Launch a subscription-based web business and just let the money roll in, right?
My education in entrepreneurship continues. All the pre-launch market research in the world is out the window once the service is up and running. When offering a new, unfamiliar service people answer surveys as best they can. Once they’ve had a chance to take version 1.0 for a spin, new wants and needs emerge.
When we launched Xprove back in November 2006, we didn’t offer free accounts. We figured a 30-day free trial would be enough of a test drive. Sign up, enter your credit card information, and you won’t be billed for a month. Cancel before then, and you won’t get billed at all. Simple enough, right? No. People don’t give out their credit card info before you establish their trust. We weren’t Amazon or The Wall Street Journal. Who could be sure that we weren’t going to flee extradition with scores of Visa accounts in our possession?
Actually, we have no access to an individual’s credit card information beyond the last 4 digits and the expiration date. And even if we pulled off the scam, the credit card processor would make us wish we’d crossed Tony Soprano instead.
So we had to offer Free Accounts. No credit card necessary. And it worked. Hundreds signed up the first month, and almost a third became paying customers since. So now the business model has proven itself viable. Sit back and just let the money roll in, right?
Not quite. It turns out that in the Internet age customers expect services to improve and prices to go down. Every time you launch Gmail you have a few more megabytes of free storage. Thanks Google.
So we’ve added new features to Xprove based on what customers told us they wanted. Some of the features are what you’d expect video pros to demand — HD capabilities, more storage and bandwith, and a more streamlined user interface. But some really surprised us.
It turns out that many of our customers don’t use Xprove for review and approve. They use it as a simple and inexpensive substitute for FTP. Unlike many of the file transfer services available online, Xprove has no limit on file sizes beyond your total storage allocation, and it has no limits on downloads so long as you don’t exceed your monthly bandwidth limits. So a large part of this upgrade was devoted to improving our FTP services.
Xprove’s turned out to be a lot more work than we ever thought it would be. When you’re offering a service that stands between a professional and his or her clients, nothing short of perfection is acceptable. You don’t get one mistake. You can’t tell a customer that the problem is operator error — you have to make it so simple that there is no operator error.
Without a doubt, Xprove has been the biggest professional challenge of all our lives, but it’s all worth it when you get emails like this:
In case not enough people tell you this already, this service is absolutely great. My clients even understand how to use it.
Or when someone posts a job on a mailing list that includes this:
Familiarity or openness with Xprove is a plus!
We did it. We’re not on a beach in the Carribean living off our subscription revenues, but we achieved our main goal. We make our customers’ stressful days just a little less stressful. Totally cool. Sometimes we monitor the usage logs to see how many videos are being uploaded or viewed. It’s a rush. (Especially Friday afternoons when everybody’s just trying to get to the weekend.)
If you’ve read this far, you might as well give Xprove a try. Did I mention it’s free?