Francesco Di Lorenzo

Mailbrew Diary #5: Monetization

Mar 21, 2020

Mailbrew‘s monetization changed many times since we started working on the project. We never iterated on monetization this much, despite knowing full well that it can make or break a product.

For reference, Boxy Suite, another project of ours, launched almost 2 years ago with a yearly $49 subscription and that price is still the same today. Not iterating on it is one of the biggest missed opportunities on that project revenue-wise.

Before I dive down on all the monetizations we explored for Mailbrew, it may be useful to look at our pricing page.

The product is currently paid, with a single $10/m plan offered after a 3-week free trial (no credit card required).

Free Trial: with or without credit card

As with most pricing decisions there is no right or wrong answer that applies to all products.

We believe Mailbrew is pretty unique, and that most of our users have never used something like it, so they need time to see if it’s for them. For this reason we started with a credit-card-less free trial of 2 weeks, later extending it to 3 weeks. We are currently debating whether to go to 1 month. This may sound over-confident, but we are dogfooding the product and know it’s great, in fact we have been using it every single day for 4 months (when it was just a rough prototype).

We ran a brief test, making the credit card required to start the free trial, but it led to some people “upgrading” just because they forgot to cancel after the 3 weeks. We didn’t like that and felt that many more people would subscribe (willingly) if we let them try the product first without too much friction.

Multiple Plans: when to add them

We started by having multiple paid plans:

  • Basic ($5/m): it offered Reddit + RSS sources with just one weekly brew.
  • Starter ($10/m): it offered all our sources (except Twitter Search), with up to 10 brews on any schedule.
  • Pro ($15/m): it offered unlimited brews and the Twitter Search source, a source that could be used for brand monitoring on Twitter, a clearly pro use case.
  • Creator ($99/m): “fake” plan we didn’t actually offer, just to see if it could be interesting to some people.

This monetization was a mess. These plans weren’t clearly thought out, and in retrospect we put them together by slicing the features we had built by then. We came to this decision because we wanted to offer more to users willing to pay for it. Our heart was in the right place and we may eventually come back to a pricing like this, but the product needs to evolve and the plans need to be better differentiated, each one with a clear target customer in mind.

We kept this monetization for more than a month, in the final part of our private beta. When we discontinued it, most of the users were on the Starter plan, some of them on the Basic, just one (hi Pat 👋) on the Pro plan. We needed to simplify things.

Free Plan: 180

Before launch, we changed monetization again.

We got rid of the $15/m Pro plan, made the $5/m Basic plan free and moved to a single paid $10/m plan offering all our features. This is the monetization we launched with.

Removing the Pro plan made sense, no one was choosing it, but making the Basic plan free was a mistake. With such a generous credit-card-less free trial (3 weeks), we saw that users were engaging and sharing the product a lot in the first/second week or usage. If we didn’t convince a user that Mailbrew was great by the third week, they were likely starting to treat the service as just another newsletter, something we are not particularly enthusiastic about.

As more seasoned SaaS veterans told us, the free plan is a growth strategy and if it’s not bringing new users in, it becomes an unnecessary baggage.

Removing the free plan made sense because:

  • It allowed us to simplify the product, no more upgrade banners and features locked in the web app.
  • No more thousands of users to support, just the ones that decided to pay.
  • Most of the viral benefits that we thought we could only get with a free plan were happening in the first or second week of trial.
  • We are bootstrapped and need the cash to sustain ourself and run the service. Our free plan was too generous and we strongly suspect many people didn’t upgrade to the paid plan because of it.

Needless to say, we removed the free plan and are now invested in making the product better for the people that enjoy it enough to pay. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think we made the right call.

Where to go from here

Our monetization is still a work in progress and we will revisit many of these decision in the future. One key piece of advice I can give you is to be open and honest with your users when making changes. Our experience is that most of them will be supporting and understanding, so there is no reason to be a jerk.

If your monetization doesn’t work, change it until it does.