We let users skip our paywall if they wrote an apology - here's what happened

We added a paywall to Kapwing, our video editing startup, two weeks ago. But to help ease the transition, we allowed users to skip the paywall if they wrote an good reason for why they couldn’t pay.

In this post, I’ll share some of the apologies we’ve gotten from our users. Here’s a sneak preview:

Hello, sorry I can’t really pay. I know this is a bit disappointing for you guys. I’m kind of low on money, due to paying for my education. Thus, I cannot pay THIS time. I really do love this site, and would be heartbroken if it somehow stopped working. So, if you guys want, I’m willing to make small donations whenever I can, to help you guys keep this running!

We received many messages like this - some positive, some spammy, but all together it was a nice way to hear from our users. So how did it work?

How our paywall works

Right now, Kapwing is an online meme generator. Our users can upload a video and add meme text directly to the video.

The main Kapwing meme editor

The video automatically gets created with a “kapwing.com” watermark in the bottom corner:

The created video with a small watermark

After creating the video, the user has the option of removing the watermark for a small payment. We charge $1 for a single video, and $10 / month for unlimited videos without watermarks.

The user has the option to remove the watermark

Users can sign up for a premium plan to remove the watermark from their videos.

Users can sign up for a premium plan to remove the watermark from their videos.

But, we gave our users an option of forgoing payment with a small link in the corner:

I don't want to pay link

If users clicked the link, they landed on a page with a picture of our sad faces and the option of leaving an apology in lieu of payment.

Our sad faces

What did users write?

We received hundreds of apologies from our users who were creating a video without a watermark. Many were surprisingly sincere. Here are some of our favorites:

I just moved to California and am launching a new business but it’s not making money yet & I can’t afford to pay. Thank you SO much for allowing me to have this free this I can’t afford it & I will definitely pay as soon as I can (hopefully soon)

I haven’t got money. I just make memes for fun. I make these in my free time for non-profit. Sorry, but i dont want to pay for every meme. Btw I really appreciate your work.

My dog ate my wallet

Broke at the moment, but do feel obliged to pay so I will pay as soon as I have the ability to. Thank you

I’m losing my home.. My mom is in the hospital. And i don’t have a job.

I feel bad for not paying. The problem is that I am still young and I am trying my best to save up for college. Please understand.

This one hit a little close to home:

I am teacher.

We did also receive a few good suggestions for improvement!

i need emoji in the meme then i’ll pay

Your faces look so sad. Add a paypal button, I would support 100%

I am testing - will upgrade if video works well with insta/twit

This is a one-time occurrence; I’m not looking to make another short video in the foreseeable future.

Our takeaways

The “I can’t pay” link was a good way to ease users into a paid experience.

Most users will skip if they can: Around 8% of users who could have used the apology flow converted into paying customers.

Skippers were suprisingly sincere: Even though our users are meme makers who opt out of a $1 charge, their apologies were suprisingly sincere. More than half of the apologies we recieved expressed some real guilt or regret, and many users wrote multiple sentences to explain why they couldn’t pay. Here’s a look into the type of apologies users wrote:

Pie chart of response types

Some paying customers skipped before committing: A handful of users skipped the paywall once or twice before converting to monthly premium users. The “I can’t pay” link is a buffer for potential subscribers who want to test the service out.

Conversations with users are useful: We got good product feedback from users in the apologies. It helped us identify opportunities that we hadn’t prioritized, like adding Paypal support and emojis.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more updates and stories as Julia and I work on growing Kapwing to ramen profitability.

See the discussion on Hacker News.