focusatwill sz

If you’re a web-based business, as many at WORK are, one of the very first questions you have to ask yourself is- do I sell ads or do I sell my product?

There are a couple of ways to approach this.  First off- is your product worth someone’s money?  Sounds like a silly question- why else would you be pouring yourself into this startup? But in this age of free flowing information, value is a tricky call.  Take, for example, your search engine.  Super useful, super convenient, and you’d probably have a hard time living without it, but would you pay for it?  How much?

If you have a product like Tom Harrison- waterproof hiking maps with very little competition- you can say ‘if you want it, you gotta buy it.’  We are used to paying for tangible items like paper maps so it was natural for Tom to charge for his map apps, as well. Why else would he bother to create them?  In this case, he is clearly selling his product, not advertising.

But if you work in a purely digital field it can be hard to monetize your creation and make a profit or even any money at all, especially if you don’t want to sell your customer’s information and/or eyeballs to advertisers.  You’ve probably heard me repeat this coWORKer quote before: “When you use something ‘free’ on the internet, you are the product, not the customer.”  So true!  But when the ‘customer’ doesn’t want to pay and the advertisers do, you find yourself clearly in the ‘selling ads’ business model.

Of course, I have to venture into ‘grey’ territory ‘cause it’s my favorite…I have a friend who founded Focus@Will, the neuroscience based music service I’m listen to right now.  It’s a great product and I know a lot of people in our office are using it.  They offer a ‘free’ version to get you hooked but hope that you will upgrade to the paid version because, unlike Pandora, the fact that they are all about increasing your concentration precludes advertisement interruptions.

So perhaps the questions should be directed at the consumer instead- to be advertised to or to pay, that is the question…

Written and photographed by Natasha Juliana. Curious about WORK?  Sign up for a free trial!