My office did not make the cut.
Looking more into this for enterprise application development.
Pricing your product: it doesn’t have to be so complicated
Written on 25th August, 2012 • 26 Comments
In the last week I’ve talked with a few early stage startup founders about pricing. It seems pricing is often a large block for many. It’s understandable, since there are so many decisions to make: When do you start charging? How much do you charge? Do you have a free plan? Do you have a trial period? How many tiers do you have? If you’re like I was, it can also be very difficult to imagine anyone would pay for something you build. To add to that, pricing can feel very final, so it can be hard to take the leap and charge.
I want to share some of my thoughts around pricing based on my experience with Buffer and talking with others who have successful startups out there with pricing plans.
Why you should charge early
One of the most interesting things is that whilst pricing can be the single biggest block for startup founders, I think it can actually also be one of the most powerful things for a startup founder to do. To start charging is a leap of progress:
Paying customers are one of the best forms of validation
The eventual goal of a startup is always to make money, so why delay? No matter how much validation we get in other key metrics, revenue is clearly the one where when we see money hit the bank we have very good reason to celebrate.
Paying customers will motivate you more than anything
I remember that motivation was a real struggle in the first couple of years of trying to create a startup. It’s definitely tough when you’re working away and feel like things aren’t working, or that people aren’t noticing. Even when you’re getting signups, it can be hard to stay motivated. Since I was working on the side, seeing the first few payments come in for Buffer was a huge motivation boost. It was easy to stay focused when I had the ability to imagine the monthly revenue growing to a stage where I could drop my other work.
Revenue gives you freedom
Having paid plans for Buffer from day 1 is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. As a first time founder, I’ve found that it’s difficult to raise money with just an idea. You’re much better off focusing on building traction. After we reached ramen profitability, we were able to raise funding and since then it’s also given me the opportunity to travel the world.
Why pricing doesn’t have to be complicated
There are many questions around pricing, and it’s easy to think that they all need very good answers. In addition, we often fall into the trap of thinking that we can’t change our pricing once it is decided. What happens to existing customers?
There’s no need for perfect
As a result of making the decision to charge from day 1, and also to launch a truly minimal MVP, the first version had many rough edges. It didn’t do much, it had many bugs, it had paid features which hadn’t been built yet, and the upgrade process was me getting a PayPal payment and scrambling from my email to the database to upgrade them manually.
None of it mattered, though. Despite the bugs and missing features, I had my first paying customer after 3 days. I think it’s important to remember the early users are a different breed and they not only tolerate, but enjoy being part of the early stages where imperfection is prevalent.
You won’t get it right first time
“It’s unlikely that you’ve got the price right the first time regardless how much research you put into it” - Dharmesh Shah
One of the most useful concepts I’ve come across in my journey of working on startups is that a key characteristic of a founder is not for every decision to be perfect, but to make decisions quickly:
“[Entrepreneurs] know that they need to move the ball forward everyday and make decisions with incomplete information. They know that at best 70% of their decisions are going to be wrong and they find ways to correct their direction.” - Mark Suster
It’s not possible to know how users will react until you have something out there, so let’s spend less time planning and more time building and seeing what happens.
It’s easy to change your pricing
I remember I used to think that it wasn’t possible to change pricing. What happens to existing users? Won’t there be outrage? Then we came to the point with Buffer where we felt that the pricing needed to change. So, we changed the pricing. It was no big deal, in fact it was quite amazing. We followed this simple rule:
“we have a rule at HubSpot, it’s been in place for five years, we’ve changed prices, increased prices, consistently relatively for 5 years maybe twice or so a year, we continue to do that step up and there’s lots of goodness that comes out of that, but we don’t screw existing customers.” - Dharmesh Shah
The key part of what Dharmesh says here is “don’t screw existing customers”. If you stick to that, changing the pricing is easy and becomes much less of a big deal in your mind. What it means is that you do what is best for the customer. If you put the price up, keep existing customers on the original price point. We even offered the previous price to anyone who signed up before the pricing change.
The pricing you have at the start will eventually be wrong
The interesting thing we found is that the pricing actually must change at some point. It’s almost inevitable. The reason is this: you’re working away, every single day, to make the product even more awesome. If 3 or 6 months down the line, the product is not worth more, then surely something has not worked out?
In addition, your goals might change over time. At the start of Buffer, revenue was the number 1 priority. We needed revenue just so we could eat. Now, we’re lucky have a very solid model and we make more each month than we spend. We also have funding. Our 100% focus now is growth, and revenue is less of an issue. We know that if we focus on growth and we get more users with the same conversion through our funnel, that can be better than optimising revenue with our existing users. With that in mind, we simplified our pricing and now have just a single paid plan: the Awesome Plan. Our upgrades actually doubled pretty much overnight.
Every product has changed its pricing many times
The interesting thing is, the more I speak with established startups, the more I found that they’ve all changed their pricing many times. The reasons are always one or more of the above, and it has always worked out well for them. Dharmesh mentioned that HubSpot has changed it’s pricing roughly twice a year for 5 years. If that’s the case, surely we don’t need to worry so much about getting it right?
Free your mind of “pricing”. Just start charging.
With all of this in mind, I think we can agree that the pricing decision is temporary, and the best thing to do is to start charging and give yourself a chance at the amazing benefits ahead along that path.
“go ahead and act as if your decisions are temporary. Because they are. Be bold, make mistakes, learn a lesson and fix what doesn’t work. No sweat, no need to hyperventilate.” - Seth Godin
Have you started charging for your product yet? Or are you thinking about how you’ll price your product? I’d love to hear from you.
Photo credit: Teddy James
Windows 8, expected to be released in October 2012, is the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. Its release also marks the first time that Microsoft has significantly evolved its design since 1995. Microsoft’s new, touch-oriented design language opens the door to designers, giving them a chance to reconsider their existing applications.
Christina and I are graduate students in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. In April we were hired as interns by Blink Interactive, a UX research and design agency in Seattle, to become their resident Windows 8 experts. We scoured the Internet for articles and videos, attended Windows 8 developer events, spoke with Microsoft evangelists, and spent a good, long time using Windows 8 on both tablet and desktop computers.
Finally, we conceptualized a Windows 8 version of Rhapsody, an online music provider (and Blink client). Through trial, error, and multiple iterations, we learned how to reconcile the needs of Rhapsody’s users, the scope of their application, and the rather-strict Metro guidelines.
A window to the world
Windows 8 will be installed on a wide variety of devices, from tablets to desktops. Whereas some tablets will only run Windows 8 applications with the Metro UI, others will be able to switch “modes” between the traditional Windows desktop (Aero UI) and the Metro UI. This is the key feature that sets it apart from Android and Apple tablets: Windows 8 enables people to use the same device for watching Youtube videos on the couch as for working on design comps in Photoshop.
Microsoft recently issued a statement saying that it would no longer call its design language Metro. The company has yet to provide vendors with an alternative name. As such, this article refers to Microsoft’s design language as Metro.
To unify their cross-platform experience Microsoft will employ Metro, a design language they initially developed for the Windows Phone and Xbox. Metro is inspired by the Modernist style of the Bauhaus Design School, Swiss design, the international typographic style, and motion design. Microsoft uses five core principles to define it:
- Authentically Digital: Metro designs avoid skeuomorphism. Unlike iOS –which encourages the use of realistic on-screen objects –Metro eschews faux textures, shadows, bevels, and/or 3-D looking icons for a more modern look.
- Pride in Craftsmanship: Metro designers pay close attention to detail and work to ensure their designs are pixel perfect.
- Be Fast and Fluid: Metro applications feel responsive, using motion and screen transitions to facilitate flow.
- Do More with Less: Metro applications have limited scope. Their designs avoid unnecessary content and chrome (buttons, functions, and controls).
- Win as One: Metro designs employ Microsoft-sanctioned patterns to decrease their learning curve.
In addition to these guidelines, Microsoft hopes to create a sense of familiarity between all third party apps by encouraging the use of a pre-defined grid, typography, screen hierarchy, and navigation. The grid – composed of 20×20 pixel squares – dictates how text, images, and tiles are laid out on the screen. Even the standard font, Segoe UI, and the font sizes recommended by Microsoft were chosen to fit in the grid.
That said, though, it’s important to keep in mind that these are suggestions; great Windows 8 applications should respect Metro’s principles, but could deviate from one or two of them altogether.
Microsoft is a bit more strict when it comes to the screen hierarchy, which is limited to three levels: Hub, Section, and Detail pages.
- Hub Pages provide an overview of content and functionality. They link to various sections.
- Section Pages showcase the content/functionality comprising a section. Content on section pages page can be displayed in any form, including tiles and lists.
- Detail Pages are end nodes in the hierarchy. The content comprising them includes text, pictures, video, or songs.
To navigate between the different screens users can tap on headers or tiles. Tiles are clickable rectangles that can contain a photo, icon, or text. Some[t1] applications also have a nav bar at the top of the screen that remains hidden until the user swipes inward from the upper or lower edge of the screen. The nav bar is used to navigate between completely distinct sections of the app –such as tabs in a web browser. Some applications implement a dropdown menu next to the top level headers that allows the user to access sibling and parent pages.
Learning to speak Metro
Blink partnered with Rhapsody, an international music service provider, to conceptualize a metro-style prototype of their application. Rhapsody provides access to over 14 million songs by thousands of artists, as well as editorial content, and radio. They already have apps for a wide variety of devices, from phones and tablets to in-car entertainment systems, so Windows 8 was a logical addition. Our team’s design goal was to create an experience that would feel familiar to current Rhapsody users, while reflecting Metro and Windows 8 principles and navigation structures.
This proved challenging. The wide scope and deep hierarchy of Rhapsody’s app conflicted with the 3-tiered navigation dictated by Microsoft. In addition, we needed to reconcile the interaction patterns that Rhapsody users are familiar with––such as a persistent player and queue––with Windows 8’s chrome-less design.
We began by itemizing the existing Rhapsody Android app’s features and UI in order to make sure that we accounted for everything.
The current Rhapsody application has four different sections: Browse, My Music, Radio, and Featured. Each contains enough content to constitute a Metro application all on its own. Our challenge was to unite them.
We began by implementing a navigation bar to provide access to each of the four different sections, as well as the main Hub (home) screen from any page of the application.
After showing our wireframes to Microsoft employees, they advised us to use the initial hub screen to showcase the different sections. This, however, meant adding an additional level of navigation to an already deep hierarchy – deeper the 3 levels dictated by Microsoft. If a user was interested in Scandinavian Pop, for instance, he would have to travel from:
Home → Browse → World → Europe → Scandinavia → Scandinavian Rock/Pop
The challenge was allowing the user to return to the Home screen without having to continue tapping on the Back button. Some applications solve this by placing a Home button in the app bar –although this is generally considered against proper Windows 8 Metro design. Instead, we decided to use a dropdown menu next to the page headers that provides access to the Home page, the four section pages and, if applicable, sibling pages (such as subgenres).
Contrary to Metro style design patterns, we initially used hubs and section pages to break down pages that contained large amounts of content, even when they were not pages at the very top of the hierarchy.
Artist profiles, for instance, were structured as hub pages that showcased the artist’s image, top albums, popular tracks, and similar artists. Each of these groups was linked to a section page that provided the remaining content. When we showed our design to Microsoft designers, they advised us to keep all the content for all the groups on a single, wide page. This was one case in which we decided to go against the advice we received – there were simply too many cases in which the number of albums and similar artists would make the page too wide to browse with ease. Pavarotti, for instance, has over 100 albums. Having a single page would make it difficult to find a specific album, and require semantic zoom to make users aware of the existence of the other sections.
Windows 8 design guidelines encourage hiding the chrome, or persistent navigational elements of an app. Note that in all of the screenshots we’ve shown up to this point there isn’t any primary or secondary persistent navigation visible. Those navigational elements are available by going back to home or are tucked away in dropdowns from titles. This sounds like a constraint, but it really is a solid principle for mobile and touch applications in general.
However, we still ran up against the “don’t show chrome” principle when it came to the music player. Rhapsody users are accustomed to having the music player visible on every screen.
Initially, we created a sidebar that showed the cover art of the album currently playing, buttons to control the music and the queue. Users could hide and show the sidebar by swiping it on and off the left edge of the screen.
This was a problem, though, because it took up a great deal of real estate on the page and was considered “chrome.” We then considered placing it either in the app bar or in the navigation bar. MSDN suggests placing players in the navigation bar (top of the screen), whilst all other music applications seem to have it in the app bar (bottom of the screen). In the end, we decided to place it in the navigation bar to free up the app bar for other controls.
In addition to the navigation bar player, we also designed a full-screen player and a snap view player. Snap view is similar to “restoring down” an application, and allows users to view two applications at once. The full-screen player opens when the user touched the album cover in the small player, or as a screensaver after the user has not used the device for a few minutes.
When the user opens the application in snap view, they are presented with only the player, since it is not practical to navigate content in such a small view. The snap view player shows the last track played, the one currently playing, and the one coming up.
Metro is Microsoft’s attempt to create a more cohesive user experience across both its platforms and third party applications. Having a consistent set of affordances and navigation patterns lessens the learning curve and increases the usability of Windows 8 applications.
The challenge for designers is to reconcile the Metro style design guidelines with the specific needs of the application and its users. In addition, the resulting design must be unique: it must convey the company’s brand and its personality.
So how should you get started? First, take a look at the resources below to become familiar with the basics. Then, decide what features and content you want to implement and fit them in Microsoft’s suggested 3-level hierarchy.
Once you know the structure of the app, take a look at the templates provided by Microsoft and use them as starting point. Keep the five Metro principles in mind, but make your app unique by applying your own branding and style, as well as using shapes, colors, and subtle patterns.
The Cocktail Flow app is a perfect example of this – it’s a beautiful, tile-less Metro design. Throughout the process, show your application to your client, users, and if possible Microsoft representatives (at least for now this is a mandatory step to submit your app to the store). Use their feedback to continue iterating on the design until it’s pixel perfect. Good luck!
- Blink’s Guide to Metro Style
- MSDN’s 300 page book on Metro style
- Make Great Metro Style Apps
- Planning Metro Style Apps
- How Navigation works
- Commands and Charms
- Touch Interaction
- PSD Resources from Microsoft
- Metro typography
- Metro grid
- UX Guidelines for Metro Style Apps
- Scaling to different screens
Article from Microsoft on designing UX for Windows 8
Jason Fried is a founder and CEO of 37signals, a software company based in Chicago. Fried also treats 37signals as something of a laboratory for innovative workplace practices—such as a recent experiment in shortening the summer workweek to just four days. We caught up with Fried to learn how employees are like fossil fuels, how a business can be like a cancer, and how one of the entrepreneurs he admires most is his cleaning lady.
FAST COMPANY: You have your employees only work four-day weeks in the summer.
JASON FRIED: Sometimes people are not really used to working just four days and actually want to stay to get more work done.
You’re saying you have people who actually want to stay the fifth day?
When we first started this a few years ago, there was a small sense of guilt in a few corners. People were like, “I have stuff to get done, it’s Thursday, so I’m gonna work Friday and just get it done. But we actually preferred that they didn’t. There are very few things that can’t wait till Monday.
How many employees would stay to work Fridays?
I don’t know.
Because you weren’t there!
We don’t track things in that way. I don’t look at that. I don’t want to encourage that kind of work. I want to encourage quality work.
As CEO, wouldn’t it simply be rational to let people work the fifth day for you if they wanted?
If you’re a short-term thinker you’d think so, but we’re long-term thinkers. We’re about being in business for the long haul and keeping the team together over the long haul. I would never trade a short-term burst for a long-term decline in morale. That happens a lot in the tech business: They burn people out and get someone else. I like the people who work here too much. I don’t want them to burn out. Lots of startups burn people out with 60, 70, 80 hours of work per week. They know that both the people or the company will flame out or be bought or whatever, and they don’t care, they just burn their resources. It’s like drilling for as much oil as you possibly can. You can look at people the same way.
Are we reaching “peak people”?
It seems like in a lot of companies we are. There’s a shortage of talent out there, and if there’s a shortage of resources, you want to conserve those resources.
So you think there’s a slash-and-burn mentality in the tech world?
For sure. I think there’s a lot of lottery-playing going on right now. Companies staffing up, raising a bunch of money, hiring a bunch of people, and burning them out in the hopes that they’ll hit the lottery.
You seem like too nice a guy to name names—but do you have certain companies in mind?
I won’t name names. I used to name names. But I think all you have to do is read TechCrunch. Look at what the top stories are, and they’re all about raising money, how many employees they have, and these are metrics that don’t matter. What matters is: Are you profitable? Are you building something great? Are you taking care of your people? Are you treating your customers well? In the coverage of our industry as a whole, you’ll rarely see stories about treating customers well, about people building a sustainable business. TechCrunch to me is the great place to look to see the sickness in our industry right now.
Our magazine is called Fast Company, but it sounds like you want to build a slow company.
I’m a fan of growing slowly, carefully, methodically, of not getting big just for the sake of getting big. I think that rapid growth is typically of symptom of… there’s a sickness there. There’s a great quote by a guy named Ricardo Semler, author of the book Maverick. He said that only two things grow for the sake of growth: businesses and tumors. We have 35 employees at 37signals. We could have hundreds of employees if we wanted to—our revenues and profits support that—but I think we’d be worse off.
What industries do you look to for inspiration, if not the tech world?
I take my inspiration from small mom-and-pop businesses that have been around for a long time. There are restaurants all over the place that I like to go to that have been around a long time, 30 years or more, and thinking about that, that’s an incredible run. I don’t know what percentage of tech companies have been around 30 years. The other interesting thing about restaurants is you could have a dozen Italian restaurants in the city and they can all be successful. It’s not like in the tech world, where everyone wants to beat each other up, and there’s one winner. Those are the businesses I find interesting—it could be a dry cleaner, a restaurant, a clothing store. Actually, my cleaning lady, for example, she’s great.
Your business icon is your cleaning lady?
She’s on her own, she cleans people’s homes, she’s incredibly nice. She brings flowers every time she cleans, and she’s just respectful and nice and awesome. Why can’t more people be like that? She’s been doing it some twenty-odd years, and that’s just an incredible success story. To me that’s far more interesting than a tech company that’s hiring a bunch of people, just got their fourth round of financing for 12 million dollars, and they’re still losing money. That’s what everyone talks about as being exciting, but I think that’s an absolutely disgusting scenario when it comes to business.
Interesting article on redesigning the email client.
(It’s actually up to 18 now.)
A number of designers have attempted to design a visual, infographic resume, and while this is certainly not mainstream (yet), it is gaining some momentum. I wanted to highlight some of the great examples available on the web, but the line between an infographic resume and a designer resume is tough not to cross. I’ve tried to stay true to only infographic versions here, and didn’t include many good illustrated resumes that didn’t include any visualizations.I decided to update my résumé with a different perspective on the typical time-line theme. This is just concept art, as there are almost no real metrics represented except for time. There is no energy expenditure unit of measure, nor tics to delineate percentage or otherwise.
Christopher Perkins’ resume, using the subway map metaphor.I do agree it’s more of an overview and less of a project-experience-oriented resume, but I’ve been thinking a lot about (and looking at) resumes lately, and I feel like what you really need to do is grasp someone’s attention first. This is whyhttp://www.percious.com is listed at the top, and that’s about all listed (no address, phone number, etc.) The other thing I was thinking about doing was to add an image map with links to provide more information about the things I have worked on.
Also using the subway map metaphor, Kevin Wang plots out his activities during his school years.
Curriculum Vitae, by Uito2 in 2007, shows his experience level in different software packages as progress bars.
Chester, Lau Cheuk Hang, does a great job utilizing a timeline at the top of his resume with spanning arcs to highlight time spent in different activities.
Greg Dizzia also creates a Curriculum Vitae showing vertical bars spanning a timeline for each company, and adds an additional element of icons to represent different experiences during each project.
This lists my history in the design world (some lesser clients have been left out) - Designed using univers exclusively. This is an appendage to a traditional resume, to be included as a forward page in my portfolio.
Jonathan Kaczynski, also tries a subway map style using the different lines as categories instead of attempting a timeline. I actually think this approach works a little bit better, the timeline versions appear difficult to translate into a subway map.
I am currently in the process of remaking my portfolio. It will have the appearance of a mass transit system’s website. This is the resumé that I’m working on to go along with the portfolio. It still needs a bit of clean-up and and logo needs some work.
Justin Evilsizor’s version incorporates a timeline, a level-of-skill chart and I personally love the addition of the Meyer’s-Briggs Type Indicator.
Arnaud Velten, Cartographer of Complexity, created this isometric resume. At its heart is a timeline, but he has added an incredible amount of detail to each of his skills. Seems like too much detail for me, but that may be what he wants to convey.
This information design piece maps out my interests between ages 6 and 24 and the context in which they were born and nurtured. It also brings to surface how these interests influenced and were in turn influenced by milestones in my personal journey.
Stephen Gates’ resume is very clean a take on the timeline.
Why did no one try something new? Why wasn’t there one designer who took on their resume as design challenge to do something visual and different? I also realized that I was just as guilty as everyone else so I set out to design something different. So after some work in my spare time I have the design shown above (click on it to see it full sized). It is just a start and it feels like it is heading in an interesting direction but let me know what you think.
Bob van Vliet also created a very clean timeline resume.
I thought I’d try something different from the standard A4 with a dull summary of positions. Four timelines represent the most important parts of my life so far: Work, Education, Activism and Fun. The years get wider towards the present as those say more about who I am now than when I just started university.
Christopher Brown’s colorful infographic timeline inspired by Michael Anderson’s concept.
Jordan Carroll’s resume includes a few different elements. Timeline, map and charts combine into one overall resume.
Another colorful timeline resume, this one by Pruek Wiyaporn, also appears inspired by Michael Anderson’s concept.
Jesse Burton also has a very nice stylized timeline resume.
Which ones do you like? Have I missed any other good ones out there?
EDIT: Here are a few more that I missed when I originally wrote the post:
Mike Wirth is a freelance infographic designer. His colorful timeline has experiences above the X-axis, education is below and his geographic locations are the shaded bars in the background. When he learned specific software packages is also identified in the colored area, which shows how long he has been using the different software packages.
Gabriele Bozzi designed this resume concept that focuses totally on skills and experience. Education is identified in the small bubbles, and the skills are connected to specific examples of her experience. She is working on a separate timeline graphic.Update on Friday, May 25, 2012 at 4:00PM by
There are so many new examples of visual infographic resumes, I have started a dedicated board on Pinterest to share all of the cool designs I come across: http://pinterest.com/rtkrum/infographic-visual-resumes/
What do you think about visual infographic style résumés’? Give me feedback in the comments.
Order, alignment and proportion, to designers of all stripes, are like pen and paper. Critical tools we use again and again to create beautifully designed systems.
Foundational texts like, Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Muller-Brockmann, is a print reference first published in 1961. But the grid method is so sound and elemental that it has a home in modern application and software design. And Metro style is a pure manifestation of Josef’s lasting principles.
My copy of Grid Systems, sun bleached spine and all, is displayed prominently in my office as a visual reminder to honor the grid. Honor. Not obey. Why not, you ask? Because slavish devotion is narrowing and dogmatic and good design can’t be so single-minded.
Now, let me knock this down a peg. As this high-minded, postulation gets designers (and design as a discipline) in trouble. So I’ll be concrete.
I’ve been working on Windows 8 apps for nearly 9 months. Live, sleep, eat Metro style. To help folks get started with such a large shift in application design the Windows team made some amazing Photoshop templates. They’re an essential tool and perfectly lay out the grid system that the entire OS depends on. A great example is the Metro silhouette (I know, Metro, Metro, Metro). Without it, switching between apps would feel unorganized and disconnected. Designing with the grid creates unity, structure and user trust in a way that only great visual systems can.
But. Within every design system there’s spacious room to creatively push boundaries. And you should.—>
Each application, with its unique features, brand focus and user scenarios means a fresh, objective analysis generates the best results. Take the Loku design created by the ass-kicking design studio, thirteen23, for example. They’ve respected the grid but pushed hard to ensure that the social/local heart of the product was front and center. As you explore categories, the map is ‘always on’ and interactive so users can toggle interests via location simultaneously. Loku for Windows 8 is a stunningly innovative lesson in moving beyond the grid while honoring the system.
Good article on Metro Style from Sara Summers.