Pricing page driven development

Thoughts on how to use the pricing page to mold and refine your pricing position

Pricing Page Driven Development

You are perhaps familiar with the concept of Readme Driven Development: writing your Readme first and using it to backtest the interface for your CLI.

I'd like to propose a similar mental exercise for thinking about your pricing model: pricing page driven development. As in: when thinking about your monetization strategy, write a pricing page first and work your way backwards into something that makes sense.

Some context about Buttondown

Buttondown is API-first software for sending emails and managing subscriptions. (Think Mailchimp, except for people who don't want to spend all day inside Mailchimp.) Sending emails cost money; running servers costs money; paying a mortgage costs money. So I charge for the service, albeit with a free tier.

Some context about pricing strategy

What makes a good pricing model? More than anything else, you want to think about two numbers:

  1. Conversion rate — how many prospective users become paying customers?
  2. Lifetime value — how much does each customer pay you over their lifetime? (You can think about this separately as ARPU and churn, but the two tend to have a tight relationship.)

Buttondown's old pricing model (2020)

Conversion rate: 5% · LTV: $455

When we launched in 2018, Buttondown had a hybrid model: you pay ~at-cost for the amount of emails you send, and then you also pay an additional $29/mo for additional functionality such as custom domains or whitelabeling. I considered this a very clever approach to align incentives — I "give away" the rails for free and then charge for the fancy stuff!

Buttondown's pricing page circa 2020

The problem here was in communication. The vast majority of new customers would have to begin their journey by emailing me some variation of "wait, so how much do I need to pay?" — rarely a good sign.

Buttondown's new pricing model (2022)

Conversion rate: 8.5% · LTV: $397

Last year, I did what many founders do — admit defeat and swear newfound fealty to the almighty three-column SaaS grid. Out goes the clever combination of usage-and-feature-based pricing, in comes the cascading waterfall of checkboxes and the various price tiers:

Buttondown's pricing page circa 2022

The combination of both a usage cliff (you have too many subscribers, time to upgrade!) and a feature cliff (you want to use Zapier, time to upgrade!) proved efficacious: ARPU and expansion revenue steadily rose as new customers coalesced around the $29/mo plan.

While the bones of the new pricing model were solid, I found myself running into two core issues:

  1. Expansion revenue from the $29/mo tier into the $79/mo tier was tiny: businesses with hundreds of thousands of dollars of MRR were happily sitting in the $29/mo tier and I didn't have an obvious lever to incentivize them.
  2. Enterprise/volume-based revenue was the wild west: larger customers were put off by the fact that there weren't any obvious tiers for them, and I had to YOLO answers for their costs each time they reached out.

Once again, the pricing page presaged the outcome: of course folks weren't voluntarily expanding because they had no reason to! of course enterprise customers were harder to convert because the messaging for them was terrible!

Expanding Buttondown's pricing model (2023)

Conversion rate: 9.2% · LTV: $511

Earlier this year, I shipped two changes to address both problems:

First, I added and shift functionality to incentivize moving towards Professional — gating whitelabeling behind a higher tier and adding support for teams + dedicated IPs, two long-standing asks:

Buttondown's pricing page circa 2023

Second, I added obvious enterprise pricing based on the same value metric that the existing prices were on:

Buttondown's pricing page circa 2023

(I dithered between having the public-facing enterprise pricing be based on "emails sent", which is more common in the industry, vs. "number of subscribers" — ultimately landing on the latter because it feels more cohesive with the other prices.)

Buttondown's pricing isn't perfect — for instance, now I need to think about levers to incentivize upselling into the $139/mo plan — but it's much better than it was 24 months ago. (Much better being defined as ARPU is up and conversion rate is up and churn is down.)

(This pricing page is live, btw!)

All of this is to say

An underrated part of pricing is "does this make sense to users?" Users think about your pricing primarily through your pricing page (and secondarily through your competitor's pricing page.) If rationale or price can't be concisely explained on a page devoted to the subject, then something is probably wrong.

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What customers say about Buttondown

I, like almost everyone else I've seen talk about Buttondown, am IMMENSELY happy and impressed with your customer service. It turns out we can have nice things, which is really refreshing.
Ed Yong, Staff writer, The Atlantic
Email makes the world go ‘round, and Buttondown is how I manage it all for my keyboard projects.
Tim van Damme, Founder, MVKB
It's a truth, that should be more universally acknowledged, that Buttondown is the best newsletter software. Simple, does exactly what it sets out to do, and reasonably priced.
Noel Welsh, Founder, Inner Product
Buttondown is the perfect fit for my headless newsletter use case. And I contacted support with some specific requests and Justin responded within 30 minutes with great answers and a nice pinch of charm.
Sam Roberts, Software engineer, Tamr
Hands down the easiest way to run a newsletter - and the free version is generous!
Javeed Khatree, SEO expert
With API and Markdown support, you can build workflows that make it so easy to write.
Westley Winks, Peace Corps
I’ve never enjoyed writing newsletters as much as I do with Buttondown.
Kevin Lewis, You Got This!
Buttondown remains the easiest thing I use regularly, and I am grateful for that.
Casey, Journalist
It's a humble app doing a common job but with end users in mind.
Si Jobling, Engineering Manager
Buttondown has been an amazing experience for me. The service is constantly being improved and customer service is the best. My newsletter with Buttondown has grown from a fairly small list to over 15,000 subscribers, and it hasn't broken a sweat yet.
Cassidy Williams, CTO, Contenda
I switched over to Buttondown from Mailchimp because of the difficulty I had with Mailchimp's campaigns, so Buttondown's easy and user-friendly system has been a genuine breath of fresh air.
Jessi Eoin, Illustrator + Comic Artist
You’ve truly built a great product that I feel good about using (vs a monopoly from our tech overlords).
Rachel, 2030 Camp
I love how personal Buttondown feels, especially compared to Mailchimp, Convertkit, and services like that.
Simen Strøm Braaten, Designer
This product has been exactly what I’ve needed!
Nathan Bird, Podcast host, Chattanooga Civics
It's already so refreshing compared to the mega companies.
Casey Watts, Author, Debugging Your Brain
Definitely will be using for the foreseeable future. It’s a great service and I feel well cared for. Thank you!
Phoebe Sinclair, Author
I’m a sucker for elegant UI and I really love your site, but above that I think your product has so much value for so many different people. I’m not a coder, I’m only familiar with the bare basics, but I was able to figure out and utilise Buttondown quickly.
Claudia Nathan, Founder, The Repository
The killer feature for me: Buttondown will take an RSS feed then automatically slurp up the content (in their words) and then send it to our subscribers. Job done. They seem like a good company too, so I’d say this is a winner.
Andy Bell, Founder, Set Studio
As a recent user of Buttondown, they are super on the ball. A week ago I discovered a security vulnerability and reported it on Friday afternoon. They acknowledged and fixed it in under two hours. On a Friday night! Talk about going above and beyond for your users!
Predrag Gruevski, Principal Engineer, Kensho
Well may I just say your support experience is already approximately 1 billion times better than ConvertKit. Excited to be switching!
Michael J. Metts, Author, Writing is Designing
Privacy focused sending and sign up form; lets me focus on writing - editor is "just" markdown; simple, elegant design template looks like a blog post; the founder is amazing - he's helped with every question I've had, even outside of Buttondown.
Joe Masilotti, Founder, RailsDevs
We need more nice and professional services like yours on the web.
Tobias Horvath, Designer and developer
No one is paying me to say this, but I love @buttondown so far for my lil newsletter. It’s so smart, simple, and attractive (and to my knowledge, not actively anti-trans!). Customer service is also legitimately excellent.
Julie Kliegman, Copy chief, Sports Illustrated
I love it! It lets me breathe, not compete as I write with other writers.
Devin Kate Pope, Writer and editor
It’s a pleasure working with you. Thank you! (And what a contrast with Mailchimp, where I spent two weeks and a dozen of emails trying find out why our form goes down sometimes (only sometimes), and never really got a real answer.)
Anton Sotkov, Software Engineer, IA
Buttondown exemplifies how I wish most software worked, and I hope to achieve a similar thing with the software I develop in the future.
Matt Favero, Software engineer
It feels incomparably good to be able to email just like a guy named Justin when you have a @buttondown question 15 minutes before you’re about to blast a Geistlist email. (Not a guarantee but wow this guy is human-level good.)
Jacob Ford, Designer About Town
Enter Buttondown, Justin Duke’s lovely little newsletter tool. It’s small, elegant, and integrates well. And it is also eminently affordable.
Will Buckingham, Author
Your settings page is a joy to use and everything about Buttondown makes me happy.
Gareth Jelley, Magazine editor
have been on Buttondown for ~18 months and I can't recommend it enough.
Elizabeth Minkel, Podcast host
You really do make ALL other customer service look terrible by comparison.
Chris Mead, Improv teacher
There is a caring person on the other side of this software, which is one of the things I like the most about Buttondown.
Keith Calder, Film & TV Producer
I’d also like to add that @buttondown is an absolute joy to use. Hats off, Justin!
Elliot Jay Stocks, Creative Director, Google Fonts
Shoutout to @buttondown and @jmduke for building an amazing bootstrapped product for newsletters, all while being very open to feedback and connecting directly with customers 🙏 Easily one of the most enjoyable product experiences I've had.
Den Delimarsky, Head of Ecosystem, Netlify
if you are looking for "newsletter tool for hackers" i tentatively believe the answer is @buttondown full api, compose in markdown, good docs for setting up domain auth, simple subscribe form HTML that you style yourself (or not)
Brian David Hall, Author, Your Website Sucks
I really like @buttondown as a blogging platform, it has the simplicity of Substack but the corporate culture is less toxic.
Chad Loder, Extremism researcher
I worked with @buttondown and asked for some new payment support beyond the supporter single tier / pay-what-you-want options. Justin was great and built it in just a couple days.
Dan Hon, Author & consultant
I write nonfiction and I use @buttondown - indie, GREAT personal customer support, very nice default styling, all the options I want including ones to protect my readers' privacy
Sumana Harihareswara, Open source maintainer
I use @buttondown because it does exactly what I need (manage subscribers and send markdown emails), not more and not less 👍 As a bonus it's made by an indie dev which I love!
Max Stober, Founder, GraphCDN
If you’re considering running an email newsletter, or if you already run one and are considering a change of provider, I highly recommend @buttondownemail. Super-easy app, very fair pricing with a generous free tier, and exemplary support. 💯
Peter Gasston, Technologist and speaker
imo @buttondown is easily one of the best-designed services i’ve used in recent years, if you have a substack you should really consider switching!
Kabir Goel, Engineer, Cal
Thanks for getting me excited about email newsletters again.
Garrick van Buren
I'm very thrilled that I can just write in Markdown without having to deal with email builders and all that crap.
Parham Doustdar
Thanks again for all the help! You’ve really turned something super complex into something super easy – sending new issues is as simple as firing off a text message.
Kartik Chaturvedi
Thanks for creating a simple way for people who want to, like, put words in a hole and have it sent to people... I am just thankful that something just nice and human exists on the internet.
Emmanuel Quartey
I tried 3 other newsletter services today and I felt like wanting to rip my hair out. They were all painfully slow. I'm so glad I found Buttondown.
Mohamed Elbadwihi
I’ve found Buttondown to be a great fit for my workflow and have been delighted by all of Justin’s thoughtful features and improvements to the product.
Michael Lee
Like seriously, so many lovely little easter eggs in one could-be-boring service.
Alexandra Muck
I just switched over from Tinyletter and I'm really excited to have found a place to host my tiny newsletter that doesn't seem like it's assuming everyone sending newsletters is an email marketer / growth hacker.
Tessa Alexanian
I'm in love with the simplicity of Buttondown.
I’ve used similar tools in the past and Buttondown is by far the simplest to use and most promising.
Fabrizio Rinaldi
Thank you for creating such a simple and brilliant tool. I’ve just signed up and the experience has been smooth and painless (the docs are great too!)
Oliver Holms
As a developer who has hated every email system I've ever used this is so nice.
Drew Hornbein