I can speak for the three of us when we say that we want to keep NodeBB free, but speaking for myself, when I say "free", I mean "free" as in free speech, libre. The core of NodeBB will always be that way, as that is what drives value and adoption.
I will admit that there is a lost segment that we cannot capture. Our hosting service works with admins who do not want to deal with the technical aspects of NodeBB/VPS administration, and costs money. Our self-hosted option works best with admins who already have that technical knowledge. Either way, we lose those admins who like the software, have no technical knowledge, and do not have the spending power to afford a hosted NodeBB.
Part of the reason why NodeBB is as fast as it is is it's* technology choices, and those choices are not widely adopted by the hosting segment. It will be a matter of time before hosting providers integrate Node.js into their offerings, just as Wordpress and Drupal were not "one-click installable" when they were first released.
While I am more than happy to encourage users to try installing NodeBB on their own, we cannot provide continued support since we have very limited manpower, but that is where our community comes in! People helping each other debug and install their NodeBBs is fantastic, and is beneficial in the long run.
For those who are technologically inclined, Digital Ocean seems to be a very good and very economical choice. In the short/medium term, we may attempt to reach out and facilitate easier installs through pre-configured images.
* Wow, first time I've said "it is is it's". Neat.