Why I Wont Pay For (or attend) FutureM

I would like to start by establishing a few facts:

  1. FutureM is a week long mashup of events in Boston designed to spark discussions around the “Future of Marketing”.  It attracts a diverse audience as event topics range from marketing, design, development, media, mobile, to simply general entrepreneurship.
  2. FutureM is Boston’s attempt at creating a South by South West (SXSW) like event / environment.
  3. This is FutureM’s 2nd year.
  4. I participated in FutureM last year both as an attendee and as an event organizer (I helped organize / spoke at 2 events, and attended 3-4)
  5. FutureM was free last year, and costs $100 this year.
  6. If I wanted to attend my company, Grasshopper, would absolutely no questions asked pay for my ticket.

Last year when I heard FutureM was coming together I immediately hopped on board, reached out to my contacts, and started getting involved.  I deeply (to my core) love Boston.  The energy and enthusiasm of our entrepreneur scene here is just spectacular,.  It motivates me almost every day and I would do anything to help make it even better.

Let me be clear about something before I continue this post, I truly believe in what (I think) FutureM is all about.  Its wildly important to constantly challenge your beliefs, try new things, and learn from other people.  Its why I so often try crazy shit at Grasshopper, and then share those successes or failures with the community.  And believe me, If i didn’t care I certainly wouldn’t be taking the time to write this post (as my free time is very rare).

Having said that, I want to share with you 3 reasons I will not pay (and hence not attend) FutureM this year:


Don’t Charge Before You Fix the Bugs

Last year (FutureM’s first year) I had a mediocre experience….lets say 6.8 out of 10.  Which by the way is completely okay, and even expected.  The first year, or first time you do anything it is bumpy, and you certainly make mistakes.  Entrepreneurs understand that more than anyone.  But that is also why the next experience is so important.  People expect you to rebound and learn from your mistakes.  If you don’t make the necessary improvements, you will lose your audiences attention forever.  Its the same in a startup right?  If you don’t listen to your beta users (your earlyvangelists) and fix the problems they encounter – you will not having paying customers and you will not succeed.

This is only FutureM’s 2nd crack at this.  They haven’t proven to me (their Beta user) that they have fixed the bugs, so why should I start paying them?  If they had held off on the trigger finger for a year or two, and proved that they listened and acted on peoples feedback, this might be an entirely different post.
They haven’t even given us an opportunity to have a positive experience.  I feel like my free-trial got cut short.


It Feels Very Corporate & Salesy

On their home page it says “FutureM is about them”.  I call bullshit.  This year it is starting to feel like its much more about MITX or bigger companies like Hubspot, than about us (the community).  If you look at the screen shot from the “Buy a Pass” page you will get an idea of what i’m talking about.

First, if you are an MITX member you get a discount.  What?  I don’t get this, are you trying to incentivize people to be an MITX member, or are you trying to rally the community around a great idea?  Its very unclear.  If you really wanted to say “Thank You” to your members, isn’t there a much more stealth / less public (salesy) way to go about doing it?  Say email them a discount code?  This almost seems like a smack in the face for non members.

But what really made me laugh out loud (yes i just typed “lol”), was this sales pitch on the bottom (follow the red arrow).  “If you need help determining if you are an MITX Member…” – yikes guys.  I mean, I am sure if you are paying them ($150-$4,000) every year you are definitely aware that you are a member.  It is just a blatant sales pitch, and well it makes me feel a bit dirty about the whole situation.

Does anyone have any idea the organization who is behind SXSW?  Didn’t think so.


What If I Just Want to Attend 1 or 2 Events?

One thing that can make FutureM difficult is that the events are all day long (starting at 8:30am), and scattered throughout Boston & Cambridge.  So for people with full time jobs (the target audience for this event) it can be really hard to find time during the day to travel to a handful of events.  It can also be difficult to get from event to event as there is not one central hub.  So my colleague and I for instance, could very easily justify making it out to a couple events.  But then it is $50 an event?!  On a normal Boston week there are more events than you can even comprehend being put on by cool startups for FREE.  So where is my motivation?  MITX advertises that you get access to 50+ events for your $100.  I would challenge that any human could physically make it to even close to that many events.  Its logistically impossible.  The reality is that most people want to dabble, and this pricing makes that difficult.

I was also surprised that there was no student pricing?  I mean we live in a city which is driven more by our universities than almost any other city in the country.  How can we not support them learning from a week like this?  $100 in college would have gotten me through an entire week of eating and drinking, I certainly would not have used it to buy a week long pass to a conference.


I would simply challenge MITX (or any organization charging money for that matter) to be more transparent and really explain the $100 cost.  I for one feel more comfortable with things when i understand the “why”.  In this instance, MITX is actually not throwing any of the events.  All of the events during FutureM are organized, funded, and executed by the companies who volunteer to get involved (like we did last year).  So where does the money go?  I thought these companies were stepping up, and volunteering their time so it could be free for the community.

Transparency goes a long way MITX, maybe I will see you next year….


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6 Responses to Why I Wont Pay For (or attend) FutureM

  1. Debi Kleiman says:

    Jonathan you’re right – if FutureM 2010 was our alpha, FutureM 2011 is definitely our beta.

    But what is not right is the idea that we haven’t listened to our community. And we would be happy to explain why we charged a small fee this year. MITX is a not-for-profit organization of 7 full-time people (and many great volunteers!) dedicated to growing and benefiting our digital community here in Massachusetts, not a money making endeavor. The scale and scope of an event like FutureM is enormous – more than 60+ events during an entire 5 days and nights. It takes a ton of resources and time to pull something like this off. And yes, of course, we get lots of help and ideas from the event partners who hold their events during the week, but it’s not all that needs to be done. There’s coordination, planning, logistics, and vendors that help us that need to be paid. We do cover a lot of this through the wonderful companies who sponsor the week. But we also felt it was appropriate for a couple of reasons to ask the participants to pay a small fee as well. We didn’t come to that decision easily or make it lightly; in fact it was months of debate and discussion – Should we? How much?

    In the end, we looked at what happened last year when it was free (see Kiki Mill’s post-event blog post here: http://blog.mitx.org/Blog/bid/53749/What-We-Learned-with-FutureM) and felt we had to do something differently. Most events sold out online last year because they were free; many people who really wanted to attend could not even sign up for the events. But then those who did sign up didn’t show up – because it was free and they had no reason to maintain the commitment to go. We know how busy working in this industry is – we live in it every day – so we know that sometimes things just come up. But when 80 percent of the people who signed up for events don’t show up (yes, it was that high for some events), it’s not fair to those who were really interested in attending. So, free did not work. We implemented a small fee this year to help attendees feel like they have some “skin the game”. And there are tons of ways to get discounts on the fee or even free passes as part of being involved with FutureM; it’s pretty easy to find these if you take a quick look around with what we’ve got going on. Will it work to fix the no-show problem? I really don’t have a clue – but we thought it was important to try.

    I can say with a ton of certainty that we listened really hard to the feedback we got on FutureM, it was the basis for almost everything new we did this year to hopefully make it bigger and better than last year. We’re working hard to improve the entire experience – up the game on the content, create more “must-see” events and experiences with our partners, improve the registration experience– but given that we are not a conference producer on the scale of the (for profit) company that runs SXSW nor is FutureM the only thing we do all year (we also run over 50 other events and provide other benefits to our members), we have to find a way to support it by paying people to help us.

    We are here to serve the exciting, growing digital community here in Boston – we believe FutureM is can provide a national platform for companies in the Boston area to shout loud and proud about what we’re doing and attract both talent and funding to the area. Related to that we thought charging a fee would help to create a sense of greater value to out of towners – so for better or worse, we are truly approaching it with the best of intentions, trying to do good. MITX is extremely supportive of the startup community here, we offer many free events and we bring a lot of free resources to bear as well. But the truth is we need to have members to stay afloat, keep the lights on, pay our staff and vendors, and continue our work helping grow the community.

    Last, students are free; they can attend any and all events and have been able to from the beginning. We’ve put a strong focus on getting students involved with FutureM this year, including the creation of a special student-run committee, and I think it’s going to add a great new dimension to the experience.

    I am really sorry that you’ll miss it; we would have loved to have your voice in the mix. Thanks for your feedback.

    • JonathanKay says:

      Debi – Thank you for taking the time to craft what is clearly a very thoughtful response.

      I would like to rebut & clarify a few things:

      1. Nowhere in my post, and at no point in any conversation, do I ever say that you & your team did not listen. In fact, its quite clear that you have. My issue, and why I even title it “Don’t charge before you fix the bugs”, is that you started charging money before people even had an opportunity to experience the changes you’ve made. How do I know registration and event attendance is moving in the right direction when I can not even experience that interface prior to paying? The criticism here is simply that I think you pulled the trigger too quickly. FutureM had a lot to prove this year, and by putting a barrier to entry like this in there you risk turning off people who might not have had an opportunity to be engaged yet.

      2. I completely Understand the attendance issue. I personally throw a lot of “free” events and struggle with this same obstacle. I do not think a $100 fee is the solution, and this is in fact a lot of money, by anyone’s standards. By charging a one time fee like this, you will still have people who sign up for every event and only show up to a few. In fact, now that I paid $100, it is going to make me want to sign up for even more events (as to make sure i get my money’s worth). Why not charge $10 per event? Ten dollars is certainly skin in the game, and it allows busy folks to dabble in only a couple events (instead of feeling pressure to dive into everything). It also ends up getting you near that $100 mark for those folks who are really getting after it and attending a bunch of events. You could even cap it at $100, or offer 2 rates (an unlimited pass, vs a per event fee).

      3. I can both recognize & appreciate your need (literally for survival) to have members. I just deeply believe there has to be a less salesy way to go about it. In my small subset of experience I have observed that when you sell less, people actually end up asking about you more. And when all is said and done you end up with a lot more good will (and signups) than you would have otherwise. In this instance, I would question that anyone doesn’t know (and appreciate) your involvement in FutureM. But FutureM can’t be a source of leads for new members, the second it becomes (or even feels like it is becoming) about that – this amazing event loses its purity.

      4. I am so extremely happy that students are free, I am sorry i missed that. How would someone who is a first time visitor to the site (maybe even a student) know that it is free for students? You guys should definitely make that more loud and clear on the registration page – as its quite an amazing thing.

      Lastly, its important to me that you know my goal & intent was never to belittle your efforts Debi. But rather to criticize your timing for pulling the
      trigger,and potentially stunting the growth of what i hoped would become a real, and traditional part of our Boston Community.


  2. Matt Hooper says:

    Jonathan, good on you. Calling a spade a spade. I was totally looking forward to going to FutureM, submitted several ideas for speaking and for panels. I never even got a response back. I chalked it up to disorganization and internship, but you make a great point. Why am I paying them to attend when they clearly have sponsors, thus I am now clearly the product.

    NewEnglandXP is free, but you get a bunch of speakers who talk on a great topic, and then subtly pitch their goods.

    But if I am paying you better not pitch a thing. I can not imagine a conference full of marketers inhibiting themselves from pitching. You really have me questioning whether this is a good spend for me.

    Thanks for the thought provocation.

    • JonathanKay says:

      Hey Matt! Thanks for getting involved in the discussion and for your kind words. I really appreciate both.

      I also appreciate the recommendation of NewEnglandXP – Never heard of it and will check it out.

      Re: FutureM, I do think a lot of the content (if you pick the right events) will be very useful. Not everyone will view you as the product, as there are a LOT of cool ass companies in Boston doing it right.

      I just think they pulled the trigger on charging a year or two, too soon. There was a lot up in the air and a lot to prove this year. Creating a barrier for entry like this risks stunting the growth they spurred last year!

      Thanks again for getting involved man – i love it.


  3. Debi Kleiman says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    Thanks for providing further feedback and ideas. All good stuff! I do like what you propose in #2, we should throw it into the mix for next time. Our thinking was to encourage full-on weeklong participation in FutureM not just one or two events here and there. The idea is that this is an event experience to be immersed in, not a just a set of random events that all happen to occur in the same week. There is a ton of incredible content throughout the week, I am certain it’s a great value. But I see your point for someone who doesn’t want to dive all the way in but just have a taste. Again, though there are a lot of ways to get a big discount on passes and even free passes just by showing you are excited and engaged with FutureM — feel free to reach out if you know of anyone interested in learning more.

    On #3, MITX membership is a corporate membership and often there are people at companies who don’t know whether their company is member, so we get that question a lot — we put that at the bottom to make it easy for them to find out. It’s not meant to be salesy.

    Net, I am extremely proud of the content we have planned for FutureM this year,our speakers are all experts in their fields and our partners have put together events that are exciting, interactive and thought provoking. It’s one of the things we’ve worked the hardest on for this year and I think it’s going to totally deliver.
    Take care,

  4. Boston Marketer says:

    And FutureM 2012 is more of the same…Except of course the price INCREASED $100 to $195!

    - The MITX discount scam is the same…
    - It’s still a 3day pass
    - Sessions are a mix of blatant shills from marketing products/services vendors (like Hubspot) and self promotion from “pseudo intellectuals and thought leaders”

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