Sometimes free is not a good price

by Scott Austin April 19, 2012

As a startup, I'm always trying to save as much money as possible, which means I'm trying to spend as little as possible.  Every penny I don't spend extends my runway and gives me more time to build the product and business.  So I'm a big fan of all the free (or freemium) tools that are available for companies to use.  In fact, free is a common theme on this blog.

But one of the things I have learned is that sometimes free is not a good deal.  I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me a while to learn this lesson.  I was so focused on doing things the absolute cheapest way possible; I was too focused on money spent.  Here's a couple of real examples.

I was really compelled by Google Docs' free price for an Officereplacement.  I tried to set up all of my files in Google Docs.  And things didn't go that well.  Maybe its just me, but I had problems getting Google Docs to mimic some of the functionality that I used to from Excel or PowerPoint.  So I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out ways to get Docs to mimic that functionality.  In the end, I gave up on Docs and went back to office.

I was looking at mock-up software.  There are several free ones available.  But each of the free ones seemed to have some important feature missing.  I was talking to a designer one day about this.  I wanted his advice on which of the free ones worked best (or had the least shortfalls).  He told me that he used Balsamiq.  He has is own startup, so I tried to explain that there are plenty of free options out there and he could save some money.  His response was to (rightfully) laugh at me.  He explained all that the Balsamiq did that the other, free programs did not.  He explained that Balsamiq was only $79.  His logic was that the robustness of the product and the ease-of-use easily justified the extra $79.

That got me to thinking.  I realized that I was too focused on free where I should have been focused on value.  There are plenty of fantastic free products that I use.  But I also will pay for products when appropriate.

So, go find your free products, so that you can pay for the ones that are worth paying for.

Scott Austin
Scott Austin