Slopes Diaries #10: Understanding Value

Slopes Diaries is my ongoing journey to turn my indie app into a more sustainable part of my business. First time reading? Catch up on the journey so far.

What is Slopes? Think Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, etc for skiers and snowboarders.

My last post wasn't Slopes Diaries, so if you didn't read it I'd recommend you take the minute. It's short and about finding success by aligning when you charge as close as possible to where/when users place value on your app.

I've been thinking about where exactly users place value in Slopes. I think my current model is working very well, but I've also been learning a lot now that the updated business model has been in the hands of users for a few months.

Recap: the premium features in Slopes are associated with having an active Season Pass, which is a yearly non-auto-renewing subscription. Pass expired? The features go away. User buys a pass after 2 years of using Slopes in free mode? They get all the pass-exclusive features on the old recordings, even though they didn't have a pass at the time. Binary decision for the entire app.

When designing the Season Pass purchase screen I used price anchoring to make the yearly subscription look more enticing. I think $20/yr is a steal, but anchoring always helps re-enforce that. So I introduced the ability to try the pass out for a month at $9. I didn't really need the one month trial, the entire app was a trial because the first recording of any season got the most important pass-only features for free.

The one month pass has the same constraints as the yearly: after a month was up the app would revert to the free mode. My thought here was that most of my target users are likely going snowboarding for 3+ months out of a year, so the one month option would mainly exist to make the year look like a bargain.

What's surprised me over the last month is just how popular the one month option has been: some days it represents nearly 40% of my revenue!

I think the reason for the rise in popularity of the one month option is that we're getting into the winter sports season and people are finally going on their ski trips. I'm getting a new class of users: ones that only go for a week or two, but want to make the most of it. Before mid-December most of my users were the early-season riders that expected to be on the mountains for that 3+ months I originally targeted.

Subscription vs Consumable?

This "reverting to free mode" idea threw off a few people I talked to over the summer before I launched. Some made the assumption that buying a pass for one month would mean they'd keep access to the premium features for days they recorded during that month, but that any recorded days from outside of the month pass would be in free mode. They thought of the feature unlock as more of a time-boxed consumable purchase, vs an ongoing subscription.

Their line of thinking makes sense within my niche. If you buy a pass at a ski resort you can ski while that pass is valid. The purchase, and therefore value, is associated with time on the mountain.

Targeting a New Set of Users

It seems there are plenty of people who can only go out for one or two weeks a year but make big trips out of it, so they are excited to use Slopes. I hadn't really considered what I could do to cater to this group before. Now that I've had some time with my business model being in the hands of the masses I'm realizing my binary subscription-based system is alienating them: there is no way they'd want to pay me $20 for a week-long trip. Doesn't matter that they could use Slopes year-round to look at their data, where they place value is on the mountain, the trip itself.

This has lead me to rethink how I deal with expired passes.

In this example case you're not trying to record anything new, just look back and stuff you already recorded on your awesome once-a-year trip to Colorado. What's the user experience like when your pass expires in a month and you can't see your data? Remember, in your head you associate value with the act of snowboarding, not the act of viewing data. You're pissed! So you paid me money and now you have to pay me again just to see what you could already see the day before? You might begrudgingly fork over some money to unlock the features again, but more likely than not you're going to say screw it now that you realize how this all works. You certainly aren't going to buy the one month pass again for your vacation next year now that you know the features expire after that month.

Some might say "tough luck bub, I run a business, pay up!" Some might say "ok, educate the user so they don't get pissed." I don't like either of those, since I think they ignore an opportunity to better align user values and my service costs. An opportunity that I could use to increase my market.

So I ran the numbers. Even if I let users view data granted by premium features forever (so long as they recorded while they had a pass) it wouldn't hurt my bottom line much. Users don't open Slopes every week unless they are actually skiing, so if they paid for a month the first year and then don't go skiing next year, odds are they aren't costing me much that second year anyway. Small risk as some of my vendors are based on monthly active users, but I think it works out.

This is a shift in business model that I'm not fully committing to, though. I don't think I want to go full-on consumable IAP (with "want to unlock the day? $2.99!" or some-such). Instead I wanted to make and easy change to try to serve this group of users and make sure I provide good value at a price they don't find outrageous.

I really think it's a big enough market to try to address, and it's a market that will likely only exist for the next two months or so on the mid to tail-end of the season.

(I meant to write this post earlier, but this change went live with v2.1 on January 12th).