One of the highest aims for any sales-minded organization is to build a stream of recurring revenue. Over time, traditional businesses like cable companies, self-storage facilities, and garbage haulers have prevailed by selling subscriptions to services. Instead of selling singular products (think about a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman) where the transaction is typically “one and done,” companies with recurring business models (i.e. a subscription to the wine-of-the-month club) aim to generate streams of ongoing revenue through by earning perpetual service relationships. While the transaction and selling costs may be similar in both cases, the recurring model is often superior in the end because it presents almost indefinite potential for ongoing revenue and relationship.
Fast forward to the digital age, and the same principle applies. One could purchase a DVD on Amazon.com or choose to subscribe to Netflix. Both have similar transaction and customer acquisition costs, but the Netflix model is perhaps more attractive to the merchant in that it presents an ongoing stream of revenue without the incremental selling costs with each ring of the cash register.
The Software as a Service (SaaS) / Web app marketplace presents much of the same promise to entrepreneurs. While we all used to run to the local shopping mall to buy software, much of the software sold today is delivered as an online service–not in a shrink-wrapped box. Good examples of this include Evernote and Basecamp, both wonderful products that live in the cloud and charge modest subscription fees.
Our product, MetricPulse, is built under this same premise: instead of writing and delivering code to solve a problem for one customer, why not develop a service capable of solving the same problem for many customers around the clock? Our app provides a real-time dashboard of Internet marketing metrics to marketing folks and small business owners.
When we began planning for the creation of MetricPulse in 2010, we had many ideas about how to deliver a compelling product for our customers. We had plenty of discussions about design, functionality, and delivery. But the elephant in the room was the challenge of enabling and automated recurring billing process for thousands of users.
With recurring billing, there are all sorts of challenges. The questions involved in thinking through the process are numerous. How do we securely capture and store customer credit card information? How do we offer free trials? How do we handle expiring credit cards? How do we disable functionality for customers when necessary? What happens when someone wants to change their subscription level and the math gets dicey? In reality, that aspect of the functionality was an even larger challenge than the delivery of the product itself.
Then we found Chargify. Chargify is a software application that manages the recurring billing process for merchants who want to provide a service or software application on a regular basis but not wish to code a recurring billing engine from scratch. We built our software application to help marketers and small business owners keep an eye on their Internet marketing metrics and left the billing to Chargify. We could focus on what we wanted our app to do while we let Chargify handle that “elephant in the room.”
Chargify has a host of features that make it useful. For starters, Chargify operates quietly in the background through its API. We were able to easily integrate their variables into our code and utilize the system according to our specific needs. Second, Chargify integrates with a variety of payment gateways so we could tie in directly when it came to accepting the credit cards. On that point, Chargify does not attempt to be anything it is not. It is not a payment gateway and it does not store credit cards–your payment gateway does that. Their Partner Ecosystem page reveals that they clearly know what their role is. We were sold completely when we reviewed Chargify’s comprehensive list of features, including the incorporation of free trials and coupon codes. As we reviewed the features, we discovered so many things that we hadn’t even thought about. That was a good feeling.
We did find some other competing services that provide a similar service to Chargify. There are a handful of them out there, but we opted for Chargify for a few specific reasons:
- Dunning Capability – Chargify has some customizable logic that allows MetricPulse to automatically reach out to users when their credit card expires.
- Personality – Chargify has a group of friendly, fun people who are constantly tweeting and emailing you when you need them. They make it enjoyable to work with them. Even though we have never met them, we feel like we know the whole team. You can get the same feel from their About Us page.
- Service - The team at Chargify is very customer-oriented. They even let you use their system without paying (Developer mode) indefinitely why you are finishing your app.
- Upgrade/Downgrade Proration – If a customer wants to switch plans mid-month, Chargify handles the math for you.
- iPhone App – We can monitor our subscription progress through a mobile app, which Chargify provides for free.
- They Saved Us Serious Development Dollars – Because we didn’t have to write the billing engine from scratch, we were able to save time, save money, and offer the product more economically to our customers.
- SaaS Delivery – Since Chargify’s app is delivered as a service, we are able to focus on further developing our product knowing that changes in billing technology will be handled by Chargify. That provides a great deal of peace of mind to us.
- Integration with zferral – We had already decided to use zferral as the basis of our reseller program; Chargify’s tight integration with zferral makes both products even more attractive.
If it sounds like we are biased and that the Chargify team is our family, they sort of are. They did a great job of helping us through our development hurdles and even reached out to see if they could help us grow. The product is not perfect, we must say: we’d really like to see them expand the functionality of their iPhone app, which is fairly basic at this point. Something tells us that they are probably working on it, though.
The bottom line is that you should definitely consider Chargify is you are pondering a Web app or subscription service. Let them handle the billing while you deliver an excellent product.