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43 Comments

Why don't SaaS boilerplates have free trials?

Everytime, I tell non-technical people about my product Parthenon which can be considered a SaaS boilerplate (https://getparthenon.com) every single time they say I should start off by giving it away for free for the first few months. Every time.

Then I look around the market and not a single competitor has a free trial. In fact, the money-back promises are often super limited to 14-days. For me, I wanted to have a solid money-back promise and so I went for 30-days on a monthly plan, which is basically get your money for that money back at any time.

Personally, I feel like everyone is kind of not that confident in their product and worried that the customer isn't going to like it. I kind of feel like I might be missing something. Since normally when everyone else is doing something or not doing something they're doing it for a reason.

I just added free trial. But am I being crazy or stupid? Why is every non-technical person suggesting free trials but not a single competitor is doing it?

  1. 1

    every single time they say I should start off by giving it away for free for the first few months

    If the majority of your customers are asking for a free trial, then you should consider giving it to them. However, if this doesn't represent a majority, then I guess it's safe to ignore them.
    I've not always been a fan of free trials but it is hard to get a better way for clients to test your product before committing to buying it.
    If you're feeling bold enough, you can charge them for the free trial 🙂

  2. 9

    I sell an image editor SDK which is kind of a similar product in that the customer buys a software package.

    I don’t offer a free trial, instead I offer a 60-day refund period, no matter the reason. It lets customers know I’m confident the product will fix their problem.

    I’ve experimented with free trials but the difference in sales was (as far as I could measure) virtually non existent.

    When a customer has paid they’re simply more committed to integrating the SDK, at the same time I’m more committed to helping out.

    If it doesn’t work out, I’m happy to refund. But honestly that’s needed maybe 1 in 100 sales.

    1. 1

      instead I offer a 60-day refund period, no matter the reason

      Do they have to write in, or is it one click in the dashboard?

      1. 3

        They currently have to get in touch via support channel, as that gives me the opportunity to ask "why" and possibly help fix any problems that might cause them to request a refund.

        I plan to add "request refund" button to the customer portal in the near future, it would basically result in the same flow but it would make it more obvious that requesting a refund is an option.

  3. 7

    It's impossible to give a free trial with downloadable code. I've had a few people ask if they can use usegravity.app for free for a while then pay later but I don't want to work with people who can't already see the value in the product.

    I've experimented with a watered-down $49 version and also money back guarantees in the past, and it attracts the wrong types of customers who aren't sure about the product or the value on offer. It also attracts opportunists who will download the product then try to get a refund so they can get it for free.

    I don't do either of these things now and and focus only on high end customers who have done their research and who understand the value and are ready to make the commitment.

    1. 1

      To be fair, it's not exactly impossible. Spryker an e-commerce platform has a free-trial license which allows you to use their application for 30-days in a non-production environment to test it out. And Spryker is a company I would honestly like to follow the footsteps of, they've managed to have really good growth and massively improve their product over the years because they didn't provide a free version and only worked with paying customers.

      Obviously, it's possible for people to steal the code but then they don't get updates plus if they ever grow to a large scale you can take legal action for missing fees over the years.

      Overall, I'm just currently trying to see what works instead of doing direct sales to getting sales without interactions. And when talking to a few people one thing is also common from indie hacker types "That's a lot of money, especially if they don't know you." From direct sales, price is never an issue but I never do indie hackers or self-starters in direct sales. It's always been people looking at spending thousands already so they instantly see the value when I say how much they get for so little.

      1. 1

        If people are saying they don't want to spend the money because they don't know you, then that's very telling that you have an issue with your branding - you're not establishing trust with prospective buyers.

        I took a quick look at your landing page, and you have no social proof on there, or any content that would establish credibility and trust for a prospective buyer.

        This is probably why people are buying through direct sales – because you're making a good impression when speaking to them, but your landing page isn't doing the same for inbound prospects.

        Adding a free trial won't create trust and fix the problem, it will just attract a lot of tire kickers (who also won't trust you).

        1. 1

          If people are saying they don't want to spend the money because they don't know you, then that's very telling that you have an issue with your branding - you're not establishing trust with prospective buyers.

          Yea, but building brand trust takes time.

          Adding a free trial won't create trust and fix the problem, it will just attract a lot of tire kickers (who also won't trust you).

          This is true, but if kick the tires and look under the hood. It's not about trusting me, it's about trusting yourself. Literally, the point of a free trial is to remove the need for trust. They're able to confirm it for themselves. If they don't like it, they've lost nothing.

          1. 1

            How long has your product been around?

            1. 1

              I launched the public release in September, started marketing in the PHP community in July. But I stupidly decided to stop marketing because I didn't want to support PHP 8.0 and wanted to wait for PHP 8.1. Then started direct sales. And stopped marketing up until a month or so ago.

              So in reality, most people will only just be hearing about it - even those in the PHP world would probably have forgotten about it. But the name might ring a bell.

              Only good thing is, I've got a really good domain rating on my domain from all of my original content marketing. So I suspect my SEO work won't take as long as if I was just starting out.

              1. 1

                So why not leverage social proof from customers in that timeframe to build trust on your landing page?

                1. 1

                  Feedback, I've received has been people are more interested in my credentials than small no-name companies some of whom haven't actually launched (while it may allow you to build quickly, if you're building a fully fledge mature app it takes time.)

                  I think it comes from my target market being people wanting to build large businesses and and small businesses wanting to grow with a rewrite. Basically, I'm selling the dream of enterprise style needs. Hence why I have the "Build from providing for x" style proof.

                  While I think your target market is bootstrappers and people wanting to become free and super happy reaching and staying at 15k MRR. You're selling the dream of living a free nomad style live style. So people care about random small people since it's people like them.

                  1. 1

                    I'm not selling a dream or anything to do with nomad lifestyle, I'm selling people a faster route to launching a SaaS product.

                    1. 1

                      But why do these people want to launch a SaaS product? What is their motivation for buying? If I remember correctly, you at one point stopped using Twitter so much after a trip and then noticed your sales went down. What I took from that was, because you weren't engaging with your audience and your audience wasn't seeing a successful nomad-style not tied down lifestyle they were no longer buying at the same rate. And that Twitter was a major source of your marketing/sales. Your Twitter is very much geared around being free and successful because of bootstrapping. So it seems like what people are buying from you is a product that will give them the chance to achieve that. Therefore, you're selling the dream.

                      Example 1 - https://twitter.com/kylegawley/status/1525041239279665157/photo/1
                      Example 2 - https://twitter.com/kylegawley/status/1523577840264171521
                      Example 3 - https://twitter.com/kylegawley/status/1522183741359239171

                      These all seem very much around the benefits of being free because you're your own boss.

                      It's like how Rolex don't really sell watches, they sell status. Fitbit don't sell activity monitors, they sell healthier lifestyles.

                      This isn't some sort of diss, it's just how I see it. When people talk about competitors I don't really see our products really competing. They provide a lot of the same stuff on a basic level. But the people who would buy your product probably would never buy mines and people who would buy mines wouldn't buy yours. We're aiming at different people in my opinion.

                      And this isn't to diss you're extremely solid advice/statement that social proof is needed. I do need solid social proof, it's just now I'm lacking the social proof to the level it would look good for my target market. If that makes sense.

    2. 1

      This ^

      For some types of products, if the customer says they want a free trial they usually mean 'I want this for free'. Adding more value to your product instead is the way to go.

  4. 2

    I don't think it's a terrible idea but as others have mentioned I don't know how it would work since the product is most likely going to be downloadable code.

  5. 2

    Many SaaS companies do not offer free trials
    https://halloweensquishmallows.shop/ - deliberately. · Free trial is a bad idea if: · Free trials are magical, done correctly.

  6. 2

    Have you thought of giving a forever free plan with basic features so that more people start using your platform? In that case, there is a high probability of some of those users upgrading to a paid plan when the requirement arises on their side. More people using your platform either through a free plan or paid plan can lead to some networking effect or word-of-mouth marketing. The trial plan makes sense for new users to explore all the features of your platform and the 30day money-back guarantee option encourages fence-sitters to subscribe to your platform.

    1. 2

      Actually, I want to in the future at some point have a version of the framework that people can use for free up until they reach a certain revenue point and then they need to start paying. But just now I need to focus on people who are paying and not free users.

      But at some point, there will be a free until you make money version.

      1. 1

        agree with your thought process

  7. 2

    I've been toying with building a SaaS boilerplate. One idea I've had as far as a free trial goes would be open sourcing components of the boilerplate. That way people can get exposure the code base and get some benefit from it. If they like what they see then maybe they will purchase the paid version

    1. 1

      Tailwind does a great job with this for components.
      Some free, to get a feel of what you're paying for. Good strategy.

  8. 2

    Also, as someone who hasn't looked in this space for a while, I found your pricing page confusing.

    I thought "Spark Classic", "Serverless", and "SaaS Pegasus" were 3 tiers of your offering with different pricing that weren't yet available.

    It might be better to have two separate tables, one clearly delineated as your own pricing, and another as a comparison with your alternatives.

    Once I figured out what was going on, I was confused by the non-PHP boilerplate comparisons. When I last looked for a boilerplate, I was only interested in ones that used a particular language (the one I'm most productive in). If I were looking for a PHP boilerplate, I wouldn't care how Django and JS boilerplates stack up. Just my $0.02.

    1. 2

      Cheers, this is some really good feedback. I've had someone else say that table is confusing. I'll rework the features page tomorrow. Thanks!

      1. 1

        You're welcome! I'm glad it was helpful :)

  9. 2

    I would expect a boilerplate to give me all the code and let me customize it.

    At that point, couldn't the free trial user just remove any license check or anything from your boilerplate?

    That's why I would've assumed other offerings don't do free trials.

    Additionally, I could also imagine it being a difference in customer type. Someone who buys a boilerplate is looking to directly trade money for time savings. A free trial implies testing a bunch of options and kicking the tires on them all, which is a time sink. So it's possible the other apps in this space concluded it wouldn't attract their best type of customer.

    1. 1

      At that point, couldn't the free trial user just remove any license check or anything from your boilerplate?

      So with mines, I use composer and packagist to provide the code. So you could in theory download it and commit all the dependencies to your repository. But you won't get updates. And you may have issues updating any of the other libraries too.

  10. 2

    I think instead of a free trial, you can give away tools that let people see the value in the product with clear paths to purchase more as you go. Can you make a subset of your product that's useful for free, then provide paths to charge once your audience runs into common problems that you solve?

  11. 2

    I go with a 7 day trial.

    That is more than enough time to decide if you're gonna want to use something or not.

    1. 1

      I used to do 7, then I dropped to 5 in order to mirror a typical workweek. Anything higher, for a product like mine, would be selling the farm 😨

  12. 2

    Yes , I guess free trials should be the norm. Unless, you are using something like GPT-3 that you have to pay for, for each request. Or something related to that.
    It's very hard to use softwares without even trying it.

  13. 1

    Our SaaS boilerplate for Python, SaaSForge, has a free open-source version. Check it out
    https://www.saasforge.dev
    and
    https://github.com/saasforge/open-source-saas-boilerpate

    It's mostly because of the boilerplate's nature. All or nothing - it's not a SaaS, it's a piece of code. You can't rent code, you give or you don't.

  14. 1

    There are usually quite a few options for a free trial.

    It depends on the product, if I’m comparing 1/2/3/4 products I don’t mind a 14day moneyback. However if you a looking into 5+ competitors it can get really expensive very quickly for the smaller operator.

    If there is a good demo, I don’t think anyone would mind a 14 day moneyback over a free trial.

  15. 1

    My start-up, www.outseta.com, is a SaaS boilerplate product. We offer a 7-day free trial.

    1. 1

      Cool. I'm seriously considering creating a course for non-technical people how to get build a SaaS. If I do I'll certainly include a link to your start-up.

  16. 1

    Our SaaS for remote access https://getscreen.me/ has both a free version and a 14-day trial In general, any startup should be free from the outset - this is the only way to gather a loyal first audience.

    1. 1

      It's one way, sure. It's clearly not the only way as other startups have gathered their audience with only paid product options.

  17. 1

    It's really difficult to give a free trial for boilerplates, since unlike a SaaS product, you are giving full insights into your source code, customers can learn a lot from your ideas and setup, copy it and then just continue using it without eventually upgrading.
    The money back guarantee counters this a bit, since you'll be able to filter out opportunists, but still give people a chance to try out your product.

    Additionally I decided to release part of my library (https://saas-ui.dev) open source, so that people can get used to it before hand, and get a better idea of the code quality without investing upfront.

  18. 1

    Hm, maybe the SaaS boilerplate is a way for them to upsell support later on? If a product starts relying on your boilerplate and they grow, they might need support in the future (which is where more money can be made). So I think you should check what your competitors offer on the backend (after people start using their boilerplate).

    1. 1

      The support required for a SaaS boilerplate is minimal, I don't believe there is an opportunity to sell it.

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