Why we’ve cancelled our free tier

Posted on September 21, 2017
by Mattias Geniar
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A blog is usually a place where companies brag about their achievements, how awesome an organization is to work at, the cool new clients they launched, … Our plan is make this blog pretty much the same, but before we get there – we have to make an announcement first.

From now, there is no longer a free plan on DNS Spy.

Our original plan

When we launched, almost a year ago, we had the idea that we could offer a simple plan next to our paid plans, for monitoring DNS records. After all, the big ones like Cloudflare they do it, and it works for them – right?

  • Free plan: 1 domain
  • Standard: 25 domains
  • Premium: 50 domains + unique features + option to purchase more domains in a “pack”

That pricing strategy actually worked fine for the first few months, but then a couple of interesting things happened.

A marketplace for “free services”

After a few months, DNS Spy got mentioned on several websites that focus on free services;

At first this looked like great news: signups were booming, the user base was growing, we kept monitoring more domains. Hooray!

But these are, ultimately, worthless leads. The thing that drove them to us was the “free” part, not the actual concern about their DNS stack and the need for monitoring. It became clear to us that this group of users never had the intention of becoming a paying subscriber.

But it works for Cloudflare!

Yes, a free tier works for them. It actually works really well for them. But their setup is totally different.

The free tier at Cloudflare is a honeypot, a means of generating traffic and leverage over bandwidth providers and ISPs. It’s a testing ground for more dangerous features (like enabling TLS 1.3) that get rolled out to free users first, before the paying users get them. You know, after a few iterations for increased stability.

This isn’t an attack on Cloudflare, their business plan in this regard is absolutely brilliant. I wish we could do the same!

But a service like DNS Spy, whose sole purpose it is to monitor & report on DNS changes & misconfigurations, isn’t something you use every day. It’s a monitoring service. You can add a domain and forget about it 10 minutes later. If nothing goes wrong, you won’t hear from us. I bet that’s what a lot of the free users did; add a domain, fix some DNS misconfigurations we alerted, then never looked back.

Yet on our end, that domain was still monitored & checked every 5 minutes, we generated reports/logs/traffic/database queries/… That user, even though they forgot about us, still caused load. And we got nothing in return. Whereas other services could at least still get the honeypot value out of free users, we have no such thing.

That might be a failure of our imagination or marketing, to turn those users into paying users, but we failed doing so regardless.

From now, paid plans only

Our absolute goal is to keep DNS Spy a viable, sustainable business. We can’t do that if most of our server & human capacity goes to supporting free users.

We had a ratio of 3000:1 free/paid users. For every paying user, there were 3000 free users. The economics of that just doesn’t scale. We wish it did, but it didn’t.

Deciding to cancel the free plan wasn’t an easy task. Especially because we have had a fair amount of users on that plan. We hope they’ll understand our decision and, if they value DNS monitoring as much as we do, they’ll convert to paying users. Each of those users have been informed about our plan and were offered a coupon code to get 50% off the price for the first 2 months.

We continue to look to the future and see a lot of opportunity for DNS Spy. Cancelling our free plan means we can further guarantee that our paying users can continue to use our services and we can sustain our business for years to come!

Update: a smaller plan is coming!

We’ve heard from many of you that there is a need for a small DNS monitoring plan, something for 5 domains, that isn’t 10$/month. It’s coming, expect an update in the next few days.

Thanks to all of you for this feedback!

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Jonathan September 21, 2017 at 5:32 pm

I feel your pain, and while it is a difficult decision, I think you did the right thing.
As a freelance sysadmin, I found that selling “peace of mind” is hard enough, and couldn’t ever come up with any kind of free technical service I could offer that would actually lead to more revenue and not just a higher load.
One thought I had was that you might have been able to only check on the free plan once a month or something that wouldn’t significantly increase your service load or support requests, but I assume that would have required a non-trivial amount of work.
Again, kudos for you for realizing the problem and addressing it! 🙂


Edwin Carrasquillo September 22, 2017 at 6:57 am

Saw this on reddit. I totally agree with you. I at this moment do not need monitoring of my dns. Since it is not publicly visible. But I will look to you in the future if I ever do.

Anyone complaining about the free tier being removed just doesnt understand that a service needs capital for it to continue and for improvements to be made. DNS Spy keep it up, this a great example towards other businesses that starting out.


Jan September 22, 2017 at 8:59 am

Thank you for the work already done.

I’m looking forward to the “light” plan as the 10€ plan makes for me as a privat customer a difference in the monthly budget that is available for software & services. No doubt, it is important to monitor DNS specially if you host your serving server yourself and change settings regular.

Again thank you for the invention of DNS Spy


Email consult September 22, 2017 at 7:15 pm

Pricing is one of the hardest decisions a company can make. Tiered service makes it harder and freemium is especially hard to.balance just right.
I like DNS spy and think it is good you are making moves to try and stay in business! You cant tell anyone if you aren’t making a least some profit!


Troy October 8, 2017 at 11:55 pm

I totally understand the decision, but I don’t feel like you took any responsibility for the outcome in this blog post. “It became clear to us that this group of users never had the intention of becoming a paying subscriber.” No one signs up for anything “intending to become a paid subscriber” — people sign up for DNS Spy, and everything else, to solve a problem they have. You let them – by creating a plan that does it for free, encouraged them – to solve it for free.

You say “I bet that’s what a lot of the free users did; add a domain, fix some DNS misconfigurations we alerted, then never looked back” like it’s bad, when that’s a completely reasonable need (and way to use the free plan). That you decided to make this available for free and didn’t realize that it was a common use case – and one that doesn’t always lead to needing to monitor more domains, or needing to monitor forever – was DNS Spy’s mistake, and that doesn’t come through in the post at all.

Same thing with not considering that you had no idea whether 30, 300, 3000, or 30000 people would use the free plan; based on this blog post, maybe a 5 minute interval for the free plan was a bad idea from the start.

A better explanation than “It became clear to us that this group of users never had the intention of becoming a paying subscriber” would be “We completely misidentified the market. We offered a free service because we thought it was a fairly reliable precursor to needing a larger quantity of that service (and thus needing a paid plan). We were totally wrong about that – we solved a different problem than our paid plans solve, and while that’s great, we also didn’t think about the impact on our systems and we don’t know how to charge for it.”


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