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Chance to win a free license in exchange for email?


I’m developing a desktop app. People can try it for free, but it greets them with a nag screen asking them to please buy a license.

When a user downloads the trial, he sees a “thank you for downloading” page. This page contains a signup form for my app’s newsletter. Unfortunately, hardly anyone signs up. To fix this, I’m thinking of offering people the chance to win a free license when they subscribe.

But I’m worried that it will hurt sales. Especially because 45% of purchases happen immediately after the user downloads for the first time(!) If I say “you have a chance to win a free license” at that moment, I’m very afraid people will be inclined to “wait it out”.

On the other hand, my newsletters always lead to very noticeable spikes in sales and usage of my app. Further, my list is too small and needs to grow.

Does anybody have experiences with this, or advice?


You could force registration to use the trial by requiring a ‘trial license’ to run the trial. When the user runs the app for the first time, prompt them for their email address in order to get a trial license. The app then calls the server to retrieve a time-limited trial license.

I implemented something similar in a previous product. I found it better to ask for it at first-run rather than on the website before download, as the user has already committed time and effort downloading and installing, so is more likely to supply their email.


Not a bad idea, thanks. What was your target audience? Did people complain? My target audience are devs who I think would hate that tactic.


The program was Visual NHibernate, so the audience was 100% devs. I had absolutely zero complaints.


I must add that I designed it to be as seamless as possible: attempt auto-register in real-time via the internet, fall back to offering to either open the web-page where they could enter the supplied hardware-id and email, or create an email for them which could be sent and would be picked up by service and auto-replied back to them with an attached license file whose extension was registered to the program and when double-clicked or opened it would then auto-register. All nice and simple, but an easy and flexible user-experience.


Good idea, @mherrmann, to try something like this.

This is almost exactly what I started doing with Poker Copilot (a desktop app) a month ago. It has gone well. The only difference is, regardless of what email address the user enters on first use, we still let them start the trial. If a user really wants to use a throwaway email address, then we let them.

Results so far:

  • Our email list is getting 10 times as many subscribers
  • Roughly 1% are using an obviously fake email address
  • Roughly 1% unsubscribe after receiving the first email we send them
  • Sales are up roughly 10% (although there are several other possible explanations for that, including month-to-month variance)

I made this change with trepidation, so I watched my metrics closely for the first week, ready to change back to the old system (which is similar to @mherrmann’s current system).

The next step is to redo the email sequence we send to new subscribers.


Thank you guys. I’ll consider your suggestion.


Just one point @mherrmann that I think got missed: what is your newsletter’s content and is it relevant to the people you think could be prospective customers? Rather than putting hurdles in the way of prospective customers, build good content.

For example, I’m terrible at using Finder to get paths into my Terminal bash session. A 1 page pdf about “The Finder/Terminal interface” that you reward people who sign up for your newsletter would be one approach I would sign up for.


Mostly my customers only sign up for my newsletter after they have purchased. If you can get their email before they purchase, you should probably be sending them a drip sequence of emails about how to use the product, not your regular newsletter.

BTW I have found an effective way to get signups for the newsletter is to put a ‘sign up for our newsletter’ checkbox in the shopping cart (not checked by default).


Thank you @Andy. What I’m experimenting with now is a solution along the lines of what @SteveMcLeod and @Gareth suggested, but simpler: Previously, users could download the free trial by simply clicking a button. Now, I ask them to fill in their email address (on the web site) first. It’s not as nice as Steve and Gareth’s in-app solution, but much easier to implement for now. I’m running an A/B test how much it decreases the number of downloads. Will report back here once I have some data. So far, it doesn’t appear like downloads are going down significantly.

@Bobwalsh thank you for the suggestion. My newsletter is simply me telling the story of how I’m building my product every month. It’s very personal and (I feel) really makes people want to support me. So it’s not salesy, but more establishes a personal connection. I’m experimenting with what you said - asking for the person’s email address in exchange for something - now, in a way, by asking for the email before the user can download. As I said above, will report back here once I know how it worked.


Another thing you could try is a shorter trial and get them to submit their email address for a trial extension and (as Andy said) send a sequence of how-to emails.

Offering free licenses feels a little desperate and, I think, cheapens the value of your license. It makes it feel a little like a lottery.


@cadbloke thank you for the reply. You’re right “free licenses” cheapens their value. The trial currently isn’t time-limited. I have begun experimenting with how-to emails. Will update here how it goes!