If You Aren't Paying, You Are The Product
Why nightlife's inherent misogyny & celebrity worship is getting more and more uncomfortable
Welcome to Maxwell’s kind-of-weekly newsletter! Today we’re diving into a toxic and frankly misogynistic nightlife dynamic that we had to navigate as we started Maxwell. As always, membership applications are here, follow along on Instagram here and take a look at the Chief Membership Officer & Head of Sports & Entertainment Partnerships positions, among others, here.
When we first started Maxwell an early question we had to ask ourselves was whether or not we’d have lower prices for women. I was told that women were used to drinking for free, and that it would simply be harder to convert women as members if we didn’t account for this societal reality.
The women drink free thing has always bothered me and reminded me of a famous saying in the tech industry usually attributed to Facebook and social networks: If you aren’t paying, you are the product.
I always think of one of my few true New York nightclub experiences, a spur of the moment decision after a big group dinner on a Tuesday. Of the group that joined it was mostly women and me and one other guy, curious to experience a particularly infamous club we had heard a lot about. At the door all the women were let in for free and my friend and I had to pay $100 each. When we found our friends they had been placed at a table with a bunch of guys who had purchased bottle service. The guys were gracious enough to let us hang out there too, but it was a weird experience — it was almost like along with the bottle of Grey Goose they also provided women as part of the service.
But in the same way I rolled my eyes at people who wouldn’t pay for Facebook adopting a “how dare they” attitude to Facebook’s advertising endeavors, I’ve also always thought it was a bit rich when someone insists that no, no, they weren’t part of the package, nothing to see here . . .
This societal dynamic was a worry of ours when we first started — it’s important as an entrepreneur to take the world as it is, not as you’d like it to be, and taking a moral stance on equality if it was just simply not the way the world worked wasn’t going to get us anywhere.
We’ve thankfully found the opposite to be true — it turns out there are PLENTY of women who don’t love the weird expectations and transactional nature of nightlife. There are plenty of women who don’t want to accept a free drink from a man because it might give them the wrong idea/make them feel obligated.
If anything, this has sorted more elegantly on the type of members we want around — equal partners, not moochers. And ironically by eliminating this opportunity for guys to simply “pay” for the attention of women, it attracts better guys too — men with an actual personality instead of men who rely on a 5k bottle service to bribe women to give them a chance to talk to them.
Our fear that “this was the way the world worked” was unfounded.
And we’ve extended this to our view on celebrity memberships as well — when we first started we dangled some free memberships to notable people. It served its purpose, it helped get some much needed sponsorship dollars so I don’t regret it, and we made a few new friends that way, and the ones who didn’t ultimately resonate just disappeared.
But recently we’ve received a few inbound requests from notable people to get free memberships and we’ve said no. Often they or their reps make the point that they got free memberships at Casa Cipriani/Soho House/Zero Bond, etc., and they’d expect the same from us.
On one level it makes sense — some of these people literally get appearance fees, you could argue that charging them to show up when they usually make money to show up simply doesn’t make sense.
But that’s exactly the point — when they get an appearance fee they are the product!
These celebs will bitch and moan about how they don’t have privacy anywhere but then flock to a place that offers them a free membership because it is literally using their celebrity status to get Page 6 mentions and entertain random gawkers who want to say they saw Tom Brady in the corner booth.
We’ve taken a pretty radical stance — no free memberships for celebs, no discounts for women.
We think it’s a high risk, high reward strategy — it means that we gave up a bunch of chances to hang out with famous people, yes, and I’m sure there are a bunch of women who can get free drinks at Marquee who will not be coming to Maxwell as often.
When it comes to getting the word out this has certainly made our job harder.
But that’s ok, because slow and intentional growth with members around for the right reasons is more important than rapid, unfocused growth catering to the wrong type of customer — we’ve realized there are plenty of women and celebs who are more than willing to buy-in on an equal footing and those are the new friends we want to make.
If you’re one of those friends membership applications are here, and follow along on instagram:
David, Kyle & Joelle