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Running a freemium web app? Here's a big reason we're growing.

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Before Scout, my experience developing software was primarily consulting. Success was measured by delivering software on time and on budget.

With Scout, a subscription-based service, my focus isn’t on scheduling. We are self-funded and we didn’t have the luxury of a venture-backed startup. We’re focused on figuring out which pieces of development work can increase revenue the most. What follows is how we’re approaching it.

The 1% paid conversion rule

If there’s a golden rule of a subscription-type service like Scout, it’s this: 1% of visitors will signup for a paying subscription. This 1% rule exposes itself across industries, price point, and size.

The 1% rule is the Pi of freemium web apps.

It’s very easy to think you can improve this because 1% is such a small number, but your business is the rare exception if your paid conversion rate dramatically exceeds 1%. If your paid conversion rate is around 1%, you need to dig somewhere else for treasure.

As our signup rate is around 1%, what have we focused on?

Retention & Lifetime Value

Increasing the rate that customers renew their subscriptions (retention rate) can have a dramatic impact on revenue. For example, increasing retention by 1/2 results in the following revenue per/month:

If you sum the periods, you’ll see that revenue actually doubles with a 50% increase in the retention rate:

To determine the revenue, I’m using an equation for Lifetime Value, which is the revenue expected from a customer over their lifetime. Every period (in our case, 1 month), decreases the chances that they’ll renew. R represents the retention rate and rev is the revenue per/period in the equation below:

LTV = rev + rev*R + rev*R^2 + rev*R3 + …

This can be simplified to:

LTV = 1/(1-R) * rev

The retention rate can be calculated using the equation below:

R = 1-(# of canceled accounts in a given period / # of accounts in a given period)

So, is it as difficult to increase retention as it is increase the signup rate?

Good news – there is no rule for retention rate

While there is a rule for paid signup conversions, you won’t find one for retention rate. Retention rates vary widely and are a great target for increasing revenue.

Focusing on churn also makes sense in another way: increasing retention by 50% is the same as doubling your signup rate. If your paid conversion rate is already around 1% and you think you can double it, you might be a bit crazy.

I’ve had good success increasing retention by:

  • Closely monitoring application performance. As you’d expect, we use Scout for this.
  • Getting feedback from users when they cancel.
  • Asking users for feedback after they’ve setup their account.
  • Aggregating and prioritizing user feedback. We use UserVoice.
  • Tracking user behavior. We use Google Analytics.

Focusing on retention rate isn’t glamourous work, but for many subscription-based web apps, it may hold the most untapped potential to increase revenue.

A higher retention rate can have a dramatic impact on signups too

You can double your revenue if you decrease your churn by half. That is a substantial number – it means you could also charge customers the same amount, but double your spending on acquiring customers and have the same income.

Increasing your retention rate gives you room to breath.

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