Death To Lifetime Plans

Saturday, January 9, 2021
By dreeves

An old bee with a cane

Announcement! Beeminder has stopped selling lifetime plans. Obviously if you already have one, we will honor it forever and ever [1]. We’re just not selling new ones. We’ve thought about this hard and have five(ish) reasons:

  1. Inability to give lifetime people premium credit
  2. Special cases and complexity in the subscription logic
  3. Lifetime plans take away your leverage as a customer?
  4. We don’t know how to price them fairly
  5. Commitmentphobia?

The premium credit reason is small but has been mattering more and more lately. There are dogfood bounties and various promotions. It’s extremely convenient to be able to pay a user money by adding credit and know that it really is equivalent to money because we’ll be adjusting their next premium payment accordingly. (Fun fact: we pay interest, compounded continuously, on all premium credit balances.)

Point 2 is code cruft, and it isn’t that bad. We can just pretend “lifetime” is 1000 months and let our grandchildren worry about it. Still, there are surprisingly many complications that arise in the code (and in the math). In a sense, point 1 — not being able to give lifetime folks premium credit — is an instance of this. It’s another set of special cases we have to keep in the back of our minds in every situation.

Point 3, about your leverage as a customer, isn’t really a reason from our perspective but may count as an argument against lifetime plans in general. Having a lifetime plan means you can’t take your ball and go home. The company has no incentive to care about you anymore. Of course, that’s the (counter)point — you’re willing to get a lifetime plan from Beeminder in particular because you trust that we won’t be like that.

Which brings us to point 4. It’s true that we won’t be like that. But that makes the price we need to charge — for quasi-committing [1] to support something literally forever — very high. When we first realized we were selling lifetime plans way too cheaply we did jack up the price. But that price was so high it made us seem like price-gouging jerks. Not that we believe in the concept of price-gouging, but there’s more to it. We’re actually currently working on a revamp of premium plans — though it’s still a big nebulous mess — and it’s possible that some premium perks will become free and that others won’t exist in the future.

(This is the very ironically named point 5 — also kind of part of point 4.)

“From a business standpoint, it was a horrible idea”

We think that’s fair and a risk people took in getting lifetime plans, similar to the risk of Beeminder dying. And we always bend over backwards to not break any existing use cases so it’s always been a reasonably small risk (especially the risk of us dying, now that we’ve been around this long!). But as soon as we have even the inkling that perks could go away or become free, it doesn’t feel right to sell them for life anymore.


 

Stepping back, remember how American Airlines sold a lifetime unlimited pass in the 1980s and later decided to just fork their customers in the ear? That’s how I’d remembered it anyway, but the Wikipedia page about it has American Airlines coming out of it looking pretty alright, surprisingly. They revoked exactly two of the lifetime passes for what kind of sounds like blatant, cheaty abuse and are still honoring the rest.

But my point is that, from a business standpoint, it was a horrible idea.

Adam Wolf has an example personally of a small business who he got a lifetime plan from and them later being like “yeah, we don’t honor that anymore”. Rage-emoji.

Side note: Roam’s 5-year “believer” plan seems like a nice compromise. Beeminder currently has biyearly as our longest option.

Anyway, so, yes, we now wish we’d never offered lifetime plans in the first place and are telling you (other startups) so you can avoid that mistake. Obviously we would never in infinity years rescind existing lifetime plans. We have thought about how we could fairly undo the mistake and — using blog-post-driven development — came up with the following. It mostly serves to illustrate there there isn’t a very realistic undo. We offer it as a cautionary tale!


⌇  begin wavy imagination lines  ⌇


 

 

Subject: your beeminder lifetime plan that we can take from your cold dead hands

Hi userperson! This is not going to be at all what it sounds like if you only read the next sentence, so please don’t read only the next sentence! Lifetime plans have turned out to be a bit of a bugbear/boondoggle to support and we’re trying to get rid of them. Mostly that’s internal to us but one way lifetime plans actually suck from a user-perspective is that we can’t ever offer you premium credit for anything. You already have a literally infinite amount of premium credit! So… we want to make you an offer you can’t refuse.

(But we really want to emphasize that you absolutely can refuse it because you having gotten a lifetime plan was like an investment in us and your right to those premium perks forever and ever (or at least as long as they exist — we never said whose lifetime haha) is like equity you have in Beeminder. So if we don’t want to support lifetime plans that is 100% our problem, not yours. You’re bought in!)

Which brings us to our offer, or two possible offers:

1. We convert your lifetime premium plan to a literal million dollars of premium credit which is _almost_ the same thing but not quite. The “not quite” part isn’t that you might use up a literal million dollars of credit — and in the event of hyperinflation or curing death or whatever, we could and would just make it a billion or a trillion. Rather the “not quite” is that, the way we’ve implemented premium credit, it still charges $1 every month or year. We do that to have a better paper trail and also to just confirm that your payment method still works. We add the dollar back to your premium credit (and even pay interest on that balance!) so it’s all exquisitely fair. Except with an essentially infinite amount of credit it’s not fair because you won’t ever get those $1 charges back. So this offer would be to literally pay you a lump sum now that more than makes up for that perpetuity of $1 charges.

2. We give you a lump sum of money to fully buy back your lifetime plan. Please do not feel pressured to take this option! And if you do, please only agree to a lump sum that feels genuinely fair. After us buying back your lifetime plan you’d go back to paying monthly or yearly like normal.

The advantage of option 2 is that we can meaningfully offer you premium credit for things. For example, it’s an easier way to do refunds, or for referral programs or bounties or who-knows-what. Maybe one day we hire you! (Employees get premium credit now; we resisted that for a long time for dogfood reasons.)

(Another, hopefully counterfactual, benefit: If we ever sold out or anything, it gives you the option to take your money and leave. With a lifetime plan you kind of have no leverage if we ever started really sucking!)

The advantage of option 1 is it’s pretty straightforward and cheap to compensate you for the $1 charges and those checks on your payment method is a handy way to ensure Beeminder is always a credible threat.

Of course we won’t impose anything on you so if you ignore this email then we’ll just make it work the way we agreed and that’s that. But there are few enough lifetime folks that we’re hopeful that we can convince you all to make the switch and that will be a boon for us (and we think for you!).

What do you think? Easiest way to reply is “sure, make me an offer!” and optionally add any other thoughts you have. You could also exploit anchoring bias and name an absurdly high price and we could negotiate down from there!

Thanks so much for reading all that and considering it!
Danny and Bethany and the Bee Team


 

 

⌇  end wavy imagination lines  ⌇


So there you have it. Or don’t have it, if you didn’t already get it. A lifetime plan, that is. Also that hypothetical email is not something we expect you to ever get because it’s just too messy, and probably too expensive. (For example, a big monkey wrench is that option 1 is way too generous for anyone with a lifetime plan below the most expensive one.)

To conclude, we shall now enumerate, for posterity and fairness, five arguments we collected from our users in favor of lifetime plans, even though we think the five contra arguments above outweigh them.

  1. Going lifetime makes you feel bought in and committed.

  2. Getting the premium payment out of the way maximizes the motivational impact of subsequent pledge payments. It could be anti-motivating if instead of “risk paying $5!” it’s “risk paying $21 instead of the usual $16”. (This one doesn’t feel too persuasive to me because I think normal people — er, normal Beeminder users — naturally think at the margin.)

  3. A couple lifetime folks suggested they might quit if they had to reassess Beeminder’s value every so often, which, ouch. I don’t think they mean it though! I do think there are arguments along these lines that apply to monthly payments but they apply much less to yearly. And I think the option of biyearly payments mostly rebuts the pro-lifetime arguments I’ve heard of this form.

  4. A couple lifetime folks like the strategy of leveraging the sunk cost fallacy for Good. Fighting irrationality with irrationality; I’m on board!

  5. To some people, ongoing subscriptions are just gross in principle.


 

PS, related tiny feature announcement: If you have any premium credit for whatever reason — perhaps via a dogfood bounty — you can now see it at beeminder.com/payment.


 

Footnotes

[1] Fine print: What we mean is that you’ll have your lifetime plan forever and ever to whatever extent those perks exist in Beeminder. For example, we could conceivably decide that pledgeless goals should just not be a thing and in that case the Beemium people who paid for that feature could be out of luck. We’re very reluctant to tell people they’re out of luck but we have to be focused on what’s best for Beeminder long-term and not have too many balls chained to our ankles. (Pledgeless goals are just an example and we don’t actually plan to get rid of them. We’re just not making infinitely long commitments to specific features, is the point. And if we do kill a feature you specifically paid for, we’ll bend over pretty far backwards to make it fair.)


 

Thanks to the daily beemail subscribers — especially Benjamin Fox (AKA zzq) — for helpful discussions.

Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves.

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