May 22nd, 2014. Our first user created a GetSocial account. We still remember that day as the beginning of something we weren't sure about. The team had come from a failed 9-month long experience in eCommerce tech. Motivation wasn't at the top but we wanted to build something new, something great.
This was the day GetSocial.io opened its beta to the world. This was the day our first user registered. Today, this user is a paid customer and he has been for the last two and a half years. Perhaps that was a sign of what we should have sought for: customers. To make things easier, though, we went after users.
When products launch, we tend to make their usage as seamless as possible. "If we have people using the product they will give us feedback so we can improve. Once we improve, we can charge for the product" - this would be something to be heard at our office back then. Most likely by me.
So, two and a half years ago, we launched GetSocial as a free product. Turning the year to 2015 we launched our first paid plan. This started a whole new era: the conversion era. Our work doubled. Not only we were trying to find new users but also converting them (and the existing ones) to paid customers.
I won't lie: we haven't had much success. Since May 22nd, 2014, we're proud to say 125.188 websites registered on GetSocial. Out of them, 1.639 turned to customers. That leaves us with 123.549 free souls that (1) haven't paid for GetSocial and (2) most likely will never do.
Now, an interesting question: what do 123.549 people have in common? I'll cut any suspense created: support needs. But we'll get over there in a bit.
As you may have imagined by now, the purpose of this post starts with an announcement. We will drop our free plan on Feb 14th, 2017. This limitation will be applied to both new and existing accounts.
And I'd like to share a few reasons we will do so.
(1) Our business model is the product, not data.
GetSocial is a content analytics platform. We help marketers and publishers measure, promote and amplify their best content. This means that we generate a lot of data of every interaction happening on our users & customers websites.
Now, free users don't have access to this data. After all, they're not paying for it. Yet, GetSocial is not selling data from the tens of million of people our software (somewhat) tracks. This data is owned by our customers who use our platform to access it.
Because we don't have any side business model (nor we want to), there's no value for the company to support these users.
(2) Our Free plan is undifferentiated from its competition
If you're using GetSocial for free, you're only using our social sharing tools. We have made a tremendous effort in making those as light & flexible as possible. We spent a considerable amount of time developing them, making them as you wanted them to be.
But, truth be told, these are (just) social sharing tools. Big companies with alternative business models offer them for free. AddThis, ShareThis, AddToAny are all good examples. How is a 4-person team like ours supposed to compete, on a free product, with 150+ people companies? It can't. It's a mug's game.
(3) Software eats the world. Free users eat Hugo.
I could say "Support team", but that's Hugo. He normally tells users that he's there for them from 7 AM to 2 AM. It swiftly came to me that wasn't good, for anyone.
Hugo handles support for 123.549 users. That's completely impossible to manage. Yet, the guy does it at a remarkable pace (and quality!).
And this wouldn't be too much of a problem should we convert these folks to customers. But we don't. Over time we have discovered that the free user enjoys its status. Moreover, she usually joins because it was free. For us, that should be the last motivation a user before to creating an account.
(4) Our freemium strategy works: by bringing more free users.
We had that genius though in the early days. Freemium model would bring users. A good chunk of those would convert to a paid customer. So the equation was easy to solve: fill the top of the funnel, convert, profit.
There's one thing we could prove, I'll tell you. We could definitely fill the top of the funnel. In fact, 150-300 people still join us every single day. The problem? It's likely that 99% of them are free users.
That said, our conclusion is that we've created an organic growth engine that keeps generating free users. Users that don't hold any value to us, any more than support needs and feature requests.
Which brings me to...
(5) Feedback: you get what you give.
We receive a lot of requests and ideas from our users. Over time, we find that this feedback has helped us build a better product. We improve features, we create new experiences and we help these folks improve. But while users' feedback helps us build a better product, customers' help us build a better business.
You see, anyone can be a user. But the few who convert are quite similar amongst themselves. Because of that, it's easy for us to gather their feedback, 'productize' it, add value and thus charge more.
It seems only logical to us that we are closer to those providing feedback on things they'd be willing to pay for.
(6) We want to build a sustainable business
We're a small team. All our focus should be towards building a better business for us, our customers and our investors. Making this decision will give us more time to focus on what matters. We want to keep developing a product that can shape the media industry. A product helping publishers create better and more sustainable businesses.
Long story short, we're dropping our free plan next month (Febraury 2017). We'll still provide small test accounts (up to 5k visits) for smaller websites. Once they grow enough, if they see enough value, they can subscribe to a paid plan. We'll also provide free, no credit card needed, trials for every paid plan.
On the next blog post, our new plans will be introduced and explained.
We sincerely hope you understand our decision. It's a step forward to make GetSocial a better, more sustainable company.