Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Software as a Product: Behind the Switch to FastFig Notebooks

The end of summer has been one of change for FastFig's interface. We've revamped not just the look and feel of the program, but the way our customers buy it and what they own when they buy.

On the consumer side, FastFig moved away from the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, and allows users to buy notebooks of pages on which to take notes and do assignments. Given how just about every software revenue model in the world has moved toward getting some type of recurring monthly fees, we understand this might come as a surprise. Here's why we zagged rather than zigged:
  • Customers - We follow the customer development practice of listening. A lot. What we heard from customers was that individuals use FastFig in a number of ways, but they preferred to pay for what they used, rather than a monthly fee. The more we thought about it, the more sense this made. People have been buying notebooks for a very long time, and the one-time purchase is a model with which they're comfortable.
  • Access - We wanted to make sure that everyone had access to FastFig functionality on every device, no matter the level of usage. Restricting that based on payment tier seemed against our greater mission of becoming the standard way math communication is handled. So now everyone can get all of our individual functionality for free to use, and can buy more as they need.
  • It didn't reflect our value or our values - It's great for a business to have recurring monthly income, regardless of whether the customer is using the product or not (just ask my Netflix account). And, if the business is mostly providing storage (like iCloud or Dropbox), that makes sense, since the customer is almost always using it. But FastFig is a primarily a tool, and so pricing it like a service felt a little off. This way, customers only pay for what they use.
Of course, those were some of the more philosophical reasons. As with all things, there were some practical considerations as well that had to do with our business.
    • Virality - By treating the pages in the notebooks as the purchased item, we give ourselves the flexibility to drive behavior by rewarding customers with more pages. The same way Dropbox can give you a few extra megs for tweeting about them, we can reward sharing and payment with concrete things that have a real value to users.
    • Separating markets - Schools and firms that use FastFig in more structured settings can still get licenses for expanded use that incorporates student information systems, teacher dashboards, and unlimited usage; for them, the monthly/annual license structure makes sense.
    • Retail - As retailers look to move more into the digital realm, hybrid products that can be sold online or in stores are becoming more sought after. By selling notebooks, we can create packaging that works on store shelves, helping increase our brand awareness and develop relationships with strategic channel partners (and saving customers from having to buy a calculator!).

    Some concept work for FastFig retail packaging
    As we charge forward into the school year, we're excited to have a more robust and customer-friendly product for both individuals and organizations. It's been a summer filled with lots of work, but we think it's been well worth it, and we can't wait to get more students and teachers involved in using FastFig.