with John Doe”

             Finding a venue. Often, this is the hardest challenge. There are several options based on my experience here.

            Microsoft reactors help organizers to book large meeting rooms in Microsoft offices. Write an email providing your location of preference to [email protected] . If there is a location in your city, they will help you.

            Co-working spaces - Reach out to co-working spaces in your city. Most would happily host your events, at least for the first few times. You may have heard about famous co-working brands like WeWork, Industrious etc. Even better, reach out to your local neighborhood small-time Co-Working space. They happily host you after hours (I did this with great success).

            Library - Reach out to your local library. Since your events are about learning, they might assist you.

            Community Clubs - Several community clubs dedicated event space good enough to start. E.g. Boys and Girls club of America

            Local colleges and schools - Education institutions are a good place to host after regular school hours.

            Local unassuming spots - As the pandemic created havoc in the event-hosting industry, several venues would love to host you to “get back” to business and as self-promotion.

2.2 Virtual Event

The below section is only applicable to virtual events. Hosting virtual events is more manageable than in-person events. Still, as an organizer, it is less rewarding. .NET Foundation has a dedicated “Virtual User Group Team” that can help you promote and live-stream your event through its aggregated virtual event listing group called .NET Virtual User Group. Follow the below steps to take advantage of it.

             Submit your event using this form. Here, you can choose if you want to receive streaming support for your Events.

             Mark your event with the title “Virtual”. This helps members to understand from the title that the event is hosted virtually. E.g., “[Virtual] Maui .NET - A Deep Dive with John Doe”

             If you chose streaming support

            The team at .NET Foundation will provide you with a YouTube link where the event will go live. You may update this link on your meetup.com event listing and other platforms where the event is promoted/posted and can be emailed to attendees through a mailing list.

            The team at .NET Foundation will provide you with a StreamYard URL and instructions to log in as a producer on the day of the event.

             Learn more about producing using StreamYard. You may need this.

            The event will be live-streamed to .NET Foundation’s YouTube channel on the day of the event.

            StreamYard has a Password-less login process that works through access codes. These codes are sent to “[email protected]”. So, you would need the help of the Virtual User Group Team to get this access code prior to the event. The team can be reached out via [email protected]

            On the day of your event, make sure to log in to StreamYard at least 15 minutes prior to the event using the log-in ID [email protected]. Complete the login process using the access code provided by the Virtual User Group team.

             If you do not need any streaming support

            The team at .NET Foundation will promote the event to Virtual User Group members.

            Post-event, The team at .NET Foundation can add the YouTube video of your event to its Virtual Event Playlist at your request.

3. Promoting your event

             I said this before: MeetUp.com promotes new groups with at least one starting event on their home page for relevant zip codes for a few weeks. This is a crucial period to gain the first batch of members being added to your community. Make sure to launch your meetup User Group with at least one event.

             If you have a good following on Social media. Use those platforms to promote your event. LinkedIn and Twitter are a good start.

             A day or two before the event, send an email to remind attendees of the upcoming event. You can also post the email on the meetup User Group’s board. Also, post a message in the event’s comment section and chat section, like,

               “We can’t contain our enthusiasm to host you tomorrow at 5:00 PM EST for our exciting talk on .NET Maui by John Doe. Looking forward to seeing you all in person”.

               You can do this a few hours prior to the event as well.

             During your in-person event, take a few pictures from good angles and post them to your event on Meetup.com.

             You may also post these pictures on LinkedIn and/or Twitter the next day with a thank you note.

             If your event was virtual, a link to the YouTube content can also be posted on socials.

             Now that you have hosted your first event, sit back, relax, and enjoy your victory. The day after the event is an excellent day to display your event’s glory. Post the pictures on meetup.com and socials, and send thank you notes to attendees using the meetup email list.

             You should start planning for the next event soon. The success of a group relies on its consistency. It is a good practice to stick to a monthly schedule for events. E.g., “Second Tuesday” of every month.

4. Building a community

You hosted a few events, and your events started getting popular. Now what? Meetup.com helps you create and promote your events. In the long run, you would engage other platforms to grow your community beyond MeetUp.com.

             Start listing your events on LinkedIn - LinkedIn now supports creating events. You may create a new LinkedIn event with the exact content of your meetup event.

             When more than one event is posted on your meetup User Group, use the “Feature this event” to highlight one of your events to your members.

             Start listing your events on EventBrite.com. Eventbrite is a quality event platform if you are in North America.

             You can use features like “Clone an event” and “Copy event” features of these platforms to quickly create a new event.

             Create branding - Create a logo, landing page image, etc., for your community. Canva.com has a lot of resources to help here.

             LinkedIn Page - Create a LinkedIn page for your .NET Community. You may invite your followers to join this page. LinkedIn allows 1000 invites a month (As of this writing). Apply your branding and logos to this page. You should consistently post your events on this page and choose to engage with your members.

             Your website - A simple GitHub page could help you launch a website for your community. This is recommended only when you grow your community large enough and would see benefits in optimized SEO.

Additional Resources

             Have questions? Reach us at [email protected] or .NET Foundation Discord

             Need a head start with a PowerPoint Presentation Template? Use this one. It has the .NET Foundation theming already applied to it.

             Do you love the .NET Mascot? Grab and design with Mod the dotnet-bot (mod-dotnet-bot.net). You can take the resulting image to Canva.com to create incredible images.

             Would you like to know how the live-streaming support is happening behind the scenes? Read here

             More Community resources here

Wrap up

.NET Foundation provides vital resources to start up your .NET User Group, locate speakers, promote it through its Virtual User Group and YouTube channel, and provide resources to Livestream your event through StreamYard if needed. If you are one of those folks who would like to build a community of developers in your neighborhood but don’t know where to start, I hope this write-up is of some help!

PS: In the exciting turn of events, the app we discussed in the first paragraph is now used by 35000 New Yorkers !!!

About the Author

Aneesh Gopalakrishnan is the co-organizer of NYC Mobile .NET Developers Group. He also works closely with the Virtual User Group Sub-Committee at the .NET Foundation, which manages User Groups under the .NET Foundation.

Aneesh has also built an in-person startup community called Startup+ in post-pandemic New York City with close to 12,000 members over Meetup, Eventbrite, LinkedIn, and SubStack. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.