Up Against The Limits ✋

Discussing an annoyance of SaaS-based tools: Forcing users to make significant upgrades based on temporary surges. You broke my heart, Zapier.

(via Pxhere)

I really like Zapier. I consider it an essential tool—one of the most essential I use, in fact.

But it has a feature I don’t particularly love, and I’d like to discuss why real quick.

Essentially, last month I had an unexpected period of success, thanks to an actual decent showing on Product Hunt, which brought some new readers to my primary newsletter, Tedium, along with this one. (Hey all!)

The downside of success when using a cloud tool is that you never know when that success is going to force you over an arbitrary limit. In my case, I ended up pushing against my limit of Zapier tasks two weeks early, creating an unexpected crunch. So Zapier pushed to upgrade, at a cost more than twice what I was currently paying. I wasn’t down with that, so I held off to see if I would actually hit my limit.

Turns out, I was at risk of going over my limit, but just barely. The only option I had to keep my tasks running? Upgrade. I couldn’t pay a one-time fee for additional tasks. I had to upgrade. And three days before my rollover, I found myself paying for that upgrade because I couldn’t risk my tasks going offline, even for an evening.

But it turns out that there is a loophole in this model that I caught basically by chance. See, what I ended up doing was signing up for the higher-end plan for 30 seconds, which reset the task limits, then reverted back to my original plan, which gave me a clean slate, and effectively restarted my monthly cycle three days early.

Sure, I got charged for that full month of Zapier use at the higher tier, but because I immediately downgraded, I will now pay via the credits that they already charged me. So I essentially got what I wanted, even though I had to go through hoops to get it.

Tell me, how is this better than simply creating a way to charge for overages that can be turned on as needed?

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This is not the only time I’ve dealt with something like this. There was a tool I was using to import content from Google Docs to WordPress, a common case for my day job, and the pricing ($20 a month for something I used in batches once every couple of months) was completely out of whack with the level of convenience that the tool offered me. I basically told them this, and that they should simply charge for credits I can use up based on my occasional needs.

And a year later, by which time I had stopped using the tool, they changed the model so that the tool that I already thought was way more expensive than it needed to be suddenly cost $50 a month, rather than $20 a month, and came with numerous restrictions that weren’t on the prior tool. They reached out to me and asked about it, and I told them I would consider $5/month a reasonable charge.

By that time, I had found a free plugin from Automattic that basically does the same thing.

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I understand that software-as-a-service is a great business model for companies because of its sustainability, but I think it is too prescriptive at times. Not everyone is trying to use every service to the widest possible degree. Sometimes, we’re just trying to fill a gap and using something occasionally. Sometimes we end up using something more than we expected because we catch a lucky break.

But SaaS is not designed for that sort of limited use. You can’t get a single banana; you have to purchase the whole bunch, even if you’re just one user.

Now I will admit that there are examples that exist in the broader world where you would not overage charges to be turned on—AWS was long infamous for this. But I think SaaS services could help their users by simply creating the usage-option flexibility, just in case.

Zapier is a company I like. In fact, it’s probably second to Cloudflare as far as SaaS utility tools go. But forcing an unnecessary upgrade like that just seems to go against the company I signed up for and came to really like.

I hope it, and other companies like it, consider that their model, while arguably great for the bottom line, comes with some real user-experience downsides.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 3 minutes, 43 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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