Strategy Memo: Beeminder Is Pledge-Focused

Friday, January 22, 2021
By dreeves

A bee considering a fork in the road, leading to two piles of money, one for premium and one for pledges

Since we like letting you all peek behind the curtain of Beeminder, let’s dive in with this internal strategy memo that our beeloved Queen Bee sent to the team last month, reproduced here verbatim:

Howdy my sweet bee people,

We’ve subjected you to a lot of polarized ideas about Beeminder pricing over the last month. Whee! I’m sure you were all riveted and popcorn-munching and not at all pantomiming grisly ways to put yourselves out of your miseries.

Well here’s what we’ve concluded: Beeminder is pledge-focused.

First off, what this does not mean is that we are going to make any immediate or drastic changes. For now it just means that when we are considering decisions, like “how many goals should be allowed on the free plan”, we use our pledge-focus to guide us to the decision that (drum roll) we should allow more goals on the free plan.

One thing that’s nice about this is that we don’t have the usual attention / resource drain of the usual freemium service with our pledge-focused world. We still get paid by users in the “free” tier.

To make this more concrete, here are some things that follow from this Capital-S Strategy:

  1. Most people should be happy on the free plan; we shouldn’t push or guilt people into going premium. (See section 5, bullet 2 of our “What to do first?” help page.)
  2. More free goals, more generosity to people on the free plan.
  3. New features go in the free plan.

This may mean that we are eventually going to find ourselves in a Beeminder world where there are no premium subscription plans, but it’s not an imminent thing that any of us need to worry about.

(Though it might mean we should stopper new lifetime plans at this point? I personally think we should.)


So now I (the King Bee, I guess) am adding some philosophical background and turning it into a blog post. Let’s start with a couple things our actual users may actually care about.

Pragmatic Postscriptum

As Bee suggested at the end of her memo, we stoppered new lifetime plans. That was our previous blog post. Here’s a key sentence buried in it:

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.

That’s what this post is about. We’re not rushing to kill premium perks (and see the footnote of the previous post about how reluctant we’d be to do so) but we’re taking our focus off of premium so perk killing and perk freeing are at least possibilities on the table. Which was the primary impetus to take lifetime plans off the table.

The other immediate practical implication Bee alluded to — and thanks to @shanaqui who made this finally gel for us — is that we made the 3-goal limit for the free plan only care about actual goals in your gallery, not ever-created goals. So you can create goals to your heart’s delight and archive things to make room for new goals. I’m actually embarrassed that this wasn’t the case all along. It was what users commonly expected. Every time it came up, we fell down the “are we pledge-focused or premium-focused?” rabbit hole. So it feels much better to have decided that and to have smaller decisions like that one flow naturally from it.

The Trilemma

Let’s pause here to review the decision we found ourselves staring down. We thought of it as pledges vs premium but the 3rd option was to continue to focus on both. Here are the cases for each:

  • Pledge-focus: Death to carrot-dangling (holding important features hostage to entice people to go premium). Viva la simplicity. Premium is only for certain things it definitely makes sense to paywall. [1] The free plan is as powerful as we can make it.

  • Premium-focus: Extreme carrot-dangling and death or near death to the free plan. Advantages include more predictable revenue, better (and more off-the-shelf) analytics, easier/cheaper support, less scaling, less frustration with users who treat Beeminder as a game where the objective is to never ever pay Beeminder a penny. It lets us embrace punishment and embrace people who’re motivated to never ever be punished. And no artificial restrictions on how much people can pledge. They pay for the service and pledges are icing.

  • Juggle-blur: Arguments for this include inertia and simultaneous cake-having/eating.

Special thanks to the folks in the Beeminder Community Discord for helping with the agonizing. Here’s one of the multiple polls I took there:

Poll between pledge-focus (6 votes), premium-focus (4 votes), and so-called juggle-blur (6 votes)

As you can see, pledge-focus was ahead by a hair. Though if we’d gone with actual consensus, the answer would’ve been to not deviate from the status quo.

Philosophy Funtimes and Business Strategery

Why not both? (the meme-y gif) That brings us to the obvious question (see illustration at right). You saw part of the answer in the Pragmatic Postscriptum above. So many choices get so much less agonizing if we don’t try to have our cake and eat it too. We talk about this more generally in what we immodestly think of as our classic post — at least we refer to it to each other all the time — on The Startup Eggbasket Principle. Diversification is the death of small businesses.

So that’s why not both. Then why not premium? Our answer is that to be sustainable as a bootstrapped business with premium plans as your primary source of revenue, you have to make painful tradeoffs to get people to pony up or GTFO. Premium-focus necessarily means pricing most people out.

Unless you use a generous freemium model. But that doesn’t work for bootstrapped businesses. It works for VC-funded startups who can afford to sacrifice revenue for growth. That is not us.

Beeminder is very unique in the business strategy we have available to us and it’s a powerful one. Being pledge-focused we don’t have to price most people out after a brief trial period in order to make money. Anyone (who’s sufficiently nerdy and type-bee) can start a Beeminder goal for free. We will (somewhat ironically) eventually make money in proportion to how much value that person gets out of Beeminder.

With pledge-focus, we still have to make sacrifices for the sake of revenue but they’re much smaller than with premium-focus. Namely, we have to have pledge floors and no pledge short-circuiting. These are restrictions you can pay to get out of if you really want, but we believe they work well, especially for new users, in guiding you to the maximally motivational use of Beeminder.


So there you have it. We’ve stopped selling lifetime plans, made the free plan a bit more generous, and intend to continue to gradually shift emphasis away from premium plans, albeit with a fairly long list of principled exceptions. [1] We don’t think this will involve any regrets for anyone who has a premium plan but we’re eager to keep getting feedback about that as we make more changes.



[1] Things it makes sense to paywall even with full pledge-focus:

  • a. Dogfood bounties
  • b. Maaaybe some hardcore power-user fangletry like custom goals
  • c. Priority support
  • d. Weaselproofing (but we’re replacing that with No-Excuses Mode; stay tuned)
  • e. A badge to show off that you’re an elite hardcore user

Relatedly, here’s a review of the current premium perks:

  • INFINIBEE: unlimited goals, unlimited goal types (do-less, whittle-down, odometer), dogfood bounties

  • BEE PLUS: full custom goal types, auto-ratchet, weekends-off, American SMS bot

  • BEEMIUM: charity option, pledgeless goal, short-circuiting the pledge schedule, real-time (ish) support

Infinibee was meant to be necessary for all serious users and for paywalling features that are liable to confuse and consternate newbees (and to mitagate the burden of supporting newbee confusion with such features).

Bee Plus is for power users. Unfortunately it also includes auto-ratchet and weekends-off, partly because those features can be finicky and fragile and cause server issues, like by spawning an unwieldy number of segments in the function that defines the yellow brick road. The SMS bot costs a small amount of money, probably not enough to justify it being this expensive.

Finally, Beemium is for revenue-eating, and arguably unbeeminder-y stuff.


Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves.

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