Premium App Subscriptions Are the New Status Indicators

There is a Buddhist saying “What you think, you become”. There had been several variants of this saying in the past.

This includes “You can know about a person from the type of friends they have”, “The books you read define the person you are” and several others.

Human relationships, thoughts, a person’s perception towards art, and their love for artists and scholars defined how people perceived one another.

But today, people perceive each other by looking at what a person subscribes to, especially software and apps.

If I were to rewrite the Buddhist saying, I would say “You’re what you subscribe”

And, at some point during the last two decades, we’ve started to judge another person by the type of software products they use/subscribe to instead of valuing them based on where they stand in terms of human values.

Today people judge each other based on what they use for their email, what apps they use for being productive and what app or fitness product they use to keep themselves fit, and so on.

The Evolution of Status Symbols

Products have been considered symbols of status and pride from the early days of human civilization. It started from what type of animal fur a hunter wore and has continued to the current era.

But, the type of products that served as status indicators keeps changing every few decades. It used to be Jewels, silk sarees, cars, housing, and home appliances when people went out and had a lot of social gatherings. It was during the time where social interactions were largely personal as there was no internet or other forms of communication. They judged each other based on what they wore, how they traveled, and what kind of appliances they have at their homes.

In the late 2000s and 2010s, the status indicators shifted from housing, jewels, and cars to gadgets. Do they own an iPhone or Android phone? Is that a normal laptop or a Macbook?

But, in 2020, we spend more time online than meeting people in person. When everything is virtual and with everyone using the same social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to network with each other, people were longing for a new type of status indicator. Because at some point they realized that anybody can add ‘sent from an iPhone’ to the email body 😉

This led to the birth of the premium B2C SaaS apps that will form a new class of social status indicators.

Saas – Status as a Service?

Some SaaS companies found a breakthrough marketing technique where they create a massive following of people even during the beta or pre-beta stage of a software product. They constantly engage them and make them feel special with constant engagements on email and social media.

Result? A big chunk of these followers are ready to pay for the service.

A good example would be Roam Research. The company built a massive tribe of loyal followers during their beta stage and people turned into advocates of the product. This is during the time when Roam said it would be charging a monthly fee, but did not decide on what it would be!

When they opened the gates, they had a huge waitlist of several thousand customers waiting to subscribe to the product for $165/year. Roam even had a believer plan for $500 (for 5 years) which sold like hotcakes.

Within two months of its launch, the company reported $1 million in revenue.

The same happened with and Superhuman.

They are being positioned as premium brands and people rush to sign up for a subscription. Because people know it makes a difference when you text your friend “Send me an email to [email protected]” instead of “Send me an email to [email protected]“.

If I tweet saying “I feel so relieved after using Roam!” or “I achieve zero inbox every day using Superhuman” I am sending a message to all my followers that I am using these apps (which means I can afford them).

Being an Indian, if I send an email to my friends using a email address, I am indirectly telling them that I can afford to pay Rs.7500/year for an email service.

It is the evolution of “Sent from an iPhone”

And, if you ask me, this is just the beginning. Within the next five years, a lot of companies will follow this model. There will be Premium B2C apps that will focus on fulfilling the needs of a small group of people.

Imagine an AI-based productivity app that says it will sign up only 10,000 users and not anymore. They introduce a selection process and charge $199/month and $2000/year. People would rush to fill the form, talk about their waitlist number, cry on Twitter to transfer invite, sell invites for a higher price on classified websites, and do everything possible to tell the world that they can afford it.

And, the company will achieve $20 million ARR by the end of the launch year.

This is not uncommon. Such services exist in other domains like automobiles, housing, air travel, etc., But, like every other status indicator, premium apps also put an enormous amount of peer pressure on people who can’t afford them, but want to.

Peer ‘Product’ Pressure

The enormous peer pressure to look cool among their circle is already pushing modern youth into urban poverty. With new ‘premium’ apps launching every day, youth end up spending heavily on subscriptions and not left with enough money for savings or an emergency.

There is no denying that pro plans of apps and premium apps are valuable. They are built to solve a problem and they do it well in their own way. But, being able to afford them should only be based on necessity and not to look cool in front of your social circle. Your friends won’t leave you if you still use your Gmail address 😀

Be mindful of what you’re spending on. There is no harm in trying out products (even for a few months). If you absolutely think you’re getting maximum value out of it, go ahead and get a subscription. Don’t get it for the sake of it.

Because “What you pay for, makes you broke”