TL;DR: Our experience shows that having a Free plan has a great positive effect on our service though, of course, there are some minor downsides.
One year ago we launched our service to the public out of closed beta it was for almost a year. Among many things we introduced to the public was a Free plan — an option that allows to use our service without paying us a dime.
There were some doubts whether we should do this or not. Honestly, we were a bit afraid of the consequences it might have caused us. We as well knew that in the world of SaaS-startups this isn’t a popular option. More over, some even highly disapprove it.
Well, one year after we can say that it was an absolutely right decision to make. And here is why.
On the edge of our launch we had a bit less than 100 premium users and about a total of 500 users who went through the trial version. We did our best to listen to all of them but, unfortunately, not that many were eager to share their opinions. Usually only few percent of your users are open enough to tell you all about what they like & what they don’t.
After we introduced a Free plan, the number of users began to grow significantly, reaching almost 10'000 this March. So, now, even the same percent of those ready-to-talk customers means much more to us than before. This feedback helped us to learn more of what our users are looking for, their expectations & needs. It as well revealed a lot of bugs, misconceptions and flaws in our service which we could have missed on a smaller scale.
And growing number of users as well lead to a better knowledge of our service within the mobile dev community. We were lucky enough to create something that users like and so they constantly share their experience with colleagues and friends.
We thank all and each of our customers for every day they spend with our service.
As I mentioned above, we started to get a lot of feedback on our service. At first it was a bit of chaos as we wanted to help every customer & were eager to develop every feature we had few votes for. But quickly enough we understood that this approach will lead to clusterf•ck and we started to change.
And the main change came from the way we started ask ourselves what should we do next. It was pretty easy to answer this question when you have 100 customers. It’s much more trickier if you have 1'000. It’s even more trickier with 10'000 of them & I can only imagine how tricky it will be with 100'000 users on board. But we’re looking forward to meet all users we can as we will learn a lot from them.
And not only about what features to build but how to optimise the code, how to make things scalable at ease. How to manage the support of all this users. How to teach them use our service. And there are plenty more questions that still wait for their answers.
To say it shortly — we’re constantly learning how to make proper decisions.
PRO: Long tale
AppFollow helps developers run their mobile application by automating daily routines of collecting & analysing data streams. Every month we do our best to introduce new features & products that can help even more.
But users come & go. If we limit them with a short trial, they might not get what they need even if the trial is one month long. Simply because the needed feature is coming next quarter. Or may be it’s not coming at all as we don’t have a significant number of requests for it.
Nothing is constant. All of a sudden we’re hearing requests for the feature we were not considering implementing before. If on a trial, you risk loose all those customers but with a Free plan they most likely will stay with you anticipating these changes. Or their needs might shift if the app starts to grow or more & more competitors are invading the market.
And that can be the moment of switch. Roughly 30% of our premium customers convert between 3rd & 6th month of using the service. I wouldn’t want to loose any of them.
So, at the end our patience is of great service to us.
I mentioned few downsides, so it would be honest to mention them & as well describe how we solve them.
More users need more servers. 100 premium ones fitted one server. Trial users were on the other. And that was it. We didn’t even had a test server at that time. As we quickly began to grow, we needed more and more capacity for the new users & their data.
A solution we found turned out to be very simple — we applied for a Startup quota on IBM SoftLayer and for one year we could have enough servers without actually paying for them. And the future need to pay pushed us a lot to earn enough to do it.
Same goes for some other services we use, e.g. Intercom, and with the same outcome — just learn how to cover these costs and as well how to use this services to their maximum.
CONTRA: Expanding team
As the number of users was growing we found ourselves spending more & more time on their support instead of devoting ourselves to the product. So, at some point we understood we need to change this & we started to hire new people: developers —so we can deliver more & in the shorter periods of time and customer support — to deal with the our users’ issues on a daily basis.
Well, there is no clear solution for that except “earn more” but I already expressed it. At the end of last Spring we raised some angel investments so we can actually hire new people. That’s why this costs were already in our budget. So, real solution here was planning — we knew this was coming on us and we got prepared.