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Updated on July 22, 2022 12:29 pm
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Chautauqua: A terrible business model


To be clear right from the start here, Chautauqua is an awesome event. Indeed, and in many ways, precisely because it is a terrible business model.

But it is a terrible business model.


It is not scalable.

Precisely because it is such an awesome event, the demand for tickets is incredible. For 2022 we’ll be running two Chautauquas. As we limit attendance to 30 people, we had a total of 60 spots available: 30 per week. 

They sold out in 18 hours.

More Tickets?

A better business model would simply make more tickets available. 

We could probably sell hundreds, maybe thousands. That would mean far, far more revenue and far more profit. This is what most events do.

But then, it wouldn’t be Chautauqua.

Here’s the formula: 

Take a small group of 30 cool people to a cool location for cool conversations… 

…and, thank you Alan, great food!

It lasts a full week and, precisely because the group is so small, this gives attendees the chance to really get to know each other – and our host/speakers who are also there for the full week. They don’t just parachute in for a talk and disappear when their bit is over. 

Lifelong friendships and business relationships are formed. In fact, this is how I found Katie & Alan to run it. They were attendees back in 2016.

There have even been romantic relationships and marriages that have had their start there, including the conception of at least one child. 

That we know of.

Still, we could increase the number of attendees and hope for the best. After all, they wouldn’t know what it had been before and it would still be pretty damn great.

But I’d know. It wouldn’t be Chautauqua.

Charge more?

If not the number of attendees, why not increase the price? Over the years, I have had several business savvy attendees pull me aside and suggest this.

“JL,” they’d say, “it is simple business 101 that when the demand is this high you raise prices. You could be charging three, four or more times what you are per ticket.”

Typically they say this kindly, as if talking to a small and not very bright child.

This would make the event breathtakingly profitable. But it already is profitable and I don’t feel the need to make it breathtakingly so. Plus, charging, say, $20,000 a ticket would reduce the diversity of wealth represented by those who attend. 

Right now we get people early in their journey, people who are very wealthy and many in between. It is a nice blend. This diversity is what creates some of the magic of Chautauqua, and we want it to be in reach of most.

Plus, at those prices a ticket it might take two whole days to sell out.

Of course, we could then go to even more fabulous places. Mmmmm.

More weeks?

Of course, another way to scale it is by running more weeks. But all of us on the Chautauqua team are “retired” and this is a ton of work. 

A labor of love to be sure, but work nonetheless. The last thing we want is to turn it into a job.

One time we tried expanding to four events in a year.  Alan and Katie nearly had a melt down, poor dears, and it damn near killed me.

 So we have gone back to two, which is just the right level for us and which means that the people coming get the best version of us.

Two Chautauquas, two weeks ties in nicely for us the concept enough.

Primary goal.

So, as I say, a terrible business model.

But then, my primary goal was never to build a business. It was to create an event where I could hang out at cool places, with cool people and have cool conversations. Plus all that great food! 

 And that is…



The best way to have a shot at getting a ticket to a future Chautauqua is to be on the mailing list. You can sign up here.


With the market acting as it is, seems like a good time to add this…


Chautauqua: A terrible business model is written by jlcollinsnh for


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