TL;DR I purchased individual tickets for EuroRust and added my VAT number, so it could be a tax-deductible expense for me as an independent worker.

The organizers reached out asking me to buy business tickets instead. I'm asking them to reconsider their policy.

Update: EuroRust introduces a freelancer ticket

EuroRust organizers have listened, and they've come up with a solution.

Here's their announcement, from twitter and mastodon

Some fair points have been raised about our policy around private/company tickets and we listened.

We’re introducing a new ticket type for freelancers (”sole traders/proprietors” or “self-employed”) to better cater to their situation and make it easier for them to attend.

The freelancer ticket is priced at 216€, much cheaper than our company tickets. After discounting VAT, this matches the price of private tickets (180€).

Freelancers can buy a freelancer ticket (and enter their VAT ID) or stay with a private ticket (without a VAT ID).

Freelancers who have already purchased a private ticket using their VAT ID can cancel that purchase and buy an early bird freelancer ticket instead. We’ll reach out to them.

Entering a company name in the billing details remains reserved for company tickets.

Finally, we acknowledge we should have made the policy clearer (and better) from the start and we’re sorry for the confusion it caused.

We want #eurorust24 to be an inclusive event, attended by people with a variety of backgrounds – we hope this helps achieve that goal!

We’re looking forward to seeing all of you in Vienna this October – whether you’re attending privately, as a freelancer, or as an employee of a company that buys your ticket 🫶 🦀

I'm personally really happy with this outcome, as it clarifies the situation and provides an affordable option for freelancers/self-employed/sole traders/ indies to be included in the community.

I'd like to thank the organizers for putting thought into this and responding in a constructive manner, despite things getting tense for a minute there 🥲

I'd also like to thank everyone who engaged in constructive discussion on Twitter, Mastodon, and Reddit. Special thoughts go to cynical HN commenters who thought I was out for personal gain and that better things weren't possible.

I honestly didn't expect this "campaign" to work at all (Mainmatter could have easily ignored it), but I am, as always, very happy to be proven wrong.

I will see you all in Vienna in October!

The original article is still available below, for reference.

Original article

What is an independent worker?

I've been doing business using my own name for over a decade.

The proper term for my legal situation is Entreprise Individuelle (previously "EIRL"). This is why, when I make a professional purchase, the name of the purchase is "EI-Amos Wenger".

That's also the name on my professional credit card. That card is associated to my professional bank account, which is a legal requirement for doing business as an EI in France.

Even though I have a personal bank account (with its own card) and a professional bank account, there is no such thing as "keeping money in the company".

Any money I make (through donations mostly, YouTube sometimes, occasionally through contract work) is considered revenue, and all of that revenue is taxed, several times: once for social contributions plus everything employers usually pay, and then a second time as income, the part employees usually pay.

As a result, about 50% of my gross revenue is immediately paid to the government as various taxes (more if I've had a good year).

Of whatever is left, a significant amount goes towards upgrading the independent worker's default "social protection" and "retirement fund" to something vaguely approaching what "regular employees" get.

Which is why, if you were to take a look at my accounting statements for the past few years, you might be surprised at some of the high numbers! You may even think that I'm doing pretty well!

Well, are you?

I am!

But those numbers are misleading.

See, I don't need to make your net salary. I don't even need to make your gross salary. I need to make what you cost your employer. And then some, due to the unpredictable nature of contract work and crowdfunding.

There's no severance waiting for me if all my funding pulls out in the same month. It's all savings.

There is a certain level of stress associated with being an independent worker: you're never quite sure if you're going to make it another year.

But there's also freedom in it: freedom of speech, freedom to refuse to work with some people, freedom to explore different topics.

And despite operating with a relatively low budget, and having to carefully consider personal expenses, I am able to afford good equipment, and, occasionally, to travel to some conferences to meet people from the industry, fellow open source maintainers, etc.

As long as it's a professional expense.

Our exchanges so far

So, when EuroRust 2024 was announced, I was really excited to go!

Even though Vienna is not exactly next door, I decided that it was worth investing my own time and money to make connections with fellow members of the Rust community.

Being presented with a choice between these:

I chose the first one. I am an independent worker, paying for my own ticket.

When the payment processing system asked for a legal entity name, I entered "EI-Amos Wenger", which is the name on my professional credit card.

When it offered a "VAT number" input field, I filled in my VAT number, which again, is associated to my Entreprise Individuelle, and which I use all the time for work-related expenses.

And only for work-related expenses. I have an SM7B mic for recording videos: that's a professional expense. I have an AppleTV because I like the ecosystem: that's a personal expense. It's a pretty clear line.

I completed the purchase 2024-02-28.

A month and a half later, on 2024-04-08, I received the following e-mail:

Dear Amos,

I hope you are well!

Mainmatter is the host organization of EuroRust, and we are already looking forward to seeing you in October in Vienna. 🦀

(cont. below)

At this point I was thinking, oh, a personal e-mail? Maybe someone from there recognized my name, I have been a part of the Rust community for a while, what a nice personal gesture.

The e-mail continues:

We want to ensure that we create a unique experience for everyone. This is, of course, linked to certain costs, like for the venue, food, coffee, etc.

Furthermore, we are aiming for this to be a conference for the European Rust community and make sure that everyone can attend by offering two types of tickets - a cheaper option for the ones that have to pay for the ticket from their pocket and a more expensive one where the company is covering the costs.

(cont. below)

Oh. This isn't a nice e-mail. This isn't a nice e-mail at all.

Going through the attendee list, we realized you added company details to the registration form. Before simply canceling your tickets, we wanted to contact you and kindly ask you to cancel your "private tickets" and purchase "company tickets".

Please let us know by the end of this week if there is a misunderstanding, as we'll need to cancel your tickets otherwise.

Many thanks in advance for your understanding!

Best regards, Sarah Lorenz, Director Business Development

So, at this point, it's pretty clear they think I'm trying to cheat the system, by buying a cheaper, "privately paid" ticket, when I'm actually a business.

I attempted a clarification a couple hours later:

Hi Sarah!

I sincerely believe I picked the right option.

The "EI" in "EI-Amos Wenger" stands for "Entreprise Individuelle", I'm not sure what it's called in Germany (note: where Mainmatter, the organizer, is based), but I'm sure you have the same concept ("sole proprietor", "just one person").

The legal status of entreprise individuelles is sorta confusing! I have separate bank accounts for "business matters" and "personal matters", but, for example, I pay taxes on all my revenue, not just the part I "pay myself".

I have a VAT number, and it allows me to make professional purchases, but it's.. it's just me.

When working with, for example, Patreon, GitHub Sponsors and YouTube (my main income sources), everything is filled out as an "individual", because there is no "company" (no "société" in French).

If you look me up on INPI, you'll find me!

(Note: this information has been publicly avilable as part of the "Legal Notice" page on my website for a while now)

But I'm not registered with the "RCS" (registre du commerce et des sociétés) because I'm not an SARL, an SA, or anything: it's.. just me. Making just enough money to pay myself, rent, and, very occasionally, travel + tickets for some conferences to catch up with other Rust contributors.

Let me know if the reasoning makes sense to you. If it doesn't, I may have to reconsider attending.

Cheers, Amos

Quickly after that, Sarah replied:

Hi Amos,

Thanks for your prompt reply.

Yes, unfortunately, as soon as you add a VAT number we have to ask you to purchase a company ticket. The other option is to delete the VAT ID information and the company details.

Let me know how to proceed.

Best regards, Sarah Lorenz, Director Business Development

As this exchange unfolded, I talked about it on social media, as I often do, because it often functions as a reality check. Am I in the wrong after all? Which of us is being unreasonable here?

Some third parties replied on Mastodon & Twitter.

Someone said "Weird, usually conferences PAY famous people to show up!"

Although it's true conferences typically reach out to know if I'd like to give a speech there, I feel like this is irrelevant here.

It would be a pretty poor conference that only treats "famous" (infamous?) independent workers fairly.

Since my Twitter & Mastodon posts started gaining some visibility, Marco Otte-Witte, Mainmatter's founder and managing director, replied directly on both platforms:

We need to draw the line between private and company tickets somewhere – I do agree the line can be a bit blurry in reality but this is what we decided on.

Also I’d argue our private tickets are still pretty cheap

The Mastodon reply included the additional:

– need to subsidize those somehow

And an hour later, on Twitter, some more clarifications:

To be completely clear: the intention is not to accuse you or anyone else of trying to cheat (if it comes across like that, we should definitely change the wording in the email) – we’re merely enforcing a policy we should have made clearer from the beginning

I also noticed that their ticketing page now includes the wording:

(private buyers cannot enter a legal entity name or VAT ID for the billing details).

This wasn't there when I purchased the tickets, to the best of my recollection.

However, this doubling down on "the policy" is, to me, even more insulting than calling me a cheat by e-mail (then clarifying, in public, that they didn't mean to).

It's also making it very clear to me that the people behind EuroRust 2024 do not understand, or care about, small businesses.

To be clear, it is entirely within their rights to do that! It's their conference, they get to set the rules.

But the whole response is frankly, baffling.

First off, I refuse to believe that adding "please don't fill in VAT ID if you pick this option" copy to the pre-checkout page is the best you can do.

If your checkout system doesn't let you hide the VAT ID input, then perhaps you should take it as a hint that... said checkout system understands small business in a way you don't, and you should adapt to it, not the other way around?

Second, I would understand if all of this was an automated system going haywire.

But no!

We have two separate humans here, one directly responsible for enforcing the policy, and the second at the top of the org chart, confirming that yes, they meant for me, personally, because I have a VAT number, to pay 540EUR to subsidize the 180EUR tickets bought by, largely, employees with a tech salary whose employer hasn't specifically approved EuroRust as a work expense.

Makes perfect sense.

But of course, I'm being cheeky here. They didn't actually mean that.

They meant for me to pay 180EUR out of pocket, like other "private buyers" (what the hell does that even mean?? run your copy by a lawyer!), and treat it as a personal expense.

But if I do that, I can't afford to go to EuroRust.

Because if I do that, the whole trip becomes a personal expense, not just the "still pretty cheap" ticket.

The plane tickets (I was actually planning on driving there to save money, and rely on the hospitality of friends somewhere in the middle of the drive), the hotel tickets (good thing I haven't booked anything yet!), the public transportation tickets (conference venues are typically away from affordable hotels), the meals (can't cook in most hotels), etc.

The whole affair, if a personal expense, becomes twice as expensive. And I'm honestly not sure I can afford it at this point.

But of course, of course I got other suggestions. Why not buy a personal ticket, and then immediately reimburse yourself?

And like.

I'm sorry.

First off, in case of tax audit, I want it very clear that the whole thing was a business trip. Having my VAT ID show up on the invoice is a clear indicator that I considered this a work-related expense from the start.

Secondly... how is that better again?

Instead of being upfront with the organizers that I'm not "an employee whose employer didn't agree to pay for my ticket", or "an employee whose employer did agree to pay for my ticket", but that I'm the third option, "a tiny one-person business who paid for my own ticket", and that I'm purchasing the same way I purchase everything work-related...

...I should lie to them, pretend I'm a private person, then reimburse myself?

That doesn't make sense to me.

Please reconsider

Again: it's their event, they're the boss, they can have the policies they like and enforce them however they like.

But is that the message y'all want to send to the Rust community?

Remind me, are you organizing a conference for the language "empowering a subset of people to build reliable and efficient software"? Or that one that empowers everyone?

Big companies' involvement in Rust governance, funding, and open-source contributions has been a topic of discussion and worry among the community for a long while.

Those same big companies consistently make excuses online for failing to fund the very work they rely on, facilitating social attacks like the xz backdoor.

Rust is not immune to these problems. As an individual, independent contributor, it is exceedingly hard to find support and funding. Big companies often offer a full-time job, or nothing, resulting in disproportionate influence from the part of big corporate actors, and independent contributors burning out and retiring.

(Do you like the work being done on rustc's cranelift codegen backend? Do you want to guess how many people work on it and how much money they got for it?)

I don't buy the "we have to draw the line somewhere" reply, by the way. It's a shitty excuse. Nobody is asking you to verify people's net salary, or to collect company financials to decide which ticket price attendees should pay.

Independent worker is a challenging status. It's a lot of paperwork and advocacy. But it's also something the Rust community (and open-source in general) needs a lot more of.

And I'm not talking about just me, of course. I will survive without Rust conferences, and they will thrive without me, no doubt.

But making Rust conferences harder to afford for independents all around the world would be a net loss for the community.

Mainmatter, Marco, I'm urging you to reconsider your policy on this.

Bar me from your events if you want, I understand no one likes bad press, but please: the community deserves better. It deserves events filled with people from a variety of backgrounds, not just the usual suspects.

The Rust community prides itself on being a welcoming place for everyone. You have the chance to honor that commitment. Please take it.

Next day update

The reception for this article has been about what I expected.

Disregarding the folks who think I'm a dirty cheat and I should just cough up the 540EUR since I get to play with all that pre-tax money, there has been some constructive discussion (among third parties).

Similar experiences

Someone mentioned they had a similar experience at EuroRust 2023. The Rust Foundation was funding their trip there. But, to receive the Rust Foundation money legally, they had to funnel it through their legal entity, to pay taxes on it, etc.

So naturally, when they bought their EuroRust ticket, they filled in their VAT ID, and got a similar "stop trying to cheat us" e-mail.

They resolved it by "removing the VAT ID and company billing details" from the ticket/invoice, the same outcome Mainmatter offered me.

Are you a "business" or not?

Things vary a lot across countries, but even some fellow French people were not so sure about my explanations. The confusion stemmed from two distinct legal statuses in France: SASU (société par actions simplifiées unipersonnelle), and EI (entreprise individuelle).

A SASU is incorporated. Its default "régime fiscal" is IS, "impots sur les sociétés". There is a corporation (société), you're immatriculated at RCS, can get a KBIS extract, you get pay stubs and all the benefits of being an employee (in exchange for a lot, a LOT of taxes).

An EI isn't. It's just "doing business in your own name".

Originally, being an independent worker meant you engaged your own personal responsibility and capital, and were at risk of being sued personally.

In 2011, the EIRL status was created, providing partial protection, by making some distinction between "personal and professional assets". The EI status, created in 2022, strengthens that protection.

Still, there is no corporation. Gross revenue is taxed in full. The separation is based on a declaration made by the professional themselves, and I'm assuming, in case of debt or lawsuits, is evaluated by a judge. It has nothing to do with bank accounts or credit cards.

Note that folks under EI can also opt for "IS" (impôt sur les sociétés), and folks under SASU can opt for "IR" (impôt sur le revenu). There's a lot of subtlety on the exact legal status of your entity: it's not "company or not company", it depends on your sector of activity, and a wealth of options you can choose from.

In case you were wondering, yes, accountants are thriving in our country.

So I would say that I am a small business, but I'm not a corporation. SASU are technically corporations, but they typically have low budgets as well, and I also think conferences should let them buy personal tickets.

But of course, again, conferences are free to set their own rules.

Is a VAT ID truly necessary?

There was a long discussion re: why I even needed a VAT number on the invoice.

Well, like the rest, it's complicated!

The short answer is: this is the standard way for anyone "subject to VAT" to make professional purchases. It makes accounting easier, and makes it very clear, during any potential tax audit, that this was in fact a professional purchase.

Sellers doing their due diligence go and check that the VAT number actually exists and corresponds to the person making the purchase, through the VIES Vat number validation portal.

Not every professional purchase I make is from a place that allows me to fill in a VAT number. In this case, in the accounting tool I use, I simply write down how much VAT was charged.

Then, regularly, my accountant submits a VAT declaration with the total amount of VAT I charged my customers (usually nothing, since I work mostly with americans) and the amount of VAT charged to me (usually a bunch, since Amazon for example still charges me for VAT even though they have, and have verified, my VAT ID).

Then the tax authority determines that they owe me money, and they pay me back the excess VAT I paid. If on the contrary, I invoiced a lot of European customers that year, and didn't buy much equipment, then I would owe them money.

In France, it's illegal to send someone an invoice without having your (the seller's) VAT number on them. Also, as of 2026, all inter-company purchases will need to happen through their own portal (that'll be a mess!)

However, It's true that, technically, there's no obligation (in France or elsewhere in Europe) on the part of the seller to have the buyer's VAT ID appear on the invoice.

But it does simplify accounting for the buyer.

And that's why, I learned, the CCC has a special incentive to get companies to buy "business" tickets: sending VAT invoices immediately on purchase.

Personal tickets still get a VAT invoice, but only the day before the event actually starts. Which annoys corporate accounting to no end, encouraging them to buy the expensive business tickets instead.

Other conferences are dealing with the same problem, but one reports having so few "suspicious personal tickets" that investigating them never seemed worth the trouble.

What cheating looks like

In Mainmatter's defense, there is a lot of cheating going on re: companies vs individuals.

Companies love to use contract workers rather than employees whenever they can, even when the contract workers are actually working full-time for the company.

In France, we call this "salariat dissimulé" (covert employment), and this general trend "ubérisation du travail" (since Uber was one of the champions of this technique with drivers, leading to legislative changes across the EU and the rest of the world).

It wouldn't be surprising for those companies to also tell their "covert employees" to just buy the personal ticket to save money, and re-imburse them later.

Maybe that's a problem! And maybe solving that problem does end up making a material difference in the finances of the conference (but god, for their sake, I hope not: I hope corporate sponsors make up the bulk of their budget, rather than tickets).

But it would be really hard to establish that there's cheating happening, right?

Maybe you could go around, looking people up on LinkedIn, looking at their GitHub history, doing some sort of ad-hoc background check, gathering up evidence, until finally you can declare them caught and cancel their tickets!

Does that sound a little creepy? That's because it is.

So their solution is instead to send a "you know what you did" e-mail and hope people tell on themselves. Without doing any investigative work.

Which isn't as creepy. But doesn't solve anything either, and alienates whoever receives that e-mail and was acting in good faith.

So then what's the problem?

At this point, the obvious solution for me is to accept the organizers's suggestion to "remove the VAT ID from the purchase".

But like, this whole situation sucks.

Travelling for conferences is already draining as-is. It's a lot of unfamiliar places, faces, a lot of social interactions whether I want them or not.

(EuroRust 2023 had a "green sticker if you want to talk", "red sticker if you want to be left alone" system, which I thought was great but didn't seem to stop anyone from talking to me when I needed a rest).

The added hostility of that "are you trying to cheat the system" e-mail is seriously making me reconsider the whole thing.

That's why I made this matter public in the first place. Not for me: I can swallow my pride for this one, or simply decide not to attend their conferences.

I'm bringing up this issue, not for me personally, but for everyone else who went through a similar unpleasant experience, being shamed through private e-mails for trying to do their accounting properly.

I fully understand people who'd rather I shut up and just do as I'm told, and I wish them never to be the odd one out in any situation.

Oh, also: instead of taking this public, I could've most probably "used my contacts" to get this matter resolved smoothly privately, solving the problem for myself and no one else. And then no one would have had to read or think about this. I specifically did not want to do that.

Right now I couldn't care less about the money, but I am really upset at the emotional toll this has taken on me. I'm sitting on a pile of technical content I meant to finish this week and all I can think about is how that exchange went.

Oh well.