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This article was published on March 19, 2013

Why conference tickets cost money…

Why conference tickets cost money…
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Most people know this. Still, every year we get requests for free tickets to the TNW Conference. It usually starts with 1 request a week, a few months in advance, and ends with between 5 and 10 free ticket requests per day, per person, involved with organizing the conference. Yes, that’s a LOT of free ticket requests to deal with.

We all have our own polite ways of explaining why we generally don’t give away free tickets, but I figured I might as well collect them here, conveniently together, in a blog post which everybody can refer to.

So here we go, 8 reasons why we don’t give away free tickets:

1: Free has no value
In our experience, people who get a free ticket don’t show up, and if they do, don’t really invest time and effort into making it a great event. At our second or third event we decided to give 20 people a free ticket, because they asked for one. Only 2 showed up. The ones that did showed up late and left early.

If you pay for a ticket you will feel like making an investment and you will want to get a return on your investment. That means showing up on time, talking to speakers, going to the parties and making new friends and business partners.

2: A ticket should earn itself back, tenfold
Our events are inspiring, offer amazing networking opportunities and should help you get ahead with your career or your startup. I know entrepreneurs who raise funding, meet journalists that cover them and meet partners they do business with. Some entrepreneurs meet companies that end up acquiring their startups.

Think about what you want to achieve and how much that would be worth to you and the few hundred euros for the tickets should pale in comparison. If it doesn’t then why would you even consider coming?

3: Save yourself a bunch of trips
Based in Europe? How much would a flight to the US cost you? 500 euros? Maybe 1000 euros? We are saving you that money, and more, by inviting potential business partners from all over the world. Everybody flies into the same venue and is there to do business. Compared to flying around the world a ticket to this event is dirt cheap.

4: Organizing a conference is expensive
We have been working on this event for a year with a team of people. We spend hundreds of thousands of euros to make it the best event we can. We fly in the best speakers in the world, feed them, put them in a good hotel and then put them on a stage we’ve invested a lot in too. We don’t rely on sponsors to pay our costs (although we do have some sponsors) but try to focus on giving you great content and we charge a very reasonable price for all of this.

Do we make a profit? Well, we do hope so. But if we do it is generally used to pay for food, rent and preparations for our next event.

5: Our tickets are cheap. Really.
We often hear complaints from people that the tickets are too expensive. I can assure you they aren’t. What these people mean is that €675 is a lot of money, and they are right. But it isn’t expensive. Compare our prices with any similar event in Europe or the US and you will see that our prices are the lowest in the industry. A typical event will easily be 3 times as expensive. Our most expensive ticket is the same price as our biggest competitor’s cheapest ticket.

Bonus anecdote: we once had an guest complain about the price of our tickets. He told us they were too low. He said ‘Look, I’m flying in business class, stay a week in a classy hotel, take potential clients out to dinner and lunch every day, and then I have to explain this is all based around a conference where the ticket costs less than what I spend in one day. There should be a better balance between my travel costs and your conference ticket costs; please double your ticket prices!’

6: You deserve a ticket, because you are famous
We get these a lot. People will offer to blog about the event, tell their friends or email their members. We do appreciate free marketing but we’ve also learned that this seldom converts to actual tickets sold. We know because we used to give people special URLs to use, including custom discount, and offered them ‘sell 2 tickets and we will give you your own ticket for free’. I don’t think we ever ended up giving someone that free ticket, and if we did we did it out of sympathy, but then they didn’t show up (see #1).

7: Willing to share the risk? Then fine
A few years ago a volcano in Iceland erupted and a lot of flights were cancelled. 6 days before our event it looked like NONE of our booked speakers would show up and 60% of our guests wouldn’t be there either.

With a conference you book and pay everything in advance; the food, the location, the speaker fees, the tickets, everything. And of course nothing is refundable. The result: we were preparing to declare bankruptcy. Then three days before the event planes started flying again and we avoided a financial disaster.

Every event we organize is a ‘put everything on red’ event where we risk losing our company if things REALLY go wrong. If you want a free ticket but agree to pay 20 times the full ticket price if the shit hits the fan, then by all means, come for free.

8: You are a friend
This is the toughest one. I do have friends and I do feel awkward and uncomfortable asking them to pay for the ticket. And every year this is a struggle.

The solution we have is that we can all invite 3 friends, and that’s it. These tickets are generally reserved for family and really close friends and are gone months in advance. To all my other friends I have to explain how if we would invite all our friends for free there would be 1000 non-paying guest and we would go bankrupt.

And look at it this way: would I give you a €675 gift for your birthday? Or even a €100 gift? Do we even know each other’s birth dates? If not, please support your friend and buy a ticket.

More information and an option to buy tickets at our TNW Conference site.

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