Trello - turning Gold into ...what?

Update: Kudos to the Trello team - they've listened to the feedback and are reversing the latest update to give the Gold customers back their functionality.

We all know the story of Midas, who turned everything he touched into gold. In a modern twist to a classic story, Trello seem to be trying do the exact opposite. They're trying to take Gold and turn it into something else entirely. Exactly what, I'll let you decide.

Golden history

Before we delve too deep, a quick bit of history. Trello is a web based project management system that originally started out in 2011 based on a Kanban methodology for managing projects. It was successful. Fast forward two years and Trello introduces a Business Class and Trello Gold. They were trying to monetise their business. Fair enough - if you don't have a cash flow, eventually you don't have a business. Business Class was obvious but Gold was a bit more obscure. Trello in their blog post launching it, described it as a way to support Trello while getting a little something in return. With Gold, Trello was aiming at its power user base, people who weren't businesses but still wanted to support them and could be used to spread the Trello word. They even described them in the original blogpost announcing Gold as "super fans".

Trello Gold - The Quote

"Today we’re announcing the launch of Trello Gold for people who love Trello and want to support their favorite app. You’ll get extra bits of fun and functionality for your support." Source.

Golden Now

Fast forward three years (a lifetime in the software business) and Trello are rapidly souring this relationship. There hasn't been an update to the Gold feature set since it was introduced and this is starting to annoy the Gold user base. They've seen lots of new features added to the Business Class, including the recent and much vaunted Power Ups

The Power Up Problem

Indeed it was the introduction of the Power Ups that first provided the hints as to the depth of the problem. The announcement post attracted 112 comments. Far more than most Trello blog posts get. But a lot of them were from frustrated Gold members asking why they were being ignored and if they were going to get any use of the Power Ups.

Yesterday, Trello made another Power Up announcement. This time that they announced Power Ups for All. However there was a catch - free and Gold users could only have one per board. OK, that doesn't seem too bad until you realise that 3 features that used to available on all boards for free, specifically Calendar, Aging & Voting, are now "Power Ups", and you can only have 1. Again the comments on this announcement have not been kind - 112 of them so far, mostly from frustrated Gold users asking why their feature set has been cut.

Not so special offers

Trello have responded by saying that they have "special" offers available for Gold users who want to upgrade to Business Class. This offer is 3 months free Business Class when you upgrade. Problem is if you crunch the numbers the offer suddenly becomes a lot less special.

Cost of Gold membership for a year is $45. Cost of Business Class for a year with special offer (12-3)*$9.99 = $89.91. This effectively doubles the cost for the year for Gold customer to get back to where they were before Trello made this change i.e. to have Calendar, Aging & Voting on a board. When you look at it like that it really doesn't seem so special.

Note: For some reason the comments on Trello's blog board don't always show up. I'm not sure why this is, but if I look at the last post sometimes I see one very bland comment, other times I call see all 65.

Why alienate your Power Users?

I have no idea how many Gold users Trello has, it may be quite a small number. The problem is, a lot of these these users are going to be power users, and power users are, by definition, a group who punch above their weight. They are the people who, when they find a product they like, will evangelise. They will show their friends and their business colleagues. They will convert people. They will convert businesses. Why is Trello seeking to alienate these people, when they should be supporting them? No idea.

I don't know what is going on inside Trello, but I have some suspicions. In 2014 they received $10.3M in funding from Index Ventures and Spark Capita. They have a user base of 10 million, but I suspect most of these are not paying. They need a revenue stream, the venture capitalists who funded them will be especially keen on this and will be advising them. So I think they've been told to are go after the corporate market who have money to spend. Hence the concentration on their Business product. By why that means they should completely ignore their Gold users is beyond me.

What could Trello do?

What could they do? If they really don't have any plans for Trello Gold, I'd simply close Trello Gold to new users and grandfather the existing users into the Business Class by at the Gold price. The price for Business Class is $8.33 a month. The price for Gold is $3.75 a month. That's a considerable saving. All of a sudden you've going to be very popular as people realise the bargain they've got.

This is what most start up's do with their early adopters - they keep them sweet and keep them on side, doing what they do best - loving your product and spreading the word.

Examples:

Weebly is a website building and hosting platform. The original pricing structure allowed Pro users to build up to 10 websites for one price. Weebly changed their pricing structure a while ago so that each website had to pay for the Pro feature set individually. How did this affect the early adaptors? It didn't. Weebly grandfathered them in at the old price and feature set. 10 Pro websites for 1 price.

As one of our original Pro customers, we grandfathered your account at the original price you paid — a savings of over 50% vs. today's prices.

Ghost is a minimalist blogging platform that originally started as a Kickstarter project. As the product has grown and features have been added, the price has been increased ... but not for the original adopters - they still pay the original price.

Where will this end?

I don't know the answer to this one. At the moment Trello seem to be, at the best, simply ignoring their Gold users. At worst they seem to be actively trying to alienate them and drive them away.

But alienating your Power Users is never a good business model. Remember these people punch above their weight.



Jamie Whitehorn

Jamie Whitehorn

A self proclaimed geek who loves technology, data, computers and science; but balances this by spending time with his wonderful better half and their dogs and horses in the countryside.

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