One of the toughest decisions for a startup is how to price their product or service. The alternatives range from giving it away for free (like Twitter), to pricing based on costs, to charging what the market will bear (premium pricing). The implications of the decision you make are huge, defining your brand image, your funding requirements, and your long-term business viability.
The revenue model you select is basically the implementation of your business strategy, and the key to attaining your financial objectives. Obviously, it must be grounded by the characteristics of the market and customers you choose to serve, the pricing model of existing competitors, and a strategy you believe is consistent with your future products and direction.
So what are some of the most common revenue models being used by startups today? Here is a summary, with some of the pros and cons or special considerations for each:
- Product or service is free, revenue from ads and critical mass. This is the most common model touted by Internet startups today, the so-called Facebook model, where the service is free, and the revenue comes from click-through advertising. It’s great for customers, but not for startups, unless you have deep pockets. If you have real guts, try the Twitter model of no revenue, counting on the critical mass value from millions of customers.
- Product is free, but you pay for services. In this model, the product is given away for free and the customers are charged for installation, customization, training or other services. This is a good model for getting your foot in the door, but be aware that this is basically a services business with the product as a marketing cost.
“Freemium” model. In this variation on the free model, used by LinkedIn and many other Internet offerings, the basic services are free, but premium services are available for an additional fee. This also requires a huge investment to get to critical mass, and real work to differentiate and sell premium services to users locked-in as free.