Archive for the ‘Product’ Category

The Freemium Myth – more data

My last post with some thoughts on product pricing has received a ton of traffic, comments and email. Clearly this topic is one that a lot of entrepreneurs care about (and struggle with). A few people pointed me to a great post by Ruben Gamez of Bidsketch on the Software by Rob blog that talks about freemium plans and why, in Ruben’s view, they aren’t always drive the results companies are looking for. It maps well to my thinking (I directly called the freemium model into question in my pricing post). There’s some great data in the post – definitely read the full thing. Here’s a few that caught my eye:

Bidsketch started out with a freemium model. Ruben carefully documents their early success with this (by early, he’s referring to a weeks, not months) and their challenge only a few months after launch of a sub 1% upgrade rate and rapidly increasing support challenges (they had a huge user-base – just not one that was paying). And then he did something “radical” – and completely got rid of the free version. This change led to an 10x increase in paid conversions.

Jason Fried from 37signals had a similar experience. “…the majority of people who are on pay started on pay…” he says. And by correlation, most people who start on free stayed on free.

CrazyEgg doubled their revenue the month they dropped their free plan.

We’ve had similar experiences with companies in our universe that struggled with freemium pricing plans. And while there are clearly companies that have made a success out of offering a free service to a large percentage of their user base and charging the few that are willing to pay (including some very successful ones in our own portfolio) I’m hoping that more companies at least consider that their best pricing plan may not need to include “free”.

August 19th, 2010     Categories: Company Creation, Marketing, Product    

Pricing models, the freemium myth and why you may not be charging enough for your product

image I’ve been pulled into a number of product and pricing meetings recently (for reasons unknown I’ve become the Foundry pricing and productization guy). I thought it would be helpful to put some of my thoughts into a blog post and hopefully spur some conversation in the comments and over email. With any broad topic, there are always exceptions to the general rules. There are also few absolutes and much of this advice varies depending on your specific product and market. And keep in mind here that I’m dealing generally with web services of some kind in the advice below (not consumer apps and not enterprise software). With those caveats, here are some ideas on pricing models:

– Beware of too many pricing tiers. Relative simplicity is helpful in many things related to building companies and pricing models are no exception. As it relates to pricing tiers, I favor fewer pricing levels. More tiers = more complication = more confusion. It also makes you more likely to violate some of the other ideas below. I generally like 3 or 4 product tiers plus one “call us for enterprise pricing” tier.

– Have a clear delineation between product tiers. Many companies initially offer a base level that includes all of the features of their product and then offer a little more of each feature at various incremental pricing levels. For some relatively straightforward services this can make sense (think Basecamp where your sales pitch is about offering more of a relatively defined thing, that everyone pretty much understands and values, and generally will want more of as they use the product more). For most products, however, this is a bad idea. For starters, most companies vastly overestimate their prospective customers’ ability to understand the features of their product (thinking the value of each feature is self evident). It also complicates the buying process as prospective customers try to figure out how much of each of those great features you’ve developed they want, and doesn’t create clear delineations between pricing tiers. While there are some features in almost any product that need to be priced this way, I generally favor opening up some number of completely new features with each pricing increment (say an analytics layer or workflow module, etc.). This has the side benefit of giving you lots of nice ways in your product itself to promote higher tiered features (think grayed out features – “click here to upgrade!”). It also makes the upper tier value propositions relatively straightforward – want X feature? You’ll need to purchase the Silver package for that.

How about overlay features that you charge by the drink for? Many companies have parts of their product which some advanced users may want to access at every product level (API level access being a pretty obvious example). In these cases (and to be clear, these should be product features that a subset of your customer base is looking for – if not, they should likely fall into your regular pricing tiers) I think it’s fine to have an overlay where you charge incrementally to the base price of each tier ($X for every 1000 API calls or something similar).

Be careful what you put a tariff on. You should understand very clearly what drives your own costs as you start to matrix out your pricing so you know what user behaviors cost you money. You should also understand (by talking to early users) what drives customer adoption, usage and lock-in of your product. And with all that in mind, be careful what you chose to put a tax on. There’s no hard and fast rule here and this is a nuanced conversation that’s hard to generalize and put into writing. But remember that your pricing will effect your customer’s behavior around your product. And I’ve found that many companies make the mistake of charging for features that are the key lock-in points for customers in their early use of a product and in so doing actually limit their likelihood of getting enough value out of the product that results in their becoming a long term user. To be clear, you should try to align (but not necessarily match exactly) customer value to customer cost. But not at the expense of lock-in. To keep on the Basecamp example, note that they allow for unlimited users at even the base pricing level. They (correctly) realized that while they could have easily charged for this they’re better off getting as many people in an organization using the product as possible.

The freemium myth. I’ve been a great beneficiary of freemium models (as both a consumer and an investor) but I think for many companies the freemium model doesn’t make sense. If your product offers value out of the gate, if your service is such that it doesn’t necessarily benefit by having a large volume of users (and back-end data aggregation is probably not that benefit, which I point out since I often hear it used to justify fremium models for companies that in my mind shouldn’t have them), if you are selling largely to enterprises (companies) – you may not be the right candidate for a freemium model. I know it’s in vogue and I know that your product is so cool if only you could get a million people using it you’d blow past the typical freemium upgrade rates of 1-3%. But in all likelihood if you’re offering a product of value that’s well thought through, well designed and well architected, you’ll make more money by simply charging for your service out of the gate. (Note that I’m really not talking about consumer oriented applications here, where freemium models tend to make more sense)

Don’t be afraid to charge for your product. The other benefit of not going down the freemium path is that avoids another common mistake companies often make which is not charging enough for their product. When you’re jumping from “free” to “something” that something often needs to be relatively modest – after all you don’t want to scare customers off and you do need enough of them to pay something in order to stay in business. But the reality is that if you have a good product, many users who will pay “something” will pay more than you think for your product. Put another way, those that get value out of what you do get enough value to be willing to pay a meaningful amount of money for it. You may lose a few people at the low end, but many products have a lower price elasticity than their creators realize. I’ve watched many companies spend untold cycles trying to raise the price of their product after initially setting prices so low that they essentially commoditized what they do. It’s also worth noting that if you get it wrong it’s a lot easier to lower prices than to raise them. And to be perfectly clear, I’m generally not a fan of the $19.99 entry price point for a product/service sold to business users. You can charge more. And you should.

Beware the long “trial” period. I’ve written about this before. I think most companies offer too long a trial period for their product. Just like most customers who will pay for a product will pay more for that product, most trial users who will eventually become customers at 30 days will do so at 14 days. The idea here is to give people enough time to see how awesome you are but not too much time to change their minds or to forget about you. There was a great debate about this question when I wrote about it last time and I still haven’t found any academic research to back up my hypothesis, but that’s my opinion.

Hopefully some of these ideas will be helpful to you. Maybe a few will be provocative (as always, let me know!). I do recommend that companies working on their product pricing matrix spend plenty of time with customers to understand how they are using their product. It’s also helpful to bounce pricing ideas off of not just your early customers but also some trusted advisors who are not as close to what you’re doing. Getting a fresh set of eyes on your feature set is a good way to avoid drinking too much of your own cool-aid when it comes to your view of the ease with which potential customers will understand your value and pricing matrix.

August 12th, 2010     Categories: Marketing, NexGen Web, Product    

Killer UI

One of the companies I work with is in need of some first class UI help. Ideally we’d like someone who has a great design aesthetic and who also can code that design in Ruby or PHP.  However for the moment we can use someone with the former talent (who can wire frame up their work which we can then get coded) since we’re looking to get our basic prototype up and running. The company is based on Boulder, but the designer doesn’t necessarily have to be local.  Email me directly if you’re interested (or know someone who is).

November 11th, 2008     Categories: Product    

Sonos keeps getting better

If you’ve read this blog for a while you’ll know that Sonos is one of my favorite all time inventions.  For those of you living in a closet, Sonos is a system that allows for wireless streaming of music throughout your home with the ability to separately control dozens of music "zones".  You can easily stream music from various online sources (or your own music library) and their controller makes it easy to create play-lists, cue up music and play different tunes in different parts of your house.  If you have ears, you should own one of these.

Last week Sonos announced a bunch of new features – free integration with Pandora (I was already paying for this – it my be the single best feature of the entire system), more internet radio options, integration with and … the ability to turn your iPhone into a Sonos controller (seriously cool).


November 2nd, 2008     Categories: Product, Technology    

Your chance to play designer

If you’re like me, you spend most of your days pining away for the life that would have been had you followed your true passion into product management and design.  Ok – I’m being flip, but we all have opinions on the way the sites we visit look, feel and work.  So here’s your chance to weigh in on an important design decision and help out a Foundry investment in the process.

Lijit is coming out with a new thumbnail feature in their search results (very cool) and can’t decide how to best lay out those results with the picture.  So they’ve tossed it out to their user base (and other interested – or at least opinionated – parties).  So if you have a second stop by their blog and vote on your favorite design.

May 10th, 2008     Categories: General Business, Marketing, Product    

Know what you don’t know

[see the bottom of this post for an invite code to a new service that helps solve the problem I’m describing here]

It’s probably passe to say that we live in an information economy.  It’s also probably not correct anymore because really we live in an information NOW economy.  Staying on top of the topics that are important to you and your company has never been more important.  And with the explosion of media sources (particularly on-line) this has never been more of a challenge. 

Back in the day, large companies would outsource the function of knowing what was said of them and their competitors to various "clipping services", so named because they would line up the major new outlets of the day (mostly the large daily newspapers and national magazines) and literally clip out the stores that were of interest to their clients with scissors.  Every week they’d compile these clippings into a briefing and ship it off to their client.  These services weren’t very efficient and they were extremely expensive, but there was little other choice.  While these services have evolved in more recent years to incorporate technology, they’re still expensive and for the most part involve some 3rd party culling through the data to sort for relevance. 

Google Alerts is the most notable exception here – they’ve developed a service that in theory will let you know when any particular key word (really any search string) is crawled by Google spiders.  However in my experience Google Alerts quickly falls down. For starters, I get relatively few hits across my keywords and most of the hits I get are repeat ones (I can’t understand this at all – with probably 60 keywords I get almost no alerts and while I share keywords with some of my colleagues I rarely am sent the same hits that they are). I have other friends with the opposite problem with Alerts – their inbox is flooded with responses.  In some cases so much so that they had to turn the service off completely.  There’s also no good way to aggregate these alerts into any kind of trend data or manipulate them, group them, etc. 

Enter Filtrbox.  Filtrbox was one of last year’s TechStars companies and the the one with which I worked most closely (after the summer TechStars program I participated in their angel financing round).  They’ve developed a system that if you had to describe it in a single sentence is "Google Alerts on steroids".  That said, it’s almost unfair to compare the two as Google Alerts just isn’t designed to provide users with the accuracy, level of coverage, ability to tune and provide feedback to alert terms and the overall representation of data that Filtrbox provides – even now in the relatively early version of the Filtrbox platform.  Filtrbox allows me to set up a series of "filtrs" that contain various keywords so that I can organize the things I’m looking to track.  Every morning I get a "daily briefing" email that lists all the hits from the last 24 hours and online I can use their dashboard to see up-to-date hits in list and graphical form, manipulate the data, adjust the sensitivity of the report (so I see fewer, but more directly relevant hits) and tune the system by providing it feedback on the information it provides me.  Below is a snapshot of their dashboard to give you a sense of what I see every day (in true Web 2.0 fashion, everything in the image below will give me more information as I mouse over it and I can adjust the data I’m seeing on the fly by checking and unchecking keywords or entire filtr groups or adjusting the sensitivity (the slider in the top center of the page).


The service is in private beta, but they’ve given me an invite code that I can use to let people try the system out.  For smaller users, the service will be free (you’re limited in the number of keywords you can use and by the length article history).  For larger users there will be paid "pro service" ($20/month) and for teams of users a group account that enables some additional sharing and other group related functions (for $100/month for the team).  You can sign up for the beta at  If I’ve run out of invites, drop me a line and I’ll try to make more available. 

April 11th, 2008     Categories: Product, Technology