About two months ago I was convinced the best way to grow StartupToDo.com was to go to a simple 30 day trial and then subscribe. That meant ditching my ‘get them to sign up through Amazon and then start their subscription if they didn’t cancel during the 7 day trial’ approach.
After all, free is good, 30 day trials are something of a standard in this industry, and while S2D was growing, I wanted to see it grow faster.
Two months later, membership had doubled – but conversions of new members to paid members are down from 20% to barely 1%.
What went wrong?
The non-action commitment
The core problem I think is that joining StartupToDo.com went from a commitment to doing something to something that looked like doing something. It’s one thing when you spend money – even if we’re talking a little money. You want to get your money’s worth – and that means using the tool or service you paid for. I made it too easy – to do something by signing up that in and by itself didn’t accomplish squat.
When the price is free, it’s way too easy to assume that signing up is the same as getting down to work. Case in point: I signed up for a free account at 37signals Highrise because I wanted to finally start managing my business contacts. Three months later I’ve done zip with it.
Now 37signals can afford to have hundreds of thousands of users making non-action commitments, so long as thousands actually start using and paying for their products. That’s the freemium model. For mass Internet consumer software, one or two percent paid users is doing great, and good startup founders obsess about moving that conversion rate tenths of a percentage rate – just ask Evernote CEO Phil Libin.
But that’s not what I’m trying to build.
The courage of your mistakes.
StartupToDo.com won’t work as a freemium play. What it has worked as is a premium play – with fewer features, content, ease of use than it has now. That’s the cold, hard stats. So later this week after I finish a couple of new features, I’m reverting StartupToDo.com to new members make a commitment by providing Amazon their billing info and then have 21 days to rethink their commitment.
Having the courage of your convictions is a good thing. But having the courage of your mistakes – admitting you were wrong and pivoting your direction – is a harder, better thing.


  1. This is an interesting topic — because if you require people to give CC details, they will not sign up as much, so your percentage converted will automatically go up because only the most dedicated will sign up for your service.
    What about giving people the option of giving their credit card information? Maybe there is an extra few weeks bonus free if they do.
    To me, I won’t start a trial on a site that requires my CC and then asks me to opt out. That just seems a little backdoor to me, but I can certainly see where you are coming from and I am interested in the discussion here because this is an issue that a lot of us face (me included).

  2. Bob I agree whole-heartedly with your reasoning on this having been in the trial-before-buy microISV business for over a decade now on various projects.
    It’s not that everyone should choose this option but you’re obviously providing enough value and conveying it well enough for people to want to commit CC details… with the option of cancelling.
    I welcome you sharing this information because we very seldom hear this type of comparison with numbers to back it up. It will be really interesting to hear in the future how this works out for STD and what sort of conversions you continue to get and how it helps you reach your goals.
    Cheers Bob.

  3. Bob,
    I too have struggled with this scenario,, thank you for your post. The success stories that you hear about with viral marketing or overwhelming users can survive if they have enough volume – but the volumes have to be huge. That is why spam works, who could survive if only 0.001 % respond? Well if you send out 5 million emails every day at near zero cost you will make it up on volume. 🙂
    Several Points:
    1. What makes you confident that you aren’t going from the ‘frying pan to the fire” ? Or as I have done myself say, this isn’t working so this other approach needs to work because it can’t get any worse?
    2. Perhaps the issue is that people need to be contacted by a human being and closed to buy? The product itself won’t close them?
    3. Do you have any communications plan in place (automated emails) that go out during the trial to re-inforce value, to give examples of use, provide subtle reminders with a call to action?
    4. And finally is your solution a must have or a nice to have?

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