If you’re nervous about handing over your credit card number, let us start by solemnly promising that we’re super trustworthy. Wait, that’s exactly what a scammer would say. Ok, getting more specific: We promise you won’t ever be charged due to any kind of technicality, including confusion about how Beeminder works. (You won’t be charged at all if you stick to what you’re committing to!) We’re pretty sure that 5 minutes of googling around to see all the gushing about us on the internet over the last 7+ years will convince you that that promise is credible. (And now you’ve found our blog where you can really get to know us.) If you can see that a commitment device will work for you in theory, we’re committed to making it work for you in practice. So let’s dive in with what exactly we mean by a commitwall, followed by elaboration on how we got here and why!
Beeminder now requires a credit card (or, ok, PayPal — see below for more on PayPal vs credit cards — both do work fine) in order to create a goal! To be clear, not a paywall, just a commitwall. And, again, you’ll never be charged at all if you keep all your datapoints on track! (And assuming you don’t want any fancy premium perks like unlimited goals.) This applies to old and new users alike. The next time you try to create a goal, you’ll be prompted to add a payment method if you don’t have one on file:
Clicking that “why?” link pops up a list of reasons to be and not to be scared about giving Beeminder your credit card.
What can I do without entering a credit card?
Um, authorize us to charge you via PayPal instead? (Side note: PayPal is a nightmare to work with compared to our beloved credit card processor, Stripe. If you’re at all on the fence, we’d greatly appreciate it if you picked the credit card or debit card option.)
The real answer is essentially nothing. If you don’t like it you can go poke a hornet’s nest JUST KIDDING you can reply in the comments and we’ll respond to everyone… and explain in detail how wrong you are to want to beemind with no credible threat (though that is in fact one of the premium perks). There’s a pretty elaborate discussion still ongoing in the forum as well.
Background and rationale
We’ve been gathering feedback about this, somehow, for years and were extremely squeamish about pulling the trigger. There are a lot of superfans who wouldn’t have gotten hooked on Beeminder had it required a credit card to try out when they discovered it. Despite that, we’re convinced it’s the right choice.
For the rest of this analysis / navel gazing we’re intentionally conflating commitwall on signup with commitwall on goal creation. We actually expect first goal creation will happen as part of signup in the future anyway. In fact, we recently added a “give us your email address to stay abreast of the buzz” form to the front page in anticipation of the commitwall shutting out a lot of people who would’ve otherwise been game to dabble.
Starting with the cold-hearted business perspective, Patrick McKenzie of Stripe points out that “free trials [have] astonishingly low conversion rates; you need a sophisticated marketing engine harvesting a lot of attention at scale to make these work.” (He also argues that your really good customers actually feel reassured when you charge real money.)
“Beeminding without a credit card is toothless and dumb and is a horrible introduction to what beeminding is supposed to feel like”
The big downside of the commitwall is losing people who are cautious at first but would’ve eventually warmed up and paid us. (Corresponding upside from a cold-hearted business perspective: losing all the people who would never enter a credit card anyway. Especially satisfying is filtering out all the spam signups — also very helpful for data analysis!) But I think the most important argument for commitwall is that the moment of the person wanting to sign up is an extremely good time to convert them. Even with hypothetical perfect lifecycle emails, it’s hard to top that. The one thing we gain by waiting is that later they’ll have had the chance to try Beeminder. That’s worth it only if we can exceed their expectations. But with our years of history and passionate community and nothing but love for us all over the internet, the expectations are hard to top.
Not to mention that beeminding without a credit card is toothless and dumb and is a horrible introduction to what beeminding is supposed to feel like. So we predict the probability that we get a credit card only goes down after signing up. There are plenty of exceptions but that’s our prediction in aggregate.
It’s especially true since, if you only created 1 or 2 goals, the point where we required the credit card was after you first derailed. It’s hard to overstate how bad that is. People — especially us akratics — stick our heads in the sand at that point. Having your goal freeze up on you after your first derailment, until you do something that requires more activation energy, right at a point you’re feeling frustrated with yourself for first going off track… that’s as terrible for users as it is for Beeminder. Even worse, it was bewilderingly common for users to not have paid attention and not understood that they didn’t owe money and weren’t getting charged when they put in the credit card at that point. We made that perfectly clear in the webcopy but, as we keep relearning, users absolutely do not read webcopy.
Now if you derail you get an email asking if the derailment was legit and if you say no, we believe you (unless you weaselproof yourself!). But the path of least resistance is now consistently that you get stung, your graph resets, and you’re back on the hook.
Before this, if you didn’t hit the commitwall by derailing, you’d hit it by trying to create your 2nd or 3rd goal. Whether it was your 2nd or 3rd goal was determined randomly. (Known as bucket testing, split testing, A/B testing, or a randomized controlled trial.) If you think that having more time to try Beeminder helps turn users into customers then you’d predict that being commitwalled after 2 goals is better than after 1. This turned out to not be the case. The probability you’ll create a 2nd goal naturally goes down (but only slightly, from 34% to 31%) if we commitwall you after 1 goal. But revenue doesn’t go down detectably at all. Of course, commitwall before creating any goals is very different from commitwall after 1 or 2 goals, and it could be worse. But we predict it will be better.
The fear and friction of adding a credit card is surprisingly low, we’ve found. In fact, we keep seeing users who are surprised that they hadn’t already added a credit card, seeming to have presumed that it wouldn’t have made sense for Beeminder to have let them start beeminding without doing so.
Another advantage of commitwall is that by eliminating the majority of users who won’t enter a credit card, we can put real human attention on the minority who do. And hopefully the ones not ready to scale the commitwall now will want to see emails from us and be gradually convinced to take the plunge.
One more advantage: If you find Beeminder frustrating and confusing and haven’t entered a credit card yet, you’ll tend to walk away. If you find Beeminder frustrating and confusing and you have entered a credit card, you’ll tend to talk to us and become a convert for life.
So, those are our arguments. (Not counting behind-the-scenes advantages like all the code that can go away now that there’s no such thing as beeminding sans payment method.) In short, a sting-free Beeminder isn’t really Beeminder, and signup is pretty much the best time to convert you into a (potentially) paying customer. We thought hard about a million alternatives but kept running into the problem that if you derailed before that then the commitwall would still effectively be at the worst possible moment — as a barrier to getting back on the horse.
UPDATE 2020 September: It’s now going on a couple years years later and this was an unambiguous success. Both revenue and user awesomeness went unambiguously up.