We launched Free subscriptions about 48 hours ago, and we made a limited release of paid Premium subscriptions about 20 hours ago to last season's supporters. So far we have signed up over 700 subscribers with about 1/4 of them being paid subscribers. A whopping 65% of those who clicked on the link to see our paid subscription discounts have purchased one.
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This is right on track for my expectations given the time of year which is actually the absolute annual low for interest in skiing and riding. We expect these numbers to pretty much triple by mid-August as we take things step by step. After Labor Day interest in skiing and riding picks up and then things like the first frost, the first snow, and snowmaking will launch the diehards into a frenzy, me included. The first big storm will wake even more people up, and then by the Christmas holiday season we'll all be in the thick of it.
Right now we're giving our supporters from last season discounts so that they can pay less than others for a change as our way of saying thanks. I think we can afford to do this even though these people are likely the least price sensitive since they previously paid voluntarily. We had over 1,350 voluntary supporters last season under our "free to use and voluntary to support" model and we are offering them a year's subscription for less than the average contribution they made. We will then open this up more widely after we have given our supporters several opportunities to take advantage of the specials. I'm trying to put the message out on our social media channels and also in email so that I can say we've done the best we can before a flash sale to Free subscribers and then probably just offer the full price from there on out with some discounts from time to time. If a supporter misses this and they reach out to me, I'll take care of them of course. Rule #1 in business is not to piss off your best customers if you can help it!
There Is Plenty of Work Left to Do
My plan has been to roll this out slowly rather than drop the rope on a bowl full of powder. I've honestly been more worried about technical issues than our potential success. Skiology Weather & News has long had the critical mass to allow me to make the jump from primarily publishing on Facebook to primarily using our website. After some initial testing and research of the Ghost CMS platform (I also tested Substack and WordPress), Luis and I were able to do a soft-launch in less than 10 days. It's the middle of Summer of course, and that gives us time to finish up the other things that we are promising before the ski season.
One of the business mantras that I have long tried to pay more attention to is that "it is better to build half a product than build a half-assed product." I'm trying to keep scope creep out of our punch list for the time being so that we can deliver on our reduced goals with full functionality. We do have plans beyond this phase, and we'll likely be able to finish our punch list with plenty of time to spare. Right now it is primarily tidying up the site design, then adding an automated process for purchasers of group accounts to add their extra subscribers. We then need to work on our Deals section which we are designing to have the ability to provide unique single use coupon codes to every individual. Why is that important? It gives our partners the ability to offer bigger discounts when they are limited to only being used once and there is no fear of these leaking out and being used more widely. We need to work on our weather Dashboard also which will have a lot of public resources pulled together into one place. Part of my plan with this is to give people a map where they can click on each resort and then pull up the NWS forecast for the base of the mountain which would be the first step in our efforts to build deterministic weather app functionality.
Beyond the Punch List and into the Future
As far as future plans go, I definitely want deterministic weather functionality like weather apps provide because that adds value and also provides value in the off-season. I left this out for now in order to speed our launch, but it's more than a dream, IMO it is a requirement and Deane, Luis and I know how to do this. The other more notable future plan is to turn Skiology Weather & News into an app. We need to get the basics down first, and then we need to do testing to make sure that things like the authentication system will work in an app that wraps up our website. An app not only gives people an easy way to access our content, it should give us the ability to create alerts on phones that open directly into the app to view the content.
Neither the deterministic weather and having an app are promises right now, but they are absolutely our goals. I believe our long-term success relies on these things because not everyone wants to read 1,000 words to figure out where to hunt pow and what to expect, though the ones who do will likely have far more success and that is who we mostly serve now. My hope is to at least make the weather app functionality as accurate as possible. We'll go beyond the basic weather also and I hope to automate some things like our wind hold forecasts that would be based on three weather models and our own qualifiers for each ski area that is tracked. We'll also focus the delivery of weather for what skiers and riders need to know rather than more generically what one might find in other apps.