How Dwolla Sells It Before They Build It

by Rishi Shah on March 14, 2012

Want to know if people will pay for a feature before you build it?

If so, do what Dwolla does! Offer a New Feature with a price tag right next to it. In Dwolla’s case it would be $3/mo. for their “Instant” feature. Right next to the feature ask your customer if they are interested with a “Let me know” button. If you have enough active users you will know in a matter of days if you have a feature your users are willing to pay for.

This is a great idea! Instead of building out the entire feature, simply describe the benefit it provides and simply ask the user if they will pay for it. If you get enough interest – go build it.

This is a win-win. The customer gets a feature they want and you get extra money. If you only get a few users to say yes, than it is probably not worth the time investment to build out that specific feature. Go and test out a new feature.

Here is a full screen view of the message inside my Dwolla account:

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{ 13 comments }

Randy March 14, 2012 at 7:30 PM

This is a really cool way of testing out a new feature. You can even be really clear to the customer that it is only a potential option (in case you decide not to go ahead with the feature).

Rishi Shah March 14, 2012 at 8:04 PM

Yeah – you can call it an “experimental feature”

Gautham March 14, 2012 at 7:33 PM

Really good idea.

One of my favorite web services just shut down: https://posterous.com/

I wonder if they could have tried this type of “Sell it before you Build It” strategy out to keep the company going? What do you think, Rishi?

Rishi Shah March 14, 2012 at 8:06 PM

Hey Gautham – I don’t really know the Posterous team. I’m pretty sure they tried lots of things (they completely changed their entire product and called it “Spaces”) a few months back.

But, yes, I agree if they decided to go the paid route they totally could have tried this out.

Kate March 14, 2012 at 7:45 PM

You don’t necessarily have to charge for it. You can also use this strategy to see if this is something your customers want.

Rishi Shah March 14, 2012 at 8:07 PM

Hi Kate – thanks for the suggestion. Not a bad idea. Although I wonder if people will just say they want it because its free.

Suzy Bureau March 15, 2012 at 10:52 AM

This is a really interesting and smart approach.

The screenshot looks like this is applied to features that are already built, just not necessarily scaled yet, which I feel is probably the best way of using this tactic. I’d be concerned with implementing this kind of process for smaller startups though, where development time is a bit more volatile. Even when making it clear to customers that these features are in the review process (and may or may not happen), I wonder how dangerous it would be to post a variety of features, for fear that it will increase customer perception that they are closer than they appear.

Rishi Shah March 15, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Hi Suzy,

Yes, I agree with you. It is a really bad idea to add a bunch of “Feature Coming Soon” pages. That is why I think you should go with your best idea and only show that feature for a while.

However, in my opinion something even more dangerous is spending precious development time launching a feature none of your customers care about.

Suzy Bureau March 16, 2012 at 6:34 AM

Thanks for the reply. I couldn’t agree more. Especially for a small startup, the worst thing you can do is waste dev time on features your customers won’t use. We definitely learned that the slightly hard way, but are making some great strides now iterating with features customers love. It’s definitely a very interesting lesson to learn.

Pete Kennedy March 19, 2012 at 7:06 PM

If I were Dwolla, my first instinct would be to email out a survey. But I like how they’re getting the feedback as people are inside their service, using it. The nice thing about that is they’re probably getting feedback from their best users.

Rishi Shah March 19, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Thanks for the comment Pete!

Personally I’m not a fan of surveys. I feel like they are always forced and the data you get back is never 100% accurate. People answer surveys knowing they won’t actually have to pay for something. With this approach you can actually see if they will pay for it.

Pete March 19, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Good point, good point… The type of survey I like the best is open-ended so you can get new ideas for products/services and try to better understand your customers desires/frustrations

Suzy Bureau March 20, 2012 at 6:10 AM

I agree completely with Rishi. I hate taking surveys -even if I’m interested in giving feedback. There is always one required question that I don’t have an opinion on that makes me bounce or lie -giving inaccurate data. The point about not actually ever having to pay for a product is key too. Who cares what people who aren’t interested will pay?

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