This week one of our service providers, Chargify, went through a major business model change that shocked their customers and caused quite a stir on the Twitter, TechCrunch and Hacker News. To their credit, they were out engaging early and often trying to quickly make modifications to their new plans to appease their angry customers.
Yesterday Lance Walley, their CEO, posted about why they had to change their prices. Essentially, they had priced themselves into a corner. They worked primarily on a freemium pricing model but with a premium sales and support process. The two don't mix well.
Their original pricing made it very easy for businesses to "try out" their service. Any business could use Chargify to manage up to 50 subscription users for free. After that there were various price plans based on the number of users you had.
We already had a billing system in place before switching to Chargify but Chargify had a lot of features that were really nice, saved us a bunch of time and mode our lives easier. After starting out with the service we eventually became paying customers.
The problem for Chargify was that they experienced all of the costs associated with our account when we were free customers.
Chargify isn't simply a service you turn on and it starts working. Especially if you are going to use their API (which is the approach we took). Working with API's, no matter how good they are, takes time for customers and creates a lot of questions. Organizations that offer API's often have to spend a lot of time answering those questions.
In our early days I had questions about the product and how it worked that were quickly answered by phone, email and Twitter. And I eventually became a paying customer. But according to what Chargify is saying, there were many, many customers that never converted from free accounts to paying accounts, simply because they weren't growing fast enough.
Once again, most of Chargify's support costs were incurred while accounts were free (now that we are a paying account I rarely contact support at all). If your support costs are high for free accounts and very few of those accounts become paid accounts then your business will run into trouble very quickly which is exactly what happened to Chargify.