February 12, 2017

The Plow Guy

The northeastern corner of the US (where I happen to live) got a decent amount of snow this week.

So yesterday morning, I was shoveling my driveway. The majority of the job was light work, with one exception:

The very end of the driveway where it meets the street.

The Wall

If you’re not from a snowy region you may not know that when a snowplow clears the street, it pushes a boatload of snow up against the edges of the road.

This typically results in an impassable barrier between our car and any place we’d like our car to take us.

The road salt - combined with multiple plow passes - result in a barrier of fused ice chunks that I imagine would impress an igloo architect.

Anyway... the point is, it takes a LOT of effort to clear this one relatively small but critically important spot.

The Church

We live next to a church. It’s a big church and has a residence where the priest lives. He has a three car garage and the wide driveway that leads to it is right next to ours.

The church pays for all sorts of grounds keeping services, including snow removal for the sidewalks, entryways, and of course, the driveway to the residence.

The Plow Guy

So there I was, chipping away at an icy version of that Great Wall of China with a plastic snow shovel when a private plow truck pulled into the church driveway and quickly cleared the whole area.

The guy in the truck and I exchanged waves “hello”, he finished his assigned task, and then headed off into the distance.

The Takeaway

As I resumed my chiseling, it occurred to me that the driver had missed a prime opportunity. Had he swung his truck out of the church driveway and asked, “hey, ya want me to bust through that for ya?” I probably would’ve said yes.

Thirty seconds later, he’d be done clearing the end of my driveway and could have said, “There you go! Hey by the way, here’s my rate card for snow removal. Call us if you’d like to stay in bed a little later on snow days! See ya!”

What does this have to do with pricing software services, you ask?


I’m often asked by software devs:

“When should I give stuff away for free?”


“How much should I give away for free?”

In general, my answer is:

“As often and as much as possible.”

In the case of the plow driver, spending a minute or so to clear the end of my driveway would have added almost zero incremental cost.

He was already there, it would have taken less than a minute, it would have consumed a trivial amount of fuel, it would have contributed virtually no wear and tear to the vehicle, etc.

Furthermore, he has to drive out to the church every time it snows anyway, so adding me - the house right next door - would be a more profitable customer acquisition than adding some random customer in a remote area. In other words, he has to be on my block anyway, why not plow everyone there while he’s at it?

When the cost of the freebie is negligible and the value of adding the customer is disproportionately high, it makes a ton of sense to give away a freebie.