Free vs Paid Expectation Paradox

Development StrategyAfter I graduated from Santa Clara University, I spent the next 5+ years working for a Big 5 consulting company doing large scale enterprise software implementations. While the software I worked with was solid and fairly easy to use, I learned that most wasn’t. And all the options were crazy expensive. Companies paid a lot to get the software installed, to be trained in how to use it and for ongoing support. That’s a large difference from how consumer software works. People expect it to be reasonably priced (or free), easy to pick up and use without explanation and for support to be largely unnecessary, but free when needed.

You would think that those expectations would be reversed. Well they’re not and Carl Bass, the CEO of AutoDesk, confirmed that in an interview with In that interview he said that developers can be sloppy when building enterprise applications because they figure that the users will use it a lot, so they’ll figure things out. That really rang true to me, but the quote that struck me the most was when he said, “The cheapest things have to be the easiest to use.” It’s all too true. People have no tolerance for bugs or difficult to learn apps when they’re free or a few dollars. They’ll just toss them away and move on to the next app. When companies shell out a lot of money though, they seem to put up with a lot more.

This horrible state of affairs in enterprise software has long struck me as an opportunity for an enterprise software provider. Create a killer enterprise app that is easy to setup, use and maintain and you will dominate your niche. The licensing cost or subscription doesn’t even have to be cheaper than the competition. If the total cost of ownership of your application is less and it is a pleasure to use, you win. Now if I just had 20 developers, I could really get started on disrupting an industry.


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