I got a newsletter last night from Screenhero announcing version 1.0. The problem is that in the announcement, they also announced a change in pricing that will probably kill a lot of what they have going for them. And I hate that. I REALLY hate that. I've worked for companies where we had to invest a lot of time cleaning up bad decisions, so maybe it bothers me a little more. I really like Screenhero though, so I'm going to try to help. I wasn't doing a good job of explaining myself to them via Twitter, so this should hopefully be a better explanation of what I was trying to communicate.
This is the line of the email that got me:
"When we launch 1.0 in a few days, Screenhero will transition to being a paid service. From that point you will be on a free 14 day trial. After that, Screenhero is priced at $9.99/user/month."
I attended RailsConf in Chicago this past April including a couple sessions that dealt with pairing. While at the conference, a lot of people were talking about Screenhero. Whenever talking about pairing, remote pairing always comes up and inevitably people talk about tools. Screenhero is winning this conversation because it's a better tool for pairing. It gives both users a mouse pointer that's labeled and automatically handles screen size differences smoothly. I even talked it up in my recap presentation on pair programming after RailsConf. There are alternatives though and Pair with Me lists a lot of them. There are a lot of options for screen sharing and remoting, but Screenhero is a better option when you look at it like this:
When you look at it like this, however, that changes:
I want to be clear here, I have no issue paying for software. I write software for a living. It's important to me to pay for software. But there is not enough product differentiation for basic pairing functionality to justify that price point for anybody who uses Screenhero. I tried to explain this part on Twitter and it wasn't working, so here is a better attempt.
Let's look at the dawn of the PDF with Adobe. Adobe released Adobe Acrobat Reader and Adobe Acrobat. Reader was free so that everybody could install it and view PDFs from people who were paying for Acrobat to be able to create nice, portable, consistent documents. It became ubiquitous because of that.
From what I saw at Railsconf, Screenhero was becoming the Adobe Reader of pairing. People love. It's their go to tool. It gets free word of mouth. People encourage others to use it. If that conversation shifts to "Hey lets, pair. Go install Screenhero and give them your credit card." it's not going to continue. You cannot ask me to encourage somebody else to use a tool that I have to get them to pay for...especially if I'm already paying for it. If I need to pair with a web client or a programmer who I'm training or a programmer who's helping me or a designer or a support person you can't ask me to get them to install something that they have to pay for. A 14 day trial will mean that people uninstall the software...which you do not want to happen. You must have a free tier for casual users and let the heavy users pay for the premium.
That's the problem. It's not that they're charging. The problem is that they're charging everybody when they only need to be charging the heavy users. It would be one thing if all of the traffic had to go through their servers and we were actually paying because we needed their infrastructure to use a service like this, but it's peer to peer. Two people on a screen share session doesn't affect their servers at all. The chat system goes through their servers, but that's a minimum stress endeavor.
A lot of companies with online services wrestle with how to provide a free tier because there are actually infrastructure costs associated with it for them. Screenhero has the exact opposite problem. This should be a no brainer.
UPDATE: After one of the engineers from Screenhero clarified some of the stuff they do behind the scenes regarding using servers to stabilize bandwidth via proxies. I've revised this based on that input.
Here is what your pricing structure should look like:
New signups get a 14 day trial of the Professional plan to showcase the product. Peer to Peer only, Standard Def would allow a plan which bypasses the potential use of proxies to provide a more stable connection and HD stream which should insulate Screenhero from those costs allowing them to provide a viable Free Tier and Flat Fee Paid Option.
So let's break that down. You have a free tier that people can install and use casually in most cases without having any reason to uninstall the software. I can still recommend it to people and use it more often as I pair more often, until I come up on the hours limit. At that point when I realize that I'm using software a lot and it's creating value for me I'm going to buy it. I can either pay $40 flat so that I can continue using it for 1 on 1 sessions directly, aware that I will probably need to pay that again when my year of upgrades runs out OR I can pay the lower monthly rate, get unlimited upgrades, and get the new group sharing feature. But I'm buying it for me. I don't have to convince other people to buy it since they can use it when I need them to even if they aren't active users.
The team plan is just a different type of account where you make it easier for a company to sign up and manage a lot of users. There's no reason to price that higher. You're simply greasing the wheels of commerce with those features.
You do that pricing plan and you monetize the users who believe you are adding value for them, without forcing them to convince casual users to pay for value which they may not see. And it costs you virtually nothing to allow that free plan which preserves your community goodwill and free word of mouth advertising.
I sincerely hope you reconsider.
My name is Barry Jones and Brightball, Inc was my contract development company from 2008-2012. Although I no longer do contract work this site has become my personal blog.
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