Published: Dec 1, 2023

Since I started using Hey for my personal email a while back, I’ve enjoyed following the stuff coming out of the 37signals shop. They have a unique and refreshing take on business, work philosophy, and building tech.

I saw that they’re releasing a new line of products soon over at Once.com. I checked their site and, for now at least, it’s just a placeholder landing page. However, I read through the message and wanted to share an excerpt here because I appreciate the sentiment behind the project:

Something happened to business software.

You used to pay for it once, install it, and run it. Whether on someone’s computer, or a server for >everyone, it felt like you owned it. And you did.

Today, most software is a service. Not owned, but rented. Buying it enters you into a perpetual landlord–tenant agreement. Every month you pay for essentially the same thing you had last month. And if you stop paying, the software stops working. Boom, you’re evicted.

For nearly two decades, the SaaS model benefitted landlords handsomely. With routine prayers — and payers — to the Church of Recurring Revenue, valuations shot to the moon on the backs of businesses subscribed at luxury prices for commodity services they had little control over.

Add up your SaaS subscriptions last year. You should own that shit by now.

SaaS still makes sense for many products, but its grip will slip. Installation and administration used to be hopelessly complicated, but self–hosting tech is simpler now and vastly improved. Plus, IT departments are hungry to run their own IT again, tired of being subservient to Big Tech’s reign clouds.

Once upon a time you owned what you paid for, you controlled what you depended on, and your privacy and security were your own business. We think it’s that time again.

And you know what? I think they have a valid point.

Subscription-based software has really gotten out of hand, and for some essential products I don’t necessarily think users should have to pay for access. Subscriptions have their place, and the benefit really depends on whether the team is regularly and reliably shipping new features to justify an ongoing perpetual cost to the user. Otherwise, to the 37signals team’s point, you’re really just “renting” the software. Sometimes, if a software product is embedded enough into your workflow, the subscription cost almost feels like a ransom to avoid losing your data or work.

Either way, I’m glad to see someone striving to rebalance things in terms of pricing models and a philosophy that’s user-centric. And I look forward to seeing what the Once product suite will have to offer in the near future.

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