Friday Updates: A New Year Brings a New Design and Subscription Revenue to Preceden

Hey everyone, happy new year. I hope this update finds you all well.

Since my last post, I shipped two major updates to Preceden: revamping its design and introducing recurring annual plans.

New Design 🌈

This project began back in October with me posting a job description to Upwork trying to hire someone to improve Preceden’s design. Upwork wound up not working out though (it was a mistake to try to hire a single person who could do both the design and development work). I eventually wound up hiring two freelancers, a designer I found on Dribbble and a front-end developer I found on Tailwind’s Discord group. Over the last two months we’ve been busily collaborating on Figma and GitHub to launch the first round of updates to Preceden, and happily we were able to ship it the week before Christmas.

Here’s the homepage before the updates:

And here’s the homepage after the redesign:

IMHO the new purple indigo design is much more polished than the old blue version and I wish I had invested some time into this sooner.

Part of the reason this took a while is that we introduced Tailwind to Preceden during this project, and the new pages are completely done in Tailwind with little to no legacy CSS:

Making Tailwind work smoothly in the codebase was trickier than expected because the old CSS apply lots of base styles to the page that often doesn’t play well with Tailwind’s styles. We wound up making a list of pages that we had transitioned off of the old legacy stylesheets:

in application_helper.rb

And then only loading the legacy styles on pages that still required them:

in application.html.erb

In addition to the homepage, the Case Studies page, Features page, Pricing page, and Log In page have also been fully updated, with many others in progress. I imagine by end of Q1 we should have most of Preceden fully transitioned over to the new design and Tailwind.

Recurring Revenue πŸ’°

For most of Preceden’s 11-year history, I’ve had people manually pay year to year to use the service. For example, a user might pay $129, get access to that plan for a year, then if she wants to continue using it beyond that she has to enter her credit card details again.

“Matt, you’re an idiot” I hear you startup people saying.

Problem is, the nature of a timeline maker tool is that many people don’t need to use it long term. They might use it for a few days, or maybe a few weeks, and then when they’re done with their project they’re done with Preceden. There are people who use it long term, but they’re dwarfed by people who use it for short term projects.

Because of that, it always seemed more customer friendly to have plans that don’t renew automatically. That way if you only need it short term, there is no way you’d be charged for additional years. I also believed this strategy would result in more revenue because I thought that many users would not want to pay for a recurring plan and that those who did would have very high churn rates.

But it’s also a very, very hard route to go if you want to grow a software business and why almost no web apps do pricing like this.

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been revamping Preceden’s codebase to introduce subscriptions, but trying to do it in a way that’s as customer friendly as possible.

Here’s the pricing page before:

old design, non-recurring pricing

And here’s the pricing page as it stands today:

new design, recurring pricing

Besides the new design, there are a few key changes:

  • The plans renew each year. For example, it went from “$29 for one year of use, no automatic recurring charges” to “$29/year, cancel anytime”.
  • The FAQs are updated to emphasize that people can cancel anytime to avoid being charged again, that they can continue using Preceden for the full year they paid for even if they do cancel, and that Preceden will send them a reminder prior to renewal as well as a receipt
  • Extended the refund period from 30 days to 60 days to make it abundantly clear that if they don’t want to continue using Preceden I’ll give them their money back

I have no idea how all of this will play out. There’s a real risk that many users will be turned off by the recurring pricing and won’t pay now but with the old pricing they would have. Imagine if it tanked new revenue by 50%. I’d get more recurring revenue down the road, but probably not enough to ever make up for all the lost new revenue. But I’m hopeful that new revenue won’t be impacted too much, maybe 10-20%, and that I’ll make up for that with the recurring revenue in 2022 and beyond. We’ll see. If it doesn’t work out, I can easily just toggle something in the new code that makes the plans not renew by default, but I really want to make this work while also keeping the plans as customer friendly as possible.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the numbers very closely for the next few months.

What I’m watching

Expanse Season 5 on Amazon Prime:

If you like scifi but haven’t seen any of The Expanse, I’d highly recommend checking it out. First few episodes are a little slow, but stick with it, the second half of Season 1 and beyond are fantastic.

Adios for now πŸ‘‹.

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