Are community resources beholden to a level of access associated with free events? Or is there value in higher-price events with presumably higher value? That’s a question currently bubbling over the rollout of paid education classes that are a part of the revenue plans for new Federal Hill hybrid incubator-coworking Betamore.
Shorter classes take place during weeknights, while longer classes — like January’s class on PR for startups — are hosted on Saturdays. Instructors are pulled from the tech community, and the total take from ticket sales is split 50-50 between instructors and Betamore. Two classes are available so far in March: Intro to Web Design with Ben Kutil and Typography 101 with Andy Mangold.
Since launching in December, the Light Street space has already hosted a dozen or more free meetups, but the effort has begun to launch its more in-depth events for members and paid tickets. When photographer Michael Rosner, a common friendly sight at many tech events, offered some concerns about paid events limiting who might attend them, specifically mentioning the $60 ticket for Mangold’s day-long typography class, a slew of people responded in defense.
Is charging for classes too prohibitive to people who are interested in the material but cannot afford to pay? (It’s worth noting that Mangold has offered to fully refund his half of the money made to people who attend the class and don’t feel like they learned anything “applicable to your product or business.”)
Betamore cofounder Mike Brenner explained on Facebook why Betamore charges for classes. We’ve reprinted it below with his permission.
“I can respect the individual for bringing their frustration to light. It’s an obvious change from the norm that I’ll make an effort to defend here.
Most may know of Betamore as a coworking space for freelancers and tech startups but our bigger vision is to develop an education for prospective participants in/around the (tech/digital/startup) industry. To do this successfully, we’ve realized that we need to have our education led by those that are actively participating in the tech industry versus other industry education that can successfully be led by what we call “professional professors.” The tech/design industries we’re interested in developing move so fast that it’s nearly impossible for massive institutions, like colleges and universities, to keep up. Also, the reason we’ve designed both a workspace and a classroom under one roof is based on a simple hypothesis: the quality of an education is determined by its proximity to its related industry. Example: You can watch YouTube videos all day about fashion design or you can spend a month in the fashion district of NYC and probably gain more skills/relationships needed to be successful in fashion.
The obvious change we’re presenting to our community is the packaging up of topics that are already being presented randomly at different meetups in the form of paid classes and workshops. In short we do this because it’s the only way we can sustain (1) the continuous offering of these topics led by high-quality instructors, and (2) our physical campus. As we grow, we intend to begin bundling our classes into courses, which are a series of classes that follow a more prescriptive curriculum. Think of classes as a way for someone to dip their toe in the water and be conversant in a specific subject matter, and courses as a way for us to train and certify those people through immersive learning.
Recently Google Apps announced that it would no longer be offering its services for free to businesses. Some were shocked that they did this because they had always expected this service to be free. When you step back though, you realize that Google is a business like anything else and in order for them to build a sustainable and trusted customer/provider relationship, there had to be an exchange of money to ensure this mutual commitment and expectation of value.
Our meetups are subject to a similar fate in that the participants have no right to expect consistent quality as there is no exchange. That doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant, it just means they aren’t sustainable.
Betamore’s educational products will consist of 1-to-1 interactions with industry experts which we believe are more affordable than other comparable education offerings in the region. And in certain subject matters, we think the value of our products will be more meaningful and relevant than anything in the region as well. I can say this as a recipient of a bachelors degree from George Washington University in computer science that provided me with virtually no specific skills to do the career I chose, a web-designer/developer that followed W3C web standards. We think HTML/CSS, Javscript, Ruby on Rails, Information Architecture and Lean Product Design are much more relevant to the industry we’re catering to and developing than COBOL, Fortran, Java and Computer Architecture. The latter are among the most common types of classes you’ll see at our region’s universities.
If you’re curious, we’ll be measuring our success by the number of students that get hired as a result of taking courses at Betamore. To increase that opportunity we intend to matchmake local companies that have job vacancies with our course designers so that when our students complete our courses, there’s a full-time job ready and waiting for them with a recommended tuition reimbursement.
If paying for content and interaction isn’t your thing, that’s okay too. That’s why we will continue to be a venue for free meetups and events in the city. That said, if you are serious about entrepreneurship and tech and want to truly gain the skills and relationships needed to be successful in our industry, we recommend you give us a try.”
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