Great, if lengthy, post by Scott Heiferman on the 37signals blog, looking back at the evolution of Meetup, particularly around the critical point where Meetup started charging meeting organisers.
According to Heiferman, the site lost around 95% of its activity. "Now imagine you're the hot startup - people forget we were the hot thing that was on 60 Minutes - and all of a sudden, in a flash, you see 95% of your activity go away. I mean, that's the backlash in its most visceral form. It was like, â€˜Oh, man what did you do? What do we do?' We never really wavered seriously, but it's a punch in the gut. It's saying, â€˜We were touching this many lives and now we're touching not many lives, and oh, everyone hates us.'
Sticking through this kind of drop in activity takes some balls. And the right metrics:
"[Before, p]eople would be sitting in their underwear starting a Meetup about something. And then 99% of the Meetups weren't any good. They weren't successful. They didn't have enough oomph put into them. The organizer wasn't in to it."
"Yeah, we lost 95% of our activity but now we have much, much, more going on than we ever did before and half the Meetups are successful, as opposed to 1-2% being successful."
Price is a quality filter. And, as an added bonus, it pays the bills. Starting to charge when your product has previously been free is a hard decision, and can cost you a lot of users or generate great outrage if you mishandle it, but sometimes it can be exactly what you need.
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