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This article was published on February 27, 2017

8 reasons there’s no such thing as a free conference ticket

8 reasons there’s no such thing as a free conference ticket
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.

If you’ve been a reader of TNW for a while, you might have read this story before about why we never give away free tickets to our TNW Conference. We’ve updated it a little, and are sharing it again because the message is still true.

Ever since we’ve started organizing a conference back in 2006 we’ve been getting requests for free tickets. It starts as soon as we announce our event, and then the requests increase as we get closer to the conference date.

I don’t blame people for asking for something free, I really don’t. You can always give it a try, and if you don’t ask, you don’t know. But it does get tiring having to explain exactly why there’s no free ticket available. Now, instead of having to write a long email to every single person, I can just share this post.

The eight reasons I list here are valid for any other product or service as well, so feel free to copy/paste the text and apply it to your own.

1. Free has no value (so buy a ticket)

In our experience, people who get a free ticket don’t show up. If they do, they don’t really invest time and effort into making it a great event.

At our second and third events, we decided to give 20 people free tickets because they asked for one. Only two showed up… late, and left early.

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

2. A ticket should earn itself back, tenfold (so buy a ticket)

Our events are inspiring, offer amazing networking opportunities, and should help you get ahead in your career or advance your startup. I know entrepreneurs who raise funding and meet journalists that cover them and 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 it would be worth to you. The few hundred euros for the ticket should pale in comparison. If it doesn’t, then why would you even consider coming?

3. Save yourself a bunch of trips (so buy a ticket)

Based in Europe? How much would a flight to the US cost you, including a hotel? Something like €1,000? Maybe even €2,000?

We’re 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 looking for business opportunities, a ticket to this event is dirt cheap.

4. Organizing a conference is expensive (so buy a ticket)

We’ve been working on this event for years with a large team of talented people. We spend hundreds of thousands of euros to make it the best event in the world. We fly in the best speakers, 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. We charge a very reasonable price for all of this.

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

5. Our tickets are cheap. Really (so buy a ticket)

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 €500 is a lot of money, and they’re right. But it isn’t expensive.

Compare our prices with any similar event in Europe or the US and you will see our prices are the lowest in the industry. A typical event will easily be three times as expensive. Our most expensive ticket is the same price as our biggest competitor’s cheapest ticket.

Bonus anecdote: We once had a guest complain about the price of our tickets. He told us they were too low. He said ‘Look, I’m flying business class, staying a week in a classy hotel, taking potential clients out to dinner and lunch every day… Now 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’re famous? You still need to buy a ticket

We get these a lot. People will offer to blog about the event, tell their friends, or email it to their members.

We do appreciate free marketing but we’ve also learned this seldom converts to actual tickets sold. We know because we used to give people special URLs to use, including custom discount codes, and offered a deal to ‘sell two 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 it was out of sympathy — but then they didn’t show up (see #1).

7. Willing to share the risk? Fine (but we still want you to buy a ticket)

In 2010 a volcano in Iceland named Eyjafjallajökull erupted and flights worldwide were canceled. Six days before our event it looked like NONE of our booked speakers were going to show up and 60 percent of our guests wouldn’t be there either.

You spend 90 percent of your costs in advance when organizing a conference; the food, the location, the speaker fees, the tickets, etc. 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 shit hits the fan, then by all means, come for free.

8. You’re a friend (even more reason to buy a ticket)

This is the toughest one. I do have friends and family asking for tickets and I do feel awkward and uncomfortable asking them to pay. Every year this is a struggle for the whole team.

The solution we have is that we can all invite three 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 thousands of non-paying guests and we would go bankrupt.

And look at it this way: Would I give you a €500 gift for your birthday? Or even a €100 gift? Do we even know each other’s birthdays? If not, please support your friend and buy a ticket.

Conclusion: buy a ticket!

We’re not trying to be mean when we don’t give you a seemingly well-deserved free ticket.

We’d love to see you at our event, but somehow we need to generate some revenue, and the best way to do that is to charge for our tickets.

So, head over to our TNW2019 conference site and make that investment into your future. It will be worth it.

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