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I added a credit card requirement to my free trial... and then removed it the same day

Ahhh one of the perennial SaaS conundrums:

Require a credit card at signup? Or let people use the free trial without one?

It's a question I have been interested in for some time, as I'm sure you have.

For the record, Bannerbear has always been a "no credit card required" type product but that all changed for about 2 hours yesterday when I added a credit card trial-wall. If you had signed up in that small window, you would have seen something like this:

Which is unashamedly inspired by Ahrefs.

In order to continue to the free trial, you would have to enter credit card details. The trial / card capture was all handled with Stripe Checkout.

But two hours later, I removed it... Why?

Firstly, here's why I added it in the first place:

  • wanted to try something new
  • liked the idea of less support
  • liked the idea of more qualified customers
  • some of my SaaS "idols" employ this model successfully

However, the moment it was live, something just felt... wrong.

It was just a gut feeling so it's hard to rationalize, but I think it felt wrong mainly due to these reasons:

  • I worked hard on removing friction from my onboarding, but now I was adding friction back in...
  • Writing tutorials + letting people explore the app has been a good growth engine for me and now I was throwing a wrench in the machine
  • Credit card trials work better for apps where you get some kind of instant value (e.g. Netflix) but for something like Bannerbear you need to explore and play before you get the value
  • I was ignoring my own advice

I think it's the last one that unsettled me the most.

One of my main takeaways from My $10K MRR Journey was:

Find out what works for you then do more of it

It's a simple, obvious formula but it works. It is what got me from sub $1k to $6k and then $10k in MRR:

For me that formula was simple, keep the app as open as possible, write tutorial content, and let people play.

And here I was, making big changes to the onboarding flow with no data to support the decision. Basically ignoring my own advice.

So I rolled back the changes.

Sometimes you need to take a step back and realise that things are working fine, growth is good, just keep doing more of what you've been doing.

  1. 15

    We've stayed away from asking for a credit card in the 5 years since we started, despite many mentors and coaches asking us to add this flow in our signup process. Aside from being a personal pet peeve of mine (I never sign up for trials where I am asked for a CC), I think it makes sense not to.

    Why? Well, we are not a huge trusted brand. The big guns like NetFlix etc. can get away with it because there is already a thin strand of trust out there from consumers, based purely on name recognition.

    We are an unknown. At the point of signup, there is no prior relationship or interaction (usually) that will give the customer any sense that they can trust us with something as important as a credit card number. I think it shows respect, and it shows that we are willing to extend trust to THEM in the first place that they can freely jump on board and sample our wares with very little risk, or giving up too much information.

    After all, not too many shops will take your credit card from you as you enter the door to browse - I don't see why that buyer interaction has to change in a virtual world.

    1. 4

      Your points make rational sense and you could be right, still, I don't understand why you aren't testing your assumptions.

      It's what building a business is about: starting with an assumption, then testing it in the market to see if it's right or not.

      My best guess is that founders hate some business practices and therefore exclude them from their startup. This is 100% fine and one of the advantages of being bootstrapped (you don't have to grow at all costs).

      It is something that I do too. For example, I don't use popups and I work only with software that doesn't require cookie consent. But I am also aware that I do this because I hate when others do it to me and not because I just suppose that this stuff doesn't work.

      1. 5

        That is a fair call. I am overly guilty of avoiding doing things that I personally dislike, but I guess that is part of how I was raised. I believe in treating my customers the way I would like to be treated myself, so I go out of my way to do so.

        But yes, testing will provide some useful metrics. Like you, I loathe popups, but my co-founder has cited objective research to say they work, so they are on our marketing website and blogs and I will acquiesce to that because it seems the numbers work, even if I do shut down any popup immediately in annoyance when I visit my own site!

  2. 3

    I agree BUT it would be interesting to get the data on number of signups with 24hrs of CC required vs 24hrs of no CC required.

    1. 4

      It would be interesting, but I don't think it would be illustrative.

      What matters is LTV and just observing 24 hours of data won't tell you things like:

      • what % of the trial with cc folks end up canceling before the trial starts
      • what % end up churning
      • do they churn faster or slower than the non-cc trials

      etc

      In the end, I don't have the stomach / patience for long-term pricing experiments like this, I'd rather just focus on product!

  3. 3

    Thanks for sharing. It’s easy to second guess yourself with “these successful startups do it this way”. But you know your startup best and have your own values. Way to recognize.

  4. 3

    In order to continue to the free trial, you would have to enter credit card details.

    Every time when I as a customer see such a requirement I close the app and never come again because I always feel like I was fooled. "Free" means "free" so why the hell they would collect my cc info? It also makes me so nervous that I can forget to cancel the trial until it ends and, what is more important, I feel like a founder just wants to make more money using this dirty trick.

  5. 2

    @yongfook Thanks for doing this post mate! You won't believe but I literally had this thought in my mind 2 days back!

    I am planning to launch my own product ruttl officially in the coming weeks and I was actually having doubts about making credit card payments mandatory requirement. Your post gave me great clarity on this topic for sure!

    1. 1

      Good luck 👍🏻and remember YMMV!

  6. 2

    The speed at which you iterate is really impressive. You build stuff incredibly fast, but you also build THEN scrap stuff quickly too. That's not easy to do. Really impressive.

    Credit card trials work better for apps where you get some kind of instant value (e.g. Netflix) but for something like Bannerbear you need to explore and play before you get the value

    This is a critical insight and not obvious.

    I'd also offer the name and color scheme are fun and lighthearted. Hitting a credit card requirement would be jarring. So, in a way be not requiring a credit card, you are strengthening the brand.

    I think you made the right decision. I wonder where Bannerbear will be this time NEXT year...

    1. 2

      This is a great point - it definitely felt like a misstep, brand-wise.

  7. 1

    I never see the point in asking for cards upfront. It's annoying as a consumer, and the trial will expire if customers don't add payment details. Seems like an unnecessary block.

  8. 1

    The "credit card upfront or not" conundrum has always been interesting.

    It's impossible to hypothesize theoretically what will happen to revenue short-term and long-term by making this change.

    Maybe the "qualified customers" factor outweighs the "adding friction" factor, so you still come out on top in conversions -- maybe not.

    I've always not taken credit card upfront for Zlappo, but recently I closed a partnership where my partner required me to take credit cards upfront.

    So I'll be essentially running an A/B test on this.

    I'll report my results on IH once I have them.

    1. 2

      yup I think it's too easy to start intellectualising on the topic without realising just how complicated it gets, for example whether any of the short term changes in conversions actually hold over the long term or affect LTV / brand etc.

      Therefore, in the end, "gut feel" is as good a litmus test as any for this kind of thing. If I'm not comfortable, I just get rid of it.

  9. 1

    Enjoyed this! Thanks Jon.

  10. 1

    I think you show something really important here: we need to stay true to our values when we build something. Personally, I would feel bad to impose somebody I don't want myself.

    For this specific question of credit card, I never understood why I need to put my credit card for a free trial. There is no reason, except that the service want my money at one point, and they try to force the process. If I choose to give it, it's my decision; not because I forgot to unsubscribe to the damn service.

  11. 1

    There merits of whether to CC or not to CC i will leave for others better versed in that specific problem set. I am very interested in the process you took to make the decision in the first place and at the end.

    I see a lot of people either forming their opinions or changing them based on what XYZ person or group of people said worked for them. If you have done enough work and know what you have built from top to bottom, then no one else is better placed than you to understand what works best for your service.

    In your specific case, where you had traction and something that was working well, to then throw a spanner in the works seemed negative EV. The fact you lasted only 2 hours with that dirty feeling is quite telling. I congratulate you for taking fast action and backing your own advise.

    That is not to say don't try things, even risky things, but make sure you are trying them for the right reasons, understand the parameters of success/failure, and ultimately have a plan for what to do in both upside and downside scenarios.

    1. 2

      Well, nobody is perfect :)

      I think I had convinced myself that I needed to try something different, due to the psychological effect of it being a new year and recently passing $10k MRR.

      I realised that I was just trying things for the sake of it.

  12. 1

    Nice post. Out of interest, what percentage of free trial users convert to paid?

  13. 1

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Something that I find really interesting is that you were able to deploy and rollback this change that quickly! I would argue that realizing that you need to rollback already takes time but then the actual work of rollback does, too.

    Thank you can do shows that your dev workflow does its job!

    1. 1

      I built it in such a way that was easy for me to switch off. Which probably says something about how confident I was in the decision! :)

      1. 1

        At least, you can say this little experiment showed that your feature flags work 🙈

  14. 1

    I think you've made a great choice. Every time this happens to me, I usually quit the onboarding process. It's an unwelcome surprise and feels totally unnecessary.

  15. 1

    There is a third option: give your visitor as much as yo can without registration, then ask to register and give their card. For example, you can let them create one item, but to save it they would have to register. This way they will have more trust and be able to check if you're a good fit for them.

  16. 1

    Your third point has always been the kicker for me. If you are "product led" your product is marketing itself to a certain point. Therefore it makes sense that you would allow prospects to use the product before making a commitment. Glad to hear you removed it, I think you made the right decision!

  17. 1

    I was wondering about this. Great insight. Thanks for sharing.

  18. 1

    Could you please share who is your Saas idols?

  19. 1

    Great post!

    Find out what works for you then do more of it

    I totally agree with this. I just need to use it more in my everyday life ;)

  20. -1

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