We’ve gotten a few questions from folks about why we decided to change FutureM tickets from all free to charging a small fee – I thought it would be helpful to share my answer more widely just in case there were others wondering.
As most of you know, MITX is a not-for-profit organization of 7 full-time people (and many great volunteers!) dedicated to growing and benefiting our digital community here in Massachusetts; we’re not a money making endeavor. The scale and scope of an event like FutureM is enormous – more than 60+ events during an entire 5 days and nights. It takes a ton of resources and time to pull something like this off. And yes, of course, we get lots of help and ideas from the event partners who hold their events during the week, but it’s not all that needs to be done. There’s coordination, planning, logistics, and vendors that help us who need to be paid. We do cover a lot of this expense through the wonderful companies who sponsor the week. But we also felt it was appropriate for a couple of reasons to ask the participants to pay a small fee as well. We didn’t come to that decision easily or make it lightly; in fact it was months of debate and discussion – Should we? How much?
In the end, we looked at what happened last year when it was free (see Kiki Mill’s post-event blog post here) and felt we had to do something differently. Most events sold out online last year because they were free; many people who really wanted to attend could not even sign up for the events. But then those who did sign up didn’t show up – because it was free and they had no reason to maintain the commitment to go. We know how busy working in this industry is – we live in it every day – so we know that sometimes, things just come up. But when 80 percent of the people who signed up for events didn’t show up (yes, it was that high for some events last year), it’s not fair to those who were really interested in attending and the people who worked hard to organize them. So, free did not work. We implemented a small fee this year to help attendees feel like they have some “skin the game.” And, for those really interested in being there but who might have financial constraints, there are many ways to get discounts on the fee or even free passes as part of being involved with FutureM. Will it work to fix the no-show problem? I really don’t have a clue – but we thought it was important to try.
We consider FutureM 2010 as our alpha test, and FutureM 2011 is definitely our beta. I can say with a great deal of certainty that we listened really hard to the feedback we got on FutureM last year - it was the basis for almost everything new we did this year to hopefully make it bigger and better than last year. We’re working hard to improve the entire experience – up the game on the content, create more “must-see” events and experiences with our partners, improve the registration experience-- but given that we are not a conference producer on the scale of the (for profit) company that runs SXSW nor is FutureM the only thing MITX does all year (we also run over 50 other events and provide other benefits to our members), we have to find a way to support it by paying people to help us.
There was another reason we thought charging this year might make sense. We are here to serve the exciting, growing digital community here in Boston – we believe FutureM can provide a national platform for companies in the Boston area to shout loud and proud about what we’re doing and attract both talent and funding to the area. We thought charging a fee would help to create a sense of greater value to out-of-towners and they might come see for themselves why we are the hub of modern marketing – so for better or worse, we are truly approaching it with the best of intentions, trying to do good.
I also had one person ask if charging makes it difficult for startups to come and most of the events in town for startups are free. MITX is extremely supportive of the startup community here; we offer many free events and we bring a lot of free resources to bear as well. Of course we want the startup community to participate and engage with FutureM. And it is true that most startup targeted events are free. The answer here is that there are many ways to score free or discounted FutureM tickets for startups – mostly related to showing you are committed to coming, being involved and helping the event succeed. Get in touch and we’ll show you how.
Last, students are free; they can attend any and all events and have been able to from the beginning. We’ve put a strong focus on getting students involved with FutureM this year,including the creation of a special student-run committee, and I think it’s going to add a great new dimension to the experience.
MITX is a successful non-profit mostly because we have amazing members who support us and we, in turn, provide them benefits they care about. But the truth is that we need to continue to grow membership to stay afloat, keep the lights on, pay our staff and vendors, and continue our work helping grow the community. A successful FutureM is part of this.
I am thrilled about what’s coming for FutureM 2011, and we are so grateful to the community for their support and excitement for the event. See you there!