"Free" to "Paid" – The Meetup Story so far

Meetup, as most of you know is a
hosted service for organizing, well, meet ups. Until recently, Meetup
was a free service. A few days ago, Meetup announced
that it will no longer be a “free” service. I have observed (sitting on
the sidelines, of course) a lot of discussions and opinions about
whether charging consumers was “right”

My friend Dave Taylor wrote a cool piece on this topic. Dave’s point was that if these changes were not carried out right, you could kill the service.

Here are my $.02

First and foremost, I truly believe that there is “nothing” of value
that is “free” It may be provided free but there is a cost associated
with it and someone has to underwrite it. Meetup is no exception. The
company was underwriting the cost and until now, did not consider
subscription was one of the revenue models. Also, the model might have
been to wait until they get the critical mass and then start charging.
Or, it might have been that the service is very successful and there
are a ton of users and providing the same kind of service to a larger
number of users requires more resources which costs more and hence they
have no option but to start charging the consumers.

In other words, Meetup has reasons and justifications to start charging
for the service. But here are the problems with asking people to pay:
a) Most people hate change. Especially one that will ask them to move from “free” to “pay”
b) Perception issue: Meetup is
perceived as a free service and that’s the kind of value associated
with it. Now people have to think what is the right price to pay. It’s
hard to set a price that will satisfy everyone.

Here are some proposed models to consider (for Meetup or any service moving from “free” to “paid”)

1. Charge for Premium: Continue to keep the service free and  create a premium version for which people have to pay.

2. Up-sell: Keep the service free. Up-sell additional services. Revenue sharing through partners’ services

3. Create an enterprise version and sell: In case of Meetup, may be create “Meetup Enterprise” and sell to large corporations and keep the public service free

4. Push Professional Services: Keep the software free. Offer professional services related to the service and charge for those professional services.

5. Open Source completely or partially:
If development costs are a big concern, open source the software so the
community will take over the development and future enhancements.
Company can remain as a thought leader and steward for the software

6. Donations and Sponsorships: Allow users to contribute voluntarily and large corporations to sponsor the service.

7. Sell digital content: Allow
meeting organizers to put content from their members and sell the
content with revenue share. From the meta data associated with service
like Meetup, the digital content can be highly targeted (like Google
ads) and may turn out to be a significant revenue stream.

8. Tiered pricing: One example:
Groups less than 50 continue to be free and groups higher than 50 are
charged based on the number of members say 50-100 $x, 100-300 $2x etc.

9. Charge for support and training

We can get creative and come up with many more and you can mix and match the above.

Last, but not the least –
a) never make the change abrupt. Nobody likes it.
b) get your customers involved in the change process.
c) never insult your customers.