Last week I received an email from the folks over at Beeminder announcing the launch of a subscription membership. As a long time user of Beeminder and a vocal fan they asked me if I was interested in signing up.
Free isn’t sustainable
The short history of the web is littered with examples of companies that built legions of users with a free service only to struggle later to convert that traffic into profits. It often seems that making a profit is a secondary thought to delivering a valuable service.
But someone has to write the code. Someone has to come up with the idea, develop the product, and find and train the users. And what do we do? As soon as they start to charge we switch to the newest guy offering a similar service for free.
We have gotten so used to free that when someone eventually asks us to pay for their service we get turned off. Many sites try to avoid this conversation all together by filling their site with ads, marketing their user’s private data, or selling out to a larger company.
Will pledges pay the bills?
I have been a Beeminder user for over a year and a half and when I stay on track with my goals it is a free service. I have paid a handful of pledges when I derailed on goals but as the pledge amounts increased my adherence to the yellow brick road improved and my payments decreased.
You see, Beeminder is a victim of its own success. The Beeminder team hoped that the payment of pledges would support their business but they didn’t anticipate that their biggest users would just increase their pledges to a level that motivates them to avoid derailing and having to pay any pledges.
Achieve your goals now!
This isn’t a late night infomercial on how to lose weight or get in shape. This isn’t another self-help book that will make you feel good without motivating you to actually make changes. Beeminder is the real deal and it can help you actually achieve your goals.
So here we have a wonderful service that has been created, developed, and supported by a smart and passionate team. They are doing everything they can to make it a service that people will love to use and share with their friends and networks. They are building a service that truly has the capacity to help people make real change in their life.
The cold hard truth
Unfortunately they aren’t making that much money. Daniel says that they are “midway between ramen-profitability and day-job equivalency.” I don’t know the details of their costs but I do know that Daniel and Bethany have been working full-time on this project for at least two years now so they have made significant personal investments to this project.
This is the most intimately involved I have been with an online service going through this transition. As they struggle to figure out their revenue model I can’t help wondering to myself, “what if Beeminder has to shut down because they aren’t making enough money?”
It isn’t business, it’s personal
I could try to rationalize how I value the motivation I receive way higher than the monthly subscription. I could try to explain how paying the Beeminder team to track my data and keep me on track is no different than paying a coach to do the same. I could try to describe why their particular mix of self-tracking and commitment contracts is the perfect recipe for success.
Those are perfectly rational reasons why current and future Beeminder users should consider signing up for the membership. While they factor into my decision they are not my primary driver.
The truth is that I don’t want to live in a world without Beeminder. I feel like I know the founders (even though I have only exchanged a handful of emails with them) and I believe in their mission to help each of their users achieve their goals.
That is why I have decided to invest in Beeminder and become a paying subscriber.