Growth August 4, 2020

I added a trial version to my product and my sales evaporated

Rik Schennink @rikschennink

Doka Image Editor is a client-side image editing library. It allows customers to edit images before upload, works with, JavaScript, React, Vue, Angular, and Svelte.

Before adding the trial version customers would need to purchase a license to access the library files. To give some purchase security I offered (and still do) a refund period of 60 days.

Why add a trial version?

  • Reach
  • Marketing
  • Support

Reach

To reach developers working for Webdesign agencies. In my experience (as someone who worked as a front-end dev) these devs don't want to have to convince their boss or their bosses boss that they require the company credit card to try out some piece of software they found on the interwebs.

It's so much easier to convince someone with a working demo.

Marketing

I freely give away a lot of JavaScript libraries.

  • FilePond, A flexible and nicely animated JavaScript file upload library.
  • Tick, A super flexibly library to build amazing counters.
  • Flip, Online version of the classic flip clock.
  • Snippy, Quickly create your own custom WordPress shortcodes.
  • Fitty, Automatically fit text to the viewport.
  • Poost, Boost form post uploads.
  • Shiny, Shiny reflections on mobile websites.
  • Scrollscreen, Custom styles vertical scrollbars.
  • Short and Sweet, Accessible character counter for input elements
  • Conditioner, Load JavaScript modules based on contextual parameters
  • Tilt, Simulates touch feedback on HTML elements.
  • Eve of Impact, The source code of my free iOS game Eve of Impact

I don't ask anything in return, which is how open source kinda works, but I also feel this is a missed opportunity.

With the Doka trial version I decided I did want to get something in return. An email address and hopefully the opportunity to reach out to devs at a later point in time.

Support

I regularly get requests for a trial version, mostly from bigger companies. so this change should eliminate those requests.

What slightly worries me is customers on the trial version not putting in enough effort to implement the library and dropping out.

It's so easy to give up on something if you haven't paid for it.

Implementing a trial version

I played with the idea to just link to a zip file, implementation would be super easy, barely an inconvenience 🙃. But "just a link" would make it impossible to set a term for the trial or capture email addresses.

My goal was to have the trial "expire" after 14 days. I put that in quotes because as this is a client-side library there is no way to actually expire something. Expire means that access to new trial downloads is blocked, the library will stay functional. This should apply some pressure to purchase but also create ample time for devs to do internal company demos of a test integration.

The trial version of Doka shows a "Trial Version" text on top of the editor, and places a "Doka Trial Version" on top of exported images. A developer can obviously remove the code that does this but that makes it just a little bit harder to abuse the code.

I already have a customer portal in place. Existing customers can register and download Doka from this portal. So I decided to ask interested devs to create an account on this portal. Starting a trial is literally clicking "Start trial". This also makes it possible to stop the trial after 14 days. It did require me to add a terms of service and privacy policy which I didn't have. Used GetTerms.io 👍

Finally I added an "unsubscribe from newsletter" settings field, and presto, push to server, ready for action!

Results

No purchases! Or, almost none, a serious drop. 🙀

Two possibilities:

  1. The universe is fucking with me. It always does this after I publish a change.
  2. Interested customers will go for trial and will convert in a week or so.

It could very well be a mix.

So far, since last Thursday, 10 devs have started a trial. This is with the trial link being very much hidden, it's placed below the license tiers on the pricing page. I'm changing the "get a license" links on the landing page to "start trial" today so hope that will increase the trial number considerably.

Anyway, if you've been wanting to give Doka Image Editor a go, nows the time!

Happy to answer any questions here or on Twitter.

  1. 4

    Lol I totally get the “universe is fucking with me” factor. It seems always after I push a bunch of major changes my sales flatline and I wonder if one of my upgrade flows is broken or my UX became too confusing in the last push.

    Then sales start back up again. Go figure.

    Thanks for sharing though, experimenting with a free trial is a big change in business model for you.

    1. 1

      Haha yeah, just once I would like to skip that intense rollercoaster of emotions.

      It’s quite the step indeed. I feel the timing is right as the next major version has a completely new codebase so if anything goes “wrong” I can close things back up.

  2. 4

    As your trial is of 14 days, I think you should consider the first 14 days after the trial implementation as a warm up period. A stressful period but no conclusions are possible before the end of this period when trial conversions should start to replace the direct sales.

    1. 1

      Good one, so I should give it a month or so :)

  3. 2

    Interesting learnings and good write-up, @rikschennink - thanks for sharing :)

  4. 2

    I observed the same thing. It seems our society has moved on free stuff.

    I now ask users a question and if they reply, I'll give them a free trial.

    Revenue went back up to before I trialed free trials.

    1. 1

      Thanks for sharing, curious to see if I get the same result :)

  5. 2

    I just checked the library and this is brilliant work Rik! I might consider it for a future idea I have. So from a future user's perspective ->

    1. I like that I can test the library and its capabilities without paying money upfront. As an Indie hacker, "I am cheap" :). I like to use software for which I can pay if I see revenue generation. I am sure there many other like me and you shall see paid users in a while. You definitely get some marketing brownie points from this though
    2. A question on library though, how do you send updates for it? Is it available as an npm package for paid users or I always have to ask for zip from you? Many famous libraries take the approach of publishing libraries as npm package and have a licensing model based on support. A good example is kendo UI ( https://www.telerik.com/purchase/kendo-ui )
    1. 1
      1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! This makes sense, hope sales will pick up in a couple of days. :)

      2. A private npm repo is on the (private) roadmap, hope to set that up later this year. Currently you receive an email when a new version is available and then you can download it from the customer portal 👍

  6. 2

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing the insights, Rik!

  7. 1

    Hi Rik, thanks for sharing your story. You have produced a lot of great libraries, and I'm going to check out several of them for my next project, including Tilt. I know it must be disappointing that the trial version for Doka Image Editor had this efffect.

    Out of curiosity, do you actively promote your libraries in order to attract users? If so, what techniques do you use (e.g., email, posting on community forums)?

    1. 1

      Thanks! I’ve done some talks, but mostly I write articles to promote my work.

      1. 1

        Really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  8. 1

    The trial is not the problem, your pricing is absolutely ridiculous, your product will never be recommend by developers to upper management (most times).

    I reckon you probably are a business guy and not a developer, that would explain the pricing for the enterprise market.

    I know you can make ridiculous amount of money by convincing non technical CEOs and other members from the exec team but you are not winning developers. Take a look at Stripe: they have an amazing API that solves a problem, developers love it and the pricing is excellent. It’s a no brainer, thousands of developers will recommend Stripe to their managers.

    A simple google search shows cropper.js and that is how you just lost the battle.

    500 usd EVERY SINGLE YEAR for a cropping plugin? 129 usd EVERY SINGLE YEAR for a hobby project where I’m making zero dollars?

    You’re not going to get small and medium companies with that pricing. Your plugin is a small component, not their product and such cost is hard to justify.

    It reminds me of Gantt chart. Everyone thinks they are worth, at least, 500 usd just because they think they are. Now it’s time for a reality check: I speak my manager and show the price, he asks: “Is there a cheaper alternative?” , I say “Google chart timeline is kind of similar and free”, he says “Use It”. End of the story

    I believe your product is worth 200 usd on a single time purchase per project. If some big company wants commercial support you can charge extra.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your insight Mario.

      I’ve been developing and designing software and games my whole life, so no, not a business guy (the GH repositories are in the post). Just a dev trying to find out how business to business works. I find it’s very easy to underprice products. And have done so in the past.

      Open source croppers are fine but at this point in time they simply lack lots of the functionality and fidelity that Doka brings to the table.

      With Doka I’m aiming at higher end of the market, it’s fine if that means that I’ll miss out on some customers. The market is huge.

      Doka is doing quite well at the current price point, around 10K in sales and recurring licenses a month:
      https://www.indiehackers.com/product/doka-js

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