For some people, freemium is a religion. I’m not one of those people.
I don’t care about the philosophy behind the concept. I only care whether or not it works. And that’s exactly what we’re striving to figure out at Wynter with our newly launched free plan. I’m going to tell you why—and how—and hopefully, provide some inspiration for anyone thinking about making the leap.
Why a free plan?
Branding is a kind of through line that connects Wynter’s mission and the concept of a free plan. With Wynter, we’re building the world’s best B2B panel with a software layer on top to allow customers to connect to the panel for fast, easy go-to-market intel on branding and messaging. As a 3x entrepreneur—CXL, Speero, and now Wynter—I know first-hand how hard it is to win on innovation. If you build something that works, the copycats will come out of the woodwork.
Having a strong product or a broad feature set isn’t enough. You really have to win on brand. And, if you look at brand, it bill down to a few key elements:
- Positioning — Who are you built to serve? What’s your use case? Who is your target audience, and what do they want?
- Messaging — What are you telling the market? What do you stand for?
- The Stories You Tell — What stories are you telling about your product, your company, and—most importantly—your customers?
Wynter enables fast, in-depth customer intelligence that helps companies get valuable feedback on these exact branding elements. So, it made sense that of our three primary motivations for launching the new plan, building brand awareness was the first.
1. Brand awareness
Word of mouth is arguably the most powerful channel, especially for a startup. But, to reap the benefits of this channel, it has to be super easy for people to get into your product and experience it themselves. A free plan lowers the barriers to entry so that as people discover your product, there’s nothing to stop them from trying it out.
Experts often talk about the importance of differentiation in the market. There’s no question that standing apart from the crowd is important, but brand awareness and market penetration are even more important. It’s not enough that people know you exist, they need to be able to associate you with a specific use case. That’s how you get into their consideration set. A free plan is a very effective way to not only increase general awareness, but also connect the dots between what prospects need and what you provide.
2. Willingness to pay
Wynter’s pricing model is based on charging to recruit panels, not on our software. This is why our free plan allows users to run all kinds of studies using our software as long as they bring their own panel. The result of this arrangement is that we’re able to demonstrate just how hard it is to recruit a panel.
Most people have never recruited their own panel before, and they have no idea how challenging the task actually is. Once they have to build a panel on their own to use Wynter’s free version, they suddenly perceive the value we provide and are more willing to pay for it. It’s real-life, first-hand validation of our value proposition.
We emphasize both the user challenge and Wynter’s value in a follow-up email that we send out after a new user launches a test on the free plan. We point out that if they had used our premium panel, they could have built their panel in less than 48 hours. It’s a real eye opener.
3. Wide top of funnel
As a startup, we’re still building out our panel, so it doesn’t yet include every single title and industry. In the past, if someone came to us with a very specific audience need—Hollywood producers or shipping industry warehouse maintenance engineers, for example—we might have had to turn them away because we didn’t yet have those people. The free plan allows them to still use our platform as long as they provide their own panel, so we don’t lose the opportunity to build a relationship.
How we got here, and how we’re moving forward
When we first discussed the possibility of launching a free plan, we made it very clear that a) this is an experiment, and b) if the experiment fails, we can do away with it and move on to the next thing. There are no sacred cows here.
With that mindset, we began exploring the different ways of structuring the free plan. We considered time-based and usage-based models. We also debated about whether offering all the software functionality was an overly generous offer that might backfire in some way. (We’ve seen other companies, like Evernote, struggle with that mistake, and it’s a hard one to rectify.)
In the end, we determined that our number one priority was simple: Remove as many obstacles as possible and reduce friction as much as possible. The clear winner to serve this goal was a totally free option.
Now, most of our time and resources are going into optimizing the free plan and helping users realize value. In a perfect world, I’d put a separate product team and product manager on the whole free-plan experience, but we don’t yet have that luxury. So, for now, our team is staying 100% committed to seeing this experiment through.
A big part of this commitment is providing education and support for panel recruitment—helping users recruit their own panel so they can be as successful as possible with the free plan. To this end, we provide templates to send to email lists, we’ve added more triggered messages to provide overall guidance throughout the process, and we’re sharing tips on topics like where to find panelists and how to incentivize them.
How we’re measuring success
The metrics a company uses to measure the success of a free plan will be unique to each particular situation based on the audience, the product value, and other variables. At Wynter, we’re looking at:
- User Sign-ups (which have increased consistently and continuously since the launch)
- Free Test Launch Rate (because this is the next step after sign up)
- Successful Panel Recruitment Rate
- Paid-to-free Conversion (how many users launch a paid test after launching a free test)
With these KPIs in mind, we’re very intentional and proactive about moving users through a specific sequence of events. For example, the first login experience after sign up takes a user directly to a test set-up flow rather than the default product dashboard. This drops them directly into the workflow for setting something, and encourages them to do so immediately.
Our product team plays a central role and is accountable for making sure we hit our target metrics. This arrangement is a little unusual since a lot of traditional product teams are uncomfortable and/or unfamiliar with having commercially oriented goals, but our company culture is all about revenue. Our internal team conversations always revolve around revenue topics, so having product closely involved with meeting those goals works for our team.
Final words of advice – 3 universal keys to success
Each company is a little different, but there is some universal advice that can help any organization thinking about offering a free plan.
1. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes.
The process of using sales-led funnels and forcing customers to go through SDRs and qualification meetings is swiftly becoming a thing of the past. It adds way too much friction in a world that’s built on instant gratification.
Providing a friction-free, humane way for people to experience your product—and your product’s value!—is better for customers and better for your business. It makes customers happy and gives them a good feeling about your company. At the same time, it cuts down on costs and hassle, increases trials and brand awareness, and shortens the time-to-value.
2. Figure out your unique value and build your free plan around that
To differentiate successfully, you need a really good handle on your unique strengths so that you can create an offer that builds on those strengths. For Wynter, our strength is in the panel. Early on, we considered the option of offering one free test using our panel, but the unit economics didn’t work out. Letting a prospect use our software doesn’t really cost us anything; but there are actual hard costs (and monetary risks) associated with delivering a “free” panel.
In our case, making our software free to use in a bring-your-own-panel scenario reduces all our risks without limiting the chances that someone will try our platform. And, as I’ve already mentioned, this plan also creates the opportunity for the user to experience first-hand the hardships of assembling a panel, which predisposes them to outsource that task to us next time.
3. Go all in
Finally, once you’ve decided to move ahead with a free plan, you’ve got to commit all the way. You can’t half-ass this. If you just dip your toes in, you won’t really learn anything. You need to make the decision and then see it through. All the way through.
There is always going to be a tug-of-war around any big strategic decision, but at the end of the day you have to place your bet and stand by it.
And then, after you’ve given it your all and a fair run, if the experiment doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, you can just change it up.
Either way, you will have learned a lot, and moved your company forward. There’s really no way to lose.