Slopes Diaries #36: Try Me

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.

While exploring a lot of the possibilities with Slopes's pricing, if I were to change it, a light bulb went off.  Some pieces of the puzzle had changed over the years, but I had never taken a step back to look at how they all fit together now.

I've talked about how in the ski market, there are season pass holders, but those makes up only a small part of my target market. A much larger part of my market are the people that go for one or two trips a year, or on weekends to their local hills. Riders for whom the annual Slopes pass just doesn't make sense to them - why pay for a year's access if they only ride 4 days?

That's why shortly after I launched the annual subscription back in 2015, I added the Day and Trip(week) passes, moving me to a hybrid consumable + subscription model similar to ski resorts. This was still way in the early days of iOS subscriptions though. So early in fact, Slopes wasn't even eligible to use auto-renew when I launched; that gate wasn't opened up for another year and I had launched with a manual renewing solution. Also back then, subscriptions weren't able to offer a free trial.

But that lack of trial turned out to be OK. The Day Pass not only accommodated those that didn't ski often enough to justify an annual pass, it became a popular way for Slopes customers to try out the premium features, at just $1.99 (usually then buying annual the following season).

Fast forward to 2018, 3 years after I launched my annual pass, and Apple finally enabled free trials on subscriptions.

I didn't bat much of an eye though because I had the Day and Trip Passes, cheaper and lower barrier gateways into Slopes Premium. I didn't completely ignore the idea, but at the time I was focused on a one month free trial (how so many other services worked back then). For many people, that could be their entire ski season. I worried that people would abuse it to use Slopes Premium on their one trip a year and then cancel before the week was over, people that would otherwise pay for a few Day Passes or Trip Passes within that month.

If you've talked to me since 2018 about free trials, I'd probably have mentioned to you how I just don't think they'd be a good fit.

So I'm talking about pricing, and the other person suggests the Day Pass should go away to simplify the lineup, but we quickly breeze by that. The conversation continues for another 10 minutes until my brain comes to a screeching halt and jumps back to a world without a Day Pass.

See, I now know in 2020 that a large number of my Day Pass purchasers are customers using it for the trial aspect. Specifically I'd venture (based on a lot of SQL queries I'll spare you) around 2,500 people are using it as I originally intended with an additional 5,200 Day Pass purchasers using it as a trial. That's 10% of my 2019/2020 winter premium customer base using it as intended, vs 20% of that base using it as a trial.

And people that use the Day Pass as a trial do convert to yearly users. Sometimes that same season, sometimes the following season. But iOS's free trials convert a lot better that this setup, somewhere between 2x and 4x better.

Suddenly using my Day Pass as a trial route seems ... less than ideal. Especially since now I'm not limited to a one month, and have 3 day and 7 day trials available.

See, this goes all the way back to the third post in the series where I talk about how being paid up front, instead of freemium, makes it a lot harder to sell to my customers. With an up-front price I couldn't let them use Slopes and see why they'd love it, I had to sell them on it with pretty screenshots and text. Turns out, I've been having the same issue, only now it was in-app with Slopes Premium. I've always struggled in-app trying to show just how great Slopes Premium is, and had no way for someone to just try it. They had to pay $1.99 at a minimum to try it out.

If I moved to a free trial (probably 1 week?), it becomes so much easier. Just try it. All my upsell buttons become "try it for free" instead of "grab a pass" or "unlock now". And free is a strong seller.

Of course, I will still have plenty of tire kickers, but now they'll be using a system specifically designed for them, not hijacking a Day Pass to do the same thing. But being able to design around that trial, I think, will help lower the intimidation customers feel today in trying Premium. If I just take the people that use the Day Pass as a trial and assume they convert at the average for apps in the fitness category, I'm looking at a 10 - 15% increase in gross revenue. That is without taking into account the tons of new people that will finally give Premium a try and hopefully convert.

There is a risk though: I do need to offset that with the people that'll use the free trial in place of a Trip Pass, which is a loss of $9.99 per Trip Pass. They can only do that once, but if every customer that buys just one Trip Pass a season does that their first year ... worst case would be in 2019/2020 I would have lost 8% of my revenue. I'm not sure how many people will be willing to start a free trial vs just buy the Trip Pass and be done with it, I have to assume if they don't go more than one trip a year they'll just ignore the yearly plan anyway? Dunno. Plus, there are the people who buy the current annual pass that won't want to stick with it after using it for a few days. I have a hunch those people usually are the ones asking for a refund, but I don't know what the overall drop because of that will be.

I'm really not sure how to math this through, seems like something I might just have to brace myself for and try?

But back to the Day Pass though, even if I go with a free trial setup, I still debate what to do with this IAP. I've always wanted Slopes to be accessible to a wide audience, and the ski market has a very diverse set of travel patterns. The Day Pass helps support that. But at the same time, I've always seen that simplifying things ultimately helps conversions as customers don't have to try to figure as much out.

I could leave the Day Pass around for those 2,500 people to keep on using as they want. Or I could simplify the Slopes Premium purchase system even more and keep Day Passes around just for special deals, like buy a yearly sub get two Day Passes to give to friends. There is a large balancing act right now with pricing things right between a Day, Trip, Season, and Household Season Pass.

So I'm not sure yet, but this feels like I might be onto something. If nothing else, it's nice to have a new perspective and a new set of options.