Customers never pay for upgrades

The startup had done really well in their first year. They started with $500k of seed money, and the talented technical team launched the first version of the workflow management cloud product, built on, in 8 months. Their CEO, well connected in the technology world, brought in the first sales. They had 10 customers with around 120 subscribers in just 4 months. Although they were only collecting $20 per subscriber each month, things seemed upbeat. After all, they had the product already and all they needed were more customers. They projected adding 1500 subscribers in the next two years. They hired two more salespeople and began ramping up the back office team as well.

The trouble began when their customers started coming to them asking for more features. It seemed that another partner had also launched a competing offering. The startup had to act fast. Their technical team worked with the customers, compiled a list of all new features/functions required and came back to the CEO with the game plan. The underlying object model and design of the product would have to be changed to accommodate the new features. It would take around 6 months to develop and roll out. However, the catch was that there was no way to roll out an upgrade to existing customers due to the changes in the object model. Each existing customer would have to be migrated to the new version. Each migration for a customer was expected to take 3-4 weeks and would cost around $20k. By the time the new release would be ready, they estimated they’d have 80 customers to migrate, and would therefore need a significant chunk of change to fund that.

Ever the salesman, the CEO assured the team he’d be able to get the customers to pay for the migration. He went and talked to two customers about the plan. They would be getting all the fabulous new features in 6 months however, they’d have to shell out a one-time $20k fee for the new features. The CEO wasn’t prepared for the response. Why do we have to pay these fees for the new features? Doesn’t Cloud Computing mean that we pay you a monthly fee and you figure out the rest?? was the response he received. It became clear to him, after the first few conversations, that the customers wouldn’t pay anything for the upgrade. This was an unanticipated cost which threatened to completely destroy their business plan.

The example above is extracted from my recent book, Thinking of as your Key to the Cloud Kingdom, co-authored by Ian Gotts. The book, featured in CIO Magazine’s “What We’re Reading?” List for March 1st, 2011, will help ISVs ask the right questions that are critical for commercial success in’s cloud.

Getting your financial model right is one of the biggest challenges. It’s very important to ask the right questions upfront, so you don’t get blind-sided.