Product Monetization

How to Decide What Features You Should Give Away For Free VS Which Ones To Gate

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In 2019, Ashton and her team launched Vidyard’s free and entry-level Pro offerings, moving the company to a product-led growth model. Today, Vidyard has added 2.8 million users of its video creation, sharing, and engagement tools.

In this talk, Ashton will share how she approached deciding what to offer for free and what to gate for their initial launch, and the decision-making process she continues to use as they expand on their offerings. Hint: She has a passion for shipping delightful products using data-driven decision making to solve real user problems.

Ashton Rankin:
What do you give away for free and what do you reserve for your paying customers? Now that's the million dollar question. You may be launching a new product, or iterating on an existing one, but I find balancing free user growth and monetization, a difficult conversation to have. I'm Ashton and I'm a product manager at Vidyard. If you're not familiar with Vidyard or myself, Vidyard is a solution that makes creating and sharing video easy for businesses. And I focus on our free to paid conversion strategy. In 2019, my team launched Vidyard's free and entry-level pro offerings. In this talk today, I'm going to share with you the decision-making process we took in the initial launch of what we should put into our free, into our paid. And the decision making process we continue to use today, as we expand on our offerings.

Ashton Rankin:
Now, while you watch this talk, I encourage you to keep in the back of your mind that I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all model. What I'm going to share with you today is an exercise that I encourage you to do either by yourself or with your team to continuously make decisions that you feel confident in. Back at the beginning of 2019 is when I started my research for Vidyard's free offering. And back then Vidyard already had a feature-rich enterprise solution. So that made the decision to figure out what we offer for free a little complex, because we had to consider a whole paying user base and if they would turn down to our free offering, as well as a whole organization that was used to being sales led, and now had to adapt to a product-led growth model.

Ashton Rankin:
The first question we came upon, which many of you probably did is, do we limit on usage, or limit on the feature set? Ultimately, after some research, we decided to give unlimited videos for a streamlined set of features. And that was primarily for two reasons. One, we believe that having a streamlined first experience, a simple experience, helps your users see the value of your product faster. So when a new user comes to your product, if you have bells and whistles, they can get distracted. But by pushing them to see the value that you intend to give them, allows them to get to that aha moment faster. And second we believe, or I firmly believe that if a portion of your users can't stay on your free product forever, it probably wasn't a good enough free product to start with.

Ashton Rankin:
Now, that's not to say, I don't want people to upgrade. If you remember, I own a free-to-paid conversion metric, I definitely want people to see the value and upgrade. But I also believe in having sustained value in your free product. And so I feel like a portion of your users should be able to get value out of that free product forever.

Ashton Rankin:
So we decided to do a streamlined feature set, but we had to decide what those features were in our free and our paid offerings. When it came to making this decision, keeping in mind, we want to be simple and deliver value. I asked myself one question, when someone comes to Vidyard for the first time, what problem are they trying to solve? Now, when I ask you to think about the user problem, I would encourage you to think about a product's pricing page. And you might see a couple of different tiers starting with the free tier, and then the next tier up, then there's a little byline underneath that describes what that tier means. And it was likely written by a product marketer, but I want you to not think of that as marketing speak, but what you're building towards. So, if you think about Figma, a product that is used by a lot of designers. Their entry-level tier at least when we used it at Vidyard, the problem we're trying to solve is, I have a project and I need to gather feedback.

Ashton Rankin:
Their next level up is, I'm a team of designers and we need to collaborate and share assets. HubSpot's pricing page was one I kept coming back to in my research. If you look at HubSpot's entry level, they say it's for marketers who want to generate leads and start engaging with those leads. But if you look at their next price point up, they start to talk about automation. This is on their pricing page, but what I loved about it was as a HubSpot user, I knew when the right time for me to upgrade was, because I had a new problem I needed to solve. If I needed to do automation, that's when that tier was right for me. And I wanted pricing for Vidyard to be as simple for our users to understand. So when I was thinking about Vidyard free, I asked myself, what problem are they trying to solve?

Ashton Rankin:
They just want to get a video out as fast as possible. So the features I added to the free tier were meant to decrease the amount of friction and remove barriers it took for them to create, upload and share a video. A concrete example of this was trimming. As I mentioned, we already had an enterprise product and trimming was there. So it might seem obvious to some that it should be free, but it was a decision that I had to go through. And when I thought about trimming, I thought as a video creator, if I stumble then I don't necessarily have to rerecord a whole new video. I could just trim that out. And then I've removed the steps it takes for me to get my video out there. And that's why trimming made sense in our free product. Now, I had to think about our pro product.

Ashton Rankin:
What difference in value did our pro product offer compared to our free. And that came with talking to customers and seeing what value they were willing to pay for. And for us, it came to driving a business goal. So that could be seen as, I'm a marketer and I want consistent messaging. So we reserved things like customization of logos and branding for our pro tier. It could have been a salesperson that wants to book more meetings. So we reserved CTAs that moved your viewers to your calendar for our paid tier. If you notice here, I'm not talking about activation and retention, but I'm talking about delivering value to your users. By delivering value to your users at these tiers, the results will come in the activation and the retention. So, if you read the description for this talk, you would have seen that I love making data-driven decisions that solve real problems, and I've chatted a lot about problems, but not a lot about data.

Ashton Rankin:
And the truth is I really think you should be measuring and making decisions based on what you're seeing. But the hard part is measuring value. I personally feel like measuring things like retention and activation are relatively easy, especially once you make the definition. But measuring value can be difficult. If you think about our free tier, I said, they're trying to get a video out as fast as possible. Arguably, you could say, they're trying to get a message out as fast as possible, which needs a view. So the things I should be measuring, aren't just our conversion from sign-up to creating a video. It's the time it takes you to create a video. Is it fast, maybe your batting average between videos created and views had. If you're not getting the views, are you really getting the value? And by measuring value, we can see that the features that we're putting in our free and our paid offering are delivering what we are showcasing.

Ashton Rankin:
Sometimes when you launch something, it's hard to see a measurable change in the higher level metrics, but by going a level deeper, you can see those statistically significant results. Focusing on delivering value and measuring that value is really what formed the majority of our free and our paid offerings. But at this point I still had one really big question to answer. And that was were we ready to go to unlimited videos? The reality is, if you look at our market, some competitors do limit on videos, because usage is definitely a lever that works for a lot of people. So why shouldn't it work for us? Or why should we do something different? And the way I approached this question is by taking a moment to be honest with myself and honest with us as a company and ask the question, why do we want a free product?

Ashton Rankin:
What benefit is there? And sure, there's things like, we want to solve a problem right away and get people in the door. So they see the value of Vidyard. And yes, that's all true. But there is also another component if you're similar to us and there's a virality piece. When people share content on our platform, they share it in an experience, assuming that they're free, that's branded with our brand and there's a big eye-catching sign up for Vidyard button. So we should be encouraging people to share this content over and over again, because each time someone shares a video, it's an opportunity for us to sign up a new user. And ultimately this virality piece is what made going to unlimited videos and not limiting on usage, the right decision for us. So, once you've delivered that value, I would encourage you to do the same. Complement the user value with what your business need is and use that to determine what should be in free and what should be paid.

Ashton Rankin:
So, we've talked about user problems and business needs, but the third point I would really encourage you to do is to continuously measure and adapt. We can put in a lot of research, a lot of thought and love before our launch, but the reality is we're not going to get it right every time and that's okay. You can change your minds. So what I encourage you to do is while measuring value, activation, retention, conversion, see what new insights you learn, as you learn more about your customer base, if you're a new product. Or see how the market changes, if you're a maturing company. If you think about Vidyard we're founded in 2010, there's definitely things that people used to pay for, that are expected in a free product. The market may no longer have that appetite. I would also encourage you to evaluate things that seem like they're performing. Something might be driving your conversion metric, but ultimately it might have a better rate of impacting activation or retention, which results in more conversions down the line.

Ashton Rankin:
Think critically about these things that you're looking at. I'm actually hitting this right now with one of our pieces of functionality in one of our paid offerings. There's something in our paid offering that does drive a lot of upgrades. But if you look further into the numbers, if that's the only feature they interact with, they don't stick around. So, in my mind, there's two approaches that I would love to test. There might be more so if there is more, feel free to reach out to me, I would love to continue this conversation. But the two that come to mind for me are, if they've only used that feature, maybe I can nurture them, convince them to use something else and become a more retained paying customer. Or, maybe I could test moving that down for free and see what impact it has on our free retention.

Ashton Rankin:
And maybe that will grow the user base, such that we see more sticky conversions down the line. I would encourage you to think critically about the placement of all of your features, and don't be afraid to change your mind. The reality is, even if you're the only PM on your team and you are doing this exercise on your own, any decisions you make here impact a lot of other stakeholders. And so you're going to have these conversations about free user growth and monetization. I personally find having these values to fall back on, makes me more confident in my decisions when I come into these conversations and my team, more confident in me. Being able to tell a story about the value we're giving the user, the business need we're driving, and then the data to back it up, can be really compelling and definitely difficult to refute. The value of your product might be different, but I really encourage you to figure out what that value of your free and your paid offerings are, and really use that to make your decisions.

Ashton Rankin:
So first, figure out that value and do your feature set based on that. Two, be honest with yourself about your business need and three, be okay to measure and adapt and change your mind. Let's be honest, outside of the people watching this video, people don't often talk about the product that showed them the right upgrade prompt at the right time. They talk about the product that solved the right problem at the right time. Thank you for watching my video. I hope it helped. Feel free to reach out to me. Send me a video, sign up for Vidyard and send me a video. My email is ashton.rankin@vidyard.com. I would love to keep this conversation going and thanks. Bye.

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Gretchen Duhaime
Ashton Rankin
Product Manager at Vidyard
Product Manager at Vidyard