(MAKE SURE YOU READ ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM FOR A SPECIAL GIVEAWAY!)
Back in March, I posted a review (non-paid) of an online ad-serving tool called PassionFruit, and gave it a rousing, ringing endorsement. I know a lot of you signed up for the site and also took advantage (thanks!) of my offer to post free blog-related ads on my site.
The offer still stands, by the way. Click here for my full dashboard and look for the one marked SWAP.
Since then, PassionFruit has changed its pricing structure, addressed by the team in several posts:
After looking through the documentation, the feature upgrades and having a few really conversations with Jason from PassionFruit, I decided to sign up for the paid plan, and as an existing member, paid the $50 annual fee (after September 1, the fee goes up to $9/month, which you pay whether or not you have any active ads running).
For me, it’s a no-brainer. I make money through the ads served by PassionFruit, I love the ability to offer free spots to bloggers AND the new dashboard is really spectacular.
The checkout process is also super simple for brands and advertisers, and the ability to integrate it into my existing site sends it leaps and bounds above other services.
(Again, just to be clear. I paid for the service. I have gotten no special discounts or pricing, and I share all of this because I think for many bloggers, PassionFruit will continue to be a great tool.)
But there has been some backlash from people who wonder why PassionFruit felt compelled to make the change, why the service doesn’t cut smaller bloggers a break and why the fees are required even when an account is inactive.
So, I asked Jason from PassionFruit to answer a few questions. Not only did he eagerly respond to even some challenging queries from me, he asked if I’d be willing to give away FIVE PassionFruit memberships.
So, make sure you read all the way to the bottom to see how you can enter.
Q&A WITH JASON LYNES OF PASSIONFRUIT ADS
1) It must be an exciting and challenging time for you and your business. What should bloggers and potential clients know about YOU (and not the press release stuff). What are your work hours? What exactly is your job? How did you come up with PassionFruit 2.0 and what did it take to launch it? Let us into your world!
Running PF is quite fun and it’s all I’ve been doing for about two years. I quit my corporate job two summers ago and dove into testing some long-held thoughts about how to improve advertising. I run Passionfruit myself these days, from a home office outside of Atlanta. I’m 35, married and have four kids, aged 5-11, including 11 year old twin boys. We’re also homeschoolers, so we have a busy house most days, but we love it and wouldn’t have it any differently.
I designed and built Passionfruit myself, and I answer all the customer support emails and texts. Yes my cell phone is on the website and I answer all the texts myself. I’m constantly working, either answering questions or building and planning new features. My typical day starts around 10am in my office, usually in PJ’s, answering the emails from our European and Australian customers. I work until 6pm, break for family time until around 10pm, and then I’m back in my office from 10 until 4am or so. Some days all I do is answer emails, but usually I’m improving the system, working on marketing, or sketching new ideas. I keep about 3-4 months of new features planned and designed, so there’s always something to work on.
I launched Passionfruit in March of 2012 with basically the barest bones version of the idea, just to make sure it worked and was a viable idea. Passionfruit 2.0, with all the expanded capabilities, is a little closer to what I originally planned. Leading up to the launch, I worked well over 14 hours a day for several months.
I think this is what I want customers and clients and partners to know about Passionfruit. It’s not some faceless corporation, it’s a real dude who’s putting in some serious effort to help bloggers make a living from their passions.
2) As always happens when a free or freemium service changes its pricing, you’ve had some feedback…some backlash, even. Why did you make the decision to change your business plan and why do you think website owners will benefit?
We actually started with a different pricing model: a flat 10% of every sale made through PF. But it felt weird to charge one blog $10 for something another blog paid $0.50 for. So about a month after I launched, I did something insane and changed to $1 per ad sold. All of my competitors still charge a percentage. It’s greedy and kind of the default way of working with ads. And I decided we were better than that.
But over the next year I realized there were two problems. A lot of brand new or very small blogs were using our services with no intention or ability to sell ads. The barrier to entry was maybe too low. A lot of these blogs had fewer than a dozen posts under their belts before they started dreaming of getting rich with ads. The other problem was those small blogs who did use us only used us for trading banners. The way our system works, all the ads cost the same to run, regardless of price, so the free ads were starting to cost us a lot of money. A lot a lot of money. So we had to change again.
I decided the easiest, most fair price for everyone was a low monthly flat price. Subscription model, under $10 a month, that would cover the costs of our 30 servers and also help filter out bloggers not ready to sell ads. The truth is, if you don’t have much traffic, you’re too small to sell ads. We love small bloggers, but this is an advertising company and yes I’m saying smaller blogs shouldn’t be using our platform. Small bloggers shouldn’t sell ads yet! It’s bad for the blogs and readers and all of us.
My hope is that the new changes will pull some of my energy and focus from brand new bloggers and supporting all the free traded banners and into selling ads. The next step for us, now that we’ve automated all the dirty work of ads, is to make selling them easier. We’ve got some tricks and ideas and this new pricing model helps us get to that next step.
3) One of the things you’ve shared with me is that the act of building and supporting profiles for bloggers who only wanted to use the swaps function or who never came back is hard. What have you learned on your development journey and what would you advise others who may be developing their own businesses now?
One really important question I keep asking myself is, “who is my customer?” With an advertising agency, the default answer is the advertisers. Passionfruit is evolving to be less of an ad agency and more of a software company, which is putting bloggers more in front. In fact one of my favorite things of this new pricing change is my customer is very clear: bloggers. After all, the advertisers are the bloggers’ customers. Knowing who’s paying you and who you’re serving is incredibly clarifying when you’re deciding what direction to go with your business.
The Free model was difficult because of this, too. The majority of our usage was not advertising at all, it was banner swapping, which turned PF into glorified image hosting. So by the usage numbers, my biggest customers were bloggers who weren’t selling ads. All of my time and resources was being spent on a segment of my customers who weren’t paying for anything. In fact, when I announced the change, someone said, “It’s like you’re saying you have to be selling ads to use Passionfruit.” Yes! Recognizing this disconnect helped to clarify the changes we needed to make.
4) I’ve found in talking to most small business owners that the projects started because they saw a need and wanted to fix it. What do you think the future of blogging/website sales is and if you could look into a crystal ball, what do you think PassionFruit 3.0 will be?
Passionfruit was built to solve a very specific need, but it was made with a much larger goal in mind: to make advertising less scummy. Traditionally publishers have close to no control over the relationship, and we’re starting to change that a little.
But advertising still has a lot of changing to do. I’m sketching and planning some new types of ads and sponsorships opportunities that bloggers will be able to take advantage of, which will put bloggers in the driver’s seat. Brands and passions are so closely tied together, and I think advertising — especially on blogs — can really become more human and personally tied to what we love and do.
Jason will be monitoring this post to answer any questions you have and you can follow him on Twitter (@jasonlynes, @passionfruitads). In the meantime, I am thrilled to be giving away FREE annual PassionFruit memberships to five readers.
HOW TO ENTER:
Leave a comment either 1) asking Jason a question about PassionFruit, 2) sharing with me a little known fact about your own job OR 3) telling me which business leader you’d interview if you had the chance.
I’ll select five commenters at random for the memberships after 5 p.m. on Friday, August 30th (when this giveaway will end).