When Free Is Not Always The Best

I’ve had many thoughts and dilemas about how to approach building a community as a sustainable business.

People want things for free, no doubt about it.

But there’s also the trend of people paying for things because they like it.  They could quite easily get away with not paying, but many people are opting in to part with their cash.

In the case of comedian Louis CK:

“…Tens of thousands of fans paid $5 for that show even though they could have easily downloaded it for nothing”. – Read this and other similar references on GigaOM

There’s a deeper thing that goes into this though.  People are paying not just because they like it.  I believe they love the freedom and creativity of these things that these people and small organisations create.  They have more sense of belonging when compared to the corporate business and they believe that their money is going into something positive.

Perhaps as people we are tired of big companies being controlling and bumping up prices in order to fund their lifestyle.  Increasingly we don’t believe in their ethics and technology is changing things in favour of ‘The People’.  Whilst it might be a minority of people who are going direct, it’s an encouraging trend against the more traditional corporate establishment.

Or perhaps in the world of digital startups we are becoming tired of big companies acquiring really cool and forward thinking websites/services and then doing them no justice.  Success if all too often focused on a company being acquired or going public.

Surely there are better ways to measure success?

I liked using Gowalla.  That went pretty quickly.  I also liked using Delicious and Flickr.  They too haven’t progressed as much as one would have hoped.

There are numerous other examples of small startups being acquired and either being left to rot or simply closed down.  The almost humorous thing is that people complain about it.

People have no right to complain if this happens.  If you want to keep something alive in a positive form, then support it financially.  If there is no way to support it financially then get in contact with the company to let them know you would like to.

Staying Independent

There is huge value in staying independent, especially as a small startup.  I can’t speak for others, but for me I have no ambitions to go out and get acquired.  What I do is never going to be the next big Google or Instagram, but we serve a purpose and make a difference to people in the software testing community.

I love choosing the hours I work.

I love working from home.

I love the creative freedom.

I love trying out new ideas.

I love making decisions myself and not being pressured to do things I don’t believe in.

I love not selling out in order to pay the bills.

I love the work I do and work with the community’s interests in mind.  Most employees in a business will never go to the same length and depth as founder would.

I Pay For Stuff I Like

There’s an interesting post on Pinboard about why you should not be a free user.  It is worth a read.

So yeah, I pay for stuff I like.  I could get away with not paying, but I pay because I want to see them thrive and prosper.  Of course it doesn’t guarantee anything, but at least I feel like I’m contributing.