Why we’re charging our event organisers

Monday, July 25, 2016

Paul McMahon is the co-founder and Representative Director of Doorkeeper Inc. He also organises Tokyo Rubyist Meetup, which he’s been running since September 2010.

With our recent change to Doorkeeper’s pricing, we’re asking a lot of you to start paying us for something you used to use for free. We know it sucks - having something that was once free become paid is never a pleasant experience. To help you understand why we’ve made these changes, I want to explain in detail our thinking behind them.

The first thing we’d like to make clear is that Doorkeeper has not been generating enough money to sustain it. We have low expenses, as we have a really small team: myself, my co-founder, and a part-time support person. Despite generating some money from prepaid ticket sales, it is barely enough to cover our fixed running costs (infrastructure and support), let alone pay ourselves. We’ve been sustaining ourselves from doing mostly unrelated work.

We started Doorkeeper as a side project. We’re developers and like to make new things. We built Doorkeeper for the fun of it in the beginning, and weren’t really concerned about monetizing it. When we saw it was rapidly growing, we decided to double down on it, and so we created Doorkeeper Inc to build the service into a sustainable business.

When we introduced prepaid events, taking a commission on prepaid events seemed like a natural way to make money. We thought this would be enough to subsidize the other events that didn’t use prepayment. Despite making improvements around prepayment, we still aren’t able to generate enough revenue from it.

We’ve come to realise that prepayment for events isn’t a concern for the majority of our organisers, as they aren’t looking to make money from participant fees. Even when they are charging money, it is typically only a small amount, enough to break even on the event. Because of this, even when they do use prepayment, we get only a small comission.

To turn Doorkeeper into a sustainable business from prepaid event comission alone, we’d need to increase the number of prepaid tickets sold by a factor of ten, something we don’t see happening within the next couple of years.

Because of this, we explored other ways of monetizing Doorkeeper that would let us keep it free. We have built up a large network of event organisers and participants, and thought that we could leverage that network to generate revenue.

We have had companies come to us wanting us to connect them with event organisers so that they could sponsor events in exchange for promoting a product. Unfortunately we have found that generally these companies don’t put a high value on our organisers, and are looking for a cheap way to promote their products. This means the deals they’re wanting to do don’t create enough value for our organisers in exchange for the burden they’re placing on them.

While we don’t think it is impossible to build a business out of matching organisers and companies, it is quite a different business from developing an event registration platform. This kind of business would be tangential to Doorkeeper and would require a large investment on our part, so we have little interest in pursuing it.

We’ve had many other ideas of indirect methods of monetization, but we run into the same problem with them: event organisers are no longer our customers, some third party is. Our relentless focus on what’s best for the organiser above all else is why we’ve been successful with Doorkeeper, and we’re not prepared to change this.

So if we’re not going to indirectly monetize Doorkeeper, we’re left with charging our actual customer - the event organiser. This sucks for all our organisers who aren’t making any money through their events, and are holding events for the benefit of the community. However, we think having the organiser cover the cost of running Doorkeeper will ultimately lead to a better service than if we had a third-party with different interests use our event organisers' audience.

We understand that we’ll lose some organisers by transitioning to a paid product. It sucks that we’re losing them, as we really do appreciate every one of our organisers. But we need to make this change to move forward with the product, and hope you’ll continue to support us.