In what appears to be an attempt to change its fee structure, the WeWork subsidiary Meetup announced this week that select members would have to begin paying $2 to RSVP for events created through the social networking platform.
The company, which was founded in 2002 to enable people and communities to find each other online and then meet in person, boasts more than 44 million users. WeWork, the office sharing giant, purchased Meetup in 2017 for a reported $200 million.
News of the new payment policy prompted an immediate backlash — and a response from Meetup.
In an update on its website Tuesday afternoon, the company said the payment change would only be a “limited test for a small number of groups” and that organizers would have the choice of opting out of the test.
“We will not be making any significant payment changes in the near term,” the website said.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Meetup issued the following statement: "We are conducting a small payment test. Currently organizers pay to manage groups and events, and we are exploring ways to reduce this cost. One of the options we are testing is to introduce a small event fee for members. We have not committed to any changes at this time."
Although some have questioned WeWork's corporate buying spree in recent years, its acquisition of Meetup seemed logical: in 2017, more than 100,000 people attended "meetups" at WeWork locations, according to the two companies. The deal was billed as extending the use of WeWork locations into evenings and weekends.
But in the wake of a failed initial public offering and a management shakeup, namely the ouster of its controversial CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann, WeWork now appears to be in a rapid free fall, with a slew of bad headlines.
The company, which has accepted massive losses as the price of expansion, is reportedly trying to raise billions in cash. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that its subsidiary WeLive, which provides dorm-like housing for young professionals, has struggled to succeed, with its New York City location resorting to advertising rooms on Airbnb and hotel booking sites.
In a more bizarre turn of events, WeWork recently announced to its tenants that formaldehyde had contaminated thousands of phone booths at some of its leased offices.
The company, which is the biggest private tenant in Manhattan, was once valued at $47 billion.
Not surprisingly, word of the new payment system for Meetup, which began circulating Monday night, immediately fueled suspicions that WeWork was trying to wring new profits out of the company, which was initially formed as mission-based enterprise. Meetup's founder and chairman Scott Heiferman said he was inspired to create the website after finding himself and others in need of community in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
On Twitter, Meetup users strongly condemned the new payment policy.
In its original announcement, Meetup said the plan would reduce the monthly subscription cost for organizers to $2 from $23.99, the most basic Meetup subscription, which entitles organizers to set up three groups with unlimited members.
But it also said that organizers would be given the option of subsidizing the $2 fee for attendees. On its website, the company said the changes would "distribute costs more evenly between organizers and members" and well as help bring more committed attendees to events.
According to a source close to the company, the change had been discussed for some time and was not in reaction to any news regarding WeWork.
UPDATE: The story has been corrected with an updated number of Meetup members.