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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Making a commercial site free (aka would you use this service)?

Hi folks.

As you know, around six months back I realised that the (commercial) website user feedback site that I'd created wasn't going to fly without a huge investment in marketing.  The crux of the problem was that, due to the nature of what it did, it wasn't feasible to offer trials (in the form that it had at the time).

To fill in the gaps, here is the site: kupima.com.  I disabled the payment system and new orders page when I realised that I needed to refocus and perhaps rework the concept.

I'd only just done this when I had a serious injury to my arm, resulting in a whole lot of metalwork and several months of pain.  Then my mother passed away.  And then I got flu.  Not the best end to the year as it were.

Now, in February, I'm free of freelance gigs, and looking back at what can be done with the site.  I'm seriously considering offering the service for free in a 'modified' version of the old site.  Whereas before tests were performed by a panel of independent users (who got paid for successfully completed tests), I am considering ditching the panel and instead offering the ability to use your own users (including basic importing of user lists and so forth).  This would push the user cost outside of the site (and make it the responsibility of the customer) and reduce the overheads almost to nothing. 

Which means I can more or less offer the service for free.

The first question I know you are thinking is: why?  Well, the biggest costs are sunk and the server commitments apply whether it gets used or not, so in a way I would rather see the world getting benefit from this rather than from the commercial competitors.  I believe it's a better service than the competitors (in paid form) so as a free service it ought to really put the cat amongst the pigeons.

The second question goes to you lot: if I built this, would YOU use it?  With your own users/friends/acquaintances?  And would you help me promote it by spreading the word/blogging/tweeting/etc.?

My objective here is primarily to put all that (sunk) effort to some use, even if it doesn't make me money.  Truthfully, I'm not hurting and so it doesn't have to make money.  Maybe in time, if it takes off, I could re-introduce premium features, such as - well, I am sure I'll think of some.  But just to see it in use would be nice.

It wouldn't be actively supported, thus reducing overheads, and I'd be leveraging Amazon AWS/S3 for video storage, so the cost-per-video is almost nothing*.  And I could build it and have it ready in a couple of weeks, which is time I can't really use for much else due to the imminent arrival of a new puppy here :)

HOWEVER, I don't want to do this if it's still not going to be used.  I'd want to be adding value to the industry, and maybe make myself a threat to the (commercial) competition.  Shake the industry up, do something good. 

So, unusual post, I know, but would you be interested in this?  Seems to me that every fourth post here these days is someone seeking feedback on a website, so this would at least provide those people with the structure to manage that feedback in a richer, perhaps more insightful way.

Scott, I am sure you'll have something worthwhile to add :)  Look forward to it, from all of you!


* but not nothing, hence the need to keep an eye on medium/longer-term 'value-added' premium features.
John Clark Send private email
Friday, February 08, 2013
John Clark Send private email
Friday, February 08, 2013
"I'd want to be adding value to the industry, and maybe make myself a threat to the (commercial) competition.  Shake the industry up, do something good."

Maybe I'm just in the wrong mood, but I could see a certain aloof reception where you post to a forum called The Business of Software about wanting to be a threat to commercial competition to, in part, "shake the industry up". 

I'm not sure how I ought to feel about free competitors who are free for merely the reason of what amounts to "Aagh, why not!?".  It's an interesting values question.  I'd like to see other reactions.
Racky Send private email
Friday, February 08, 2013
Here is what I see.

- You worked hard
- It didn't do well
- There are competitors who make money

Try something else.
Bring back anon Send private email
Friday, February 08, 2013
I tend to agree with Racky. I have no problem with FOSS but I'm not sure about knocking over all the apple carts just because you can; I definitely don't think there's a moral high ground there.

To answer the question; would I use it? Honestly probably not, the value proposition for me is in you finding, vetting, organising the people.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Saturday, February 09, 2013
I also found some hackles rising at the idea of poking competitors for the fun of it being "good for the industry".

Nothing, man-made or natural, is stagnant for long. Yet a major part of man's effort is to bring stability and order to chaos, to create at least a moment of peace. We call that "success".

I'm not sure what we call deliberately damaging someone else's success just because we can?


The world in general and you in particular would be better served if you could do something others are willing to pay you for. When people vote with their own money you already know they like it.

Reluctantlyregistered Send private email
Sunday, February 10, 2013
I think the 'damaging someone else's company' comment is harsh and perhaps I phrased this poorly to begin with.  My intention is not to 'damage' anything but to bring this type of product to a wider market and perhaps in the process attract business away from the competitors.  Just as I had hoped to do with the original product.  No difference, then, apart from pricing structure.  If gaining market share on your competitors is damaging them, then that's business I would say, but 'damage' as a primary objective is not what I intend.  So, apologies for perhaps giving this impression.

That said, part of this strategy is an experiment because the alternative is to shut the whole lot down.  I'd rather give it away and get some benefit from seeing it in use, than close the doors entirely.  The product itself was feature comparable with the competition and in some ways better, but I found it nigh on impossible to get the momentum going.  Giving it away for free might make it easier to get it used, and therefore talked about, and justify the introduction of the premium aspects which could then be (optional) paid features.

I don't deny that making it free changes the way it works slightly - the panel can't really survive as I should think most people would have no interest in testing peoples' websites unless there were something in it for them.  However, most people already have contacts and acquaintances and perhaps trusted customers or users who can be used and that places the 'new' service in a slightly different place - so maybe as an alternative approach it may succeed unlike competing in the moderated user panel marketplace in which it did not.

I'm still interested in hearing whether people would like this sort of a product.  It would seem that a significant majority of people don't want to pay for user testing - or have yet to be convinced of its merits - and this would, I think, offer them a chance to try it out and perhaps see the benefits for themselves. They could then of course go to a competitor and spend money there if they like, but I'd hope that they might develop an ongoing relationship with the new site.
John Clark Send private email
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Yes, it was harsh, just as I thought your attitude was.

Would people use a user-testing "service" where they have to supply their own users? Probably not.

Will a "free" offering on the market reduce buyer confidence, ultimately damaging the successful enterprises out there? Quite likely, yes, even though they probably wouldn't use your free service either.

People (and pricing) are not linear and they're rarely logical. Offering a free but impractical version is not 'improving the industry', it's just muddying the waters for those who've already cracked *selling* such a service.

I can easily envision someone hesitating over a paid version, wasting an afternoon trying to raise up a suitably large sample of ("free!") testers and then deciding the whole user-testing thing is just too much of a bother.

How does such a scenario "help the industry"?

Seems to me the only thing you'd be helping is your ego - and not even that, once you realize that "free" can be an even harder sell!

I repeat, put your effort and energies into something people will pay for. That's a win/win for everyone, whereas the old project is a dead zombie, holding you back by wasting even more of your time.

Reluctantlyregistered Send private email
Sunday, February 10, 2013

Not that I really know what I'm talking about, but it seems that if one does create a free service, there are two arguably more "kosher" (widely considered acceptable, that is) than just "let's tip over other people's apple carts" approaches to it:

- FOSS route.  Make it free and open source software.  Personally and community-rewarding, arguably.  But it's also an invitation to form a community with others to to share some control of the project with them.  Good chance that everyone on this forum has benefited from FOSS projects over the years.

- Hope to Get Acquired or "somehow" later monetized.  A strange point in business history we're in, eh? 

Maybe you can come up with some other models.
Racky Send private email
Sunday, February 10, 2013
I'm not going to get involved in the conversation about what you should do with your product, but I do have reservations about the overall concept. I would love genuine feedback on my website and so would many others I'm sure. The problem as I see it is that the moment you start paying someone to look at it, or invite friends and family or whoever else we would have to use with the free version, then the people looking at the site are coming at it from a totally different perspective than the target audience. Sure, getting general feedback on layout and copy etc is great - this site is good for that, as is just sending links to friends. But what will happens is a) they are not usually the target audience - ie, they have no real interest in the product or knowledge of the domain, b) they approach the website with the attitude that they are going to have an in depth look etc. What I really need to know is why people I don't know will click a targeted link through to my site and then eg. not even bother to click the read more or whatever. ie I need genuine feedback from disinterested third parties who might potentially be interested in my software - those are the people I need to engage. Much harder to come by I fear, although analytics obviously has a big role.
Of course, if your panel were somewhat expert in the field of website design, conversion optimisation etc then it could be more useful, but then that starts to sound more like a consultancy service.
Just my 2c.
Matthew Fender Send private email
Sunday, February 10, 2013

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