“It’s not often that you make a decision that redefines the entire way your company does business, but a few months ago that’s exactly what I did.”
When I said this I was announcing that I had made the decision that Weavy should offer our Chat API completely free, without any limitations. It has been 18 months since I made that statement, and while I stand by it, I have also come to learn that ‘not often’ can sometimes mean as little as a year and a half. Because a few weeks ago, we announced that all three of our products: Chat, Files, and Feeds, would be available to developers completely free. Today I would like to explain why.
When I made the decision to make Chat free the marketplace was in a fundamentally different place that it currently is in today. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic all the major players in productivity were making massive investments in adding chat to their platforms. Suddenly Chat had become a commodity feature: something end users come to expect when using an application or platform. Having commodity features is not something that is nice to have, it is something that is essential.
As chat has continued its steady proliferation through the app ecosystem, my team and I assumed yet more commodity features would emerge, and we had a pretty strong indication that Feeds and Files would be among them. It was no sooner that I came to learn through numerous conversations with founders and product managers that nearly every startup developing apps all had the same thing on their product roadmaps: community features.
If my colleague is to be believed, when people describe all that entails in community features they are effectively describing Feeds. Just as Chat became the battleground for API providers to try and attract cost conscious developers in 2021, I think Feeds is poised to be the next big commodity feature. If developers want to remain competitive, they’ll have to figure out how to design feeds in house or, more likely, find an API provider who can allow them to integrate feeds for a low monthly cost. I also have a small hunch that file management features will too find their time in the sun in the coming years.
Since founding Weavy I have been pursuing with the stubbornness of a fool the goal of making development as easy as possible. As someone who began his career as a developer, and founded this company with fellow developers, I feel it’s important to give back to the community. But there’s also another factor behind my desire for happier developers.
In tech, and indeed in business at large, there has been a continuous push towards “customer success.” Customer success is the buzzy phrase designed to encapsulate two similar but important ideas: customer service and customer satisfaction. At the root of this is the idea that when a business makes the effort to help their customers be successful, that creates a positive outcome for both parties that allows money to continue changing hands freely until the end of time.
But we at Weavy don’t sell a service or a product in the traditional sense of either word, we sell functionality that enables our customers to build services and products. This is why I’ve challenged my entire team to reorient all our initiatives about a simple goal: creating developer success. The logic here is that for a customer to truly achieve any meaningful success, their developers must first be successful. A successful developer ensures a steady product roadmap, a steady product roadmap delights end users, delighted end users remain engaged, engagement creates business value, which in turn funds successful development.
The developer success initiative has motivated our team to overhaul and refine nearly every aspect of our product offering. Over the past two years I believe we have removed as many barriers to success with our products as possible, from removing the requirement to self-host to releasing UI kits that allow developers to integrate components built for their favorite frontend frameworks to our recent decision to offer our products a la carte. But these are all technical hurdles, and there’s a financial reality we must contend with.
With the recent economic downturn and concerns about a looming recession, things are far more difficult for developers than they were just a year ago. The major players are making huge cuts to their expenses and their workforces. Meanwhile investors are getting more cautious, forcing the burgeoning start-up scene to be more frugal. If the 2008 economic crisis is any indication, I believe we are headed in a direction where there will be another big burst of new startups trying to disrupt the playing field, with very little cash on hand to realize all of their ambitions.
Across the board, everyone in tech is trying to figure out how to get by doing more with less. There’s no clear indication of whether things will get better or worse in the near term, and liquidity issues with major lenders have only poured petrol on the fires of doubt. This leaves developers and product managers alike with a conundrum: they need to find a way to add value to their platforms without dramatically raising the cost. So called “freemium” offerings seem like a clear solution to this riddle, as I’ve alluded to in the past, most free plans function more as a free trial in a price option’s clothing.
Which brings me back to why I’ve decided to make everything free.
To recap: times are tough, developers aren’t happy, and productivity and collaboration features are being commoditized to the point where any app worth its weight is expected to have them. It’s only a matter of time before this confluence of problems becomes an existential threat to entrepreneurs and developers. To keep this from happening, someone has to take the first step in lowering the barrier to entry for commodity features.
I believe that Weavy can be that someone. Which is why every product we offer: Chat, Files, and Feeds now has a Free and a Pro option. In coming to this solution, we have taken extreme pains to make sure our offerings were fair and enabled developer success. My colleague Andy has already written at length about how we addressed fair pricing concerns with our Pro options, so I will focus on what I believe makes our Free options so compelling.
As I’ve said before and I will no doubt say again: most freemium offerings are nothing to hang on a Christmas tree. By placing draconian limits on the number of users, industry standard authentication protocols, or even white label branding, the freemium plans our competitors offer are little more than free trials that were clearly not designed with DevOps in mind. By contrast we have designed our Free options to be fully functional.
To us, fully functional means:
I fully expect that many of our new customers will work with us for many years to come without paying us a single cent, in fact I support it. But, as my investors would like me to remind you, Weavy is still in the business of making money, and for our customers who want to continue to grow their collaboration and communication offerings, we’re here to help. Our Pro offerings give each of our apps enhanced functionality, including support for third-party APIs, enhanced interactivity, and live developer support. For our free customers who find themselves wanting for increased bandwidth or additional storage, we also offer our Standard environments at a low monthly cost.
This is a decision I did not make lightly, and these are changes that my team didn’t implement with incredible ease. But I want to empower developers at all levels of this business to be able to mix and match our offerings to find the level of service that truly fits their needs. That might be a nightmare for my revenue forecasts, but I hope it will be a dream come true for developers.