Why We Started Charging For Events After 10 Years Of Gratis

On the 27th of July 2017, we're doing something we've never done before in 10 years of running these events.

We’re going to ask you pay for attendance. 

And the next one.

And the one after that. 

Yes, after 10 years of offering free tickets to our events, we’re now demanding that you cough up your hard earned cash to come to this event.

The cost of attendance?

R50. Fifty big ones. Vyftig ront. 5-zero. 

Ok, so it's not a lot of money (barely more than a 1/80000th of the cost of a firepool), but I'm guessing some of you are asking: why are we suddenly charging now? 

There are a few reasons, but here are the two most salient: 

  1. Charging reduces drop-off.

    In the past few years, since Heavy Chef started becoming really popular, we've noticed a lot of peeps booking and not pitching. Yes, we know who you are (Capetonians, serial offenders!)

    In the early years, way back in 2008/2009, when we were running events at 24.com's offices in De Waterkant, we'd send out an invitation and the event would get booked out within an hour or so.

    Our speakers back then were folks like Justin Stanford, Rui Esteves, Vinny Lingham and Rob Stokes - and we'd expect around 80-100 people to fill up 24.com's cafetaria up on the 5th floor.

    Free entry. Gratis. Mahala. People booked. People came.

    This grew to its zenith around 2012/2013 when we moved to Deloitte in Joburg and hosted 400+ people to listen to Michael Jordaan do his last talk as FNB's CEO after he had just collected their "Most Innovative Bank In The World" award.

    450 people booked, 400 people came. Still free. All paid for by us ("Us" being my other company, WWC, out of which Heavy Chef was born). 

    Then, something odd starting happening. As more and more events started to offer free entry, we continued to book out our seats fast - but people stopped coming. It reached a head when we hosted Gareth Cliff at Microsoft's campus in 2014. We were told by the good people at MS that we were only allowed a strict 120 people through the doors. 140 seats were booked within 30 minutes of sending the invite before we put a 'sold out' sign on our site. The day of the event came - and around 80 people pitched up.  

    This trend continued until this month. For our Drone Tech event last month, around 300 people booked seats, and only 200 people pitched. I realized we had made a fatal strategic error - we'd trained our audience to believe it was okay to not pitch. 

    The decision was made in a few minutes - I chatted to Mike, Louis, Murray and Caley, and after a brief discussion, we decided that it was time to put a price tag on our tickets. 
  2. Charging adds value to our events.

    There are two kinds of value that we want to create. Perceived and real.

     In recent months I've chatted to a bunch of mates and colleagues who also run events - good people like Craig Rodney, who ran 27dinners for Cerebra, and G who runs Google's Startup Grind global operations. 

    The general consensus is that there is a type of 'conference spam' that's happening. Not just in Cape Town and Joburg - but all around the world. Events are cheap - and talk is even cheaper. To arrange a room, get a speaker and broadcast it live is now a fairly easy endeavor. So, what's happened? You're seeing monthly meet ups for every single type of niche and sub-niche topic. Tech. Entrepreneurship. Investment. These have evolved to Girls in Tech. Social Entrepreneurship. Crypto-investment. Everyone is trying to 'start a movement' and the first step is to put on a suit and step on a soapbox - and hope people will take you seriously. Hell, there's even a meetup for Drone-tech investors. That's a LOT of choice for our average audience member. 

    The advice I've taken on board is that Heavy Chef is a brand that has meaning. Our purpose is to change the world through entrepreneurial thinking. We want change, and we cannot rely on our leaders to affect that change - and so the change needs to come from the bottom up. 

    We believe that this purpose has a lot of value, and so 'free' is counter intuitive to that value. Even though it's not a lot of moolah, R50 is enough to denote that there's something of worth. 

    Our aim is to keep it accessible, and to provide a number of comps to those people for whom R50 is still a dent in their pockets. And for the more well-heeled, we also have our premium experiential workshops that cost a significant amount more. 

    Also: We're adding things like streaming and food for the first time. Tasty chicken samosas and spring rolls. Easy eating for us entrepreneurs on the move. 

    And that stuff don't come cheap y'know? 

One more thing: 

100% of profit is going to charity. Yes. The Heavy Chef Foundation (essentially a bank account at the moment) is going to apportion the money made from our events to relevant charities that align with our philosophy of inspiring and empowering our audience. This time, our cash is going to go to WeThinkCode. Do yourselves a favour and check 'em out. They're doing crazy-awesome work and, if you’d like to donate more money, please do go ahead and do so.

Otherwise, your event ticket is about the same price as a Spur Burger on Monday nights - and the Spur doesn't give you free sumptuous wine, tasty beer and healthy juice with your meal. 

Nice, hey?

Yup, we thought so too.