May 21, 2018 | Written byCameron McEfee

GuideGuide has been my side-project since 2010, when I released a simple script with an ugly UI as a free Photoshop plugin that unexpectedly became the most installed Photoshop extension.

In late 2015 I decided to turn it into a product. While the installation numbers dwindled with the addition of a fee, I managed to cross the ten thousand customer mark this year and am pretty proud of it.

As I evaluate my — arguably nascent — career and compare my family and work life goals with the hints of success that GuideGuide has shown in the last couple years, I decided in the beginning of 2017 to turn it into a sustainable, and hopefully primary, income source.

Understanding value

One of my favorite support tickets of the last year was simply titled “Why does this cost money?”

In the weeks that lead up to my decision to turn GuideGuide into recurring income, I wrestled with whether it would even be possible. Creators value their work as the result of effort over time, while consumers measure value in instant gratification.

Consumers often denounce products as overpriced, asserting a perceived entitlement and injustice perpetrated by the monsters that create them. When pushed to defend the value they place on their work, creators wither and undersell themselves.

As consumers, we need to shift our perspective away from treating creators as tyrants, and instead ask ourselves “Do I need this product as much as it will cost me?” As creators, we need to value our time in a way that enables us to continue to create, and worry less about people that tell us our work is not worth their money.

After much contemplation, I decided that if I continue to work on GuideGuide and people continue to use it, I’m not going to feel evil for asking them to continue paying for it.

Picking a model

I evaluated three reoccurring pricing models: new application support, major version releases, or subscriptions.

It irked me that multiple purchases were required to take full advantage of GuideGuide. It disincentivized me from making versions for obscure platforms and complicated the buying process. Charging for new apps was not the right option.

Charging for major version updates is a good model, and one used by apps that I love. Tweetbot and Things charge for major versions and Sketch is built on a model of “pay for updates.” Unfortunately for me, GuideGuide is mostly feature complete. While there is still work to be done, I do not foresee any major updates that I could produce that would be worth asking people to pay for. That wasn’t right either.

I hate subscriptions as much as you do, but as I considered my options, a subscription model became the best choice. It allows me to charge one fee for all supported apps, provides a recurring income source, and renews automatically so there is no break in workflow. The realization that I was on board with the idea of a subscription for a design extension induced a full-body shudder.

Predicting my audience

Adding a subscription, just by its very nature, is going to reduce my customer base. I expect that I’ll lose most of my hobbyist users, those who don’t inherently understand the value of a grid tool, and those whose desire to send me angry emails is stronger than their need for grids.

The subscription products I use myself are the things that I use every day — that are more useful to me than price I pay for them. Flipping that logic around, I believe that the people who will pay regularly for GuideGuide are the people that use it every day, so much so that they forget it exists: professional designers.

Picking a price

When people contact me about the price of GuideGuide, especially from countries where the local currency is not strong versus the dollar, they often reference the number of local beers they could get for the same amount. I’ve always loved this food/beverage based metric, because whether it’s a beer or a coffee or a sandwich, it is easy to visualize trading something you consume often for something you use every day.

The majority of my market is in countries where a couple beers can be had for around $7 USD. Trading two beers a month for access to GuideGuide feels like a fair deal. When I calculate my own hourly rate against the time saved by not calculating grids, it enables me to earn much more than that.

Students and teachers can contact me for education discounts, and I’d like to experiment with regional pricing in the future, for customers in countries where $7 USD is a much bigger commitment. I may also introduce a concept of “forever” licenses that do not require a subscription.

Picking an angle

With a new pricing model and likely a new audience, I’m updating the way I talk about my side project. I’ve made these changes to try to turn it into a full-time gig — to be my own boss. Going forward, the GuideGuide story is one about contributing to mission of one guy with a slightly uncommon, diverse array of skills to build a software business to support his family.

I’m not quite an underdog, but I hope designers will feel some satisfaction as they support someone who is taking a shot at doing the thing they secretly all wish they could do: work because they want to, not because they have to.

And I’m definitely still going to tell you that I want your money.

Buy GuideGuide 5

Thanks for making this possible 👊🏼