The problem with ads in a productivity tool

You know, I listen to a lot of feedback from our users.
Several users have asked me “Aaron, why don’t you show ads in the task lists of your free users? That way the business earns more and you don’t have to charge users who can’t afford it.”
It’s coming from good intentions and seems like a helpful suggestion. After all, advertising works for a lot of industries and businesses. It worked brilliantly for broadcast television and radio.
But it’s not the right model for productivity services. It certainly isn’t our preference for Toodledo.
So let’s walk through a few reasons why we at Toodledo are a subscription-first product.

1. Ads severely disrupt focused productivity

Our vision is to enable every person to get the most out of life by focusing on what matters most.
There’s many examples out there on the value of focus. A very good one comes from Warren Buffett, the famed investor.
The story goes that Warren Buffett and his personal pilot were talking about career priorities. Buffett asked his pilot to write his top 25 career goals. Then, the pilot went through the list and circled his top five goals.
At this point, there were two lists: List A with five items and List B with 20 items.
The pilot stated that he would start working on his top five goals right away.
And that’s when Buffett asked him about the second list.
The pilot replied, “Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”
To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
Warren Buffett understood the power of focus. Items 6-25 might have been good, or even great goals!
It doesn’t matter. Focus on fewer things done well leads to the best results.
When you look at your task list, you benefit most by being able to focus the list down to what’s most important now. It’s why Toodledo has powerful features like saved searches, hotlist, start date and due dates, and many other features to to get the view you want.
So if we started showing ads, it would clutter your experience by adding more things to your view.
And at worst…

2. Advertisers need your personal info

Businesses use ads to attract new customers. More info to identify and target the right customers means businesses can spend more marketing dollars per person.
Think about it this way: if you create an $4M Super Bowl ad, you’re hoping that some of the 100M viewers will become customers. But you’re also putting that ad in front of a lot of viewers who’re not interested in what you’re selling.
So you’d be spending about $0.04 per viewer, including folks who will never become customers!
So the better way would be to target folks who are your target audience. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest way is to vacuum up all the data about your audience.
Our users use Toodledo both at home and at work. At home, your task list might have personal items that you (rightfully) expect to be private to your own eyes. And at work, your task list might have sensitive or confidential information.
Of course, there are ways to limit or reduce personal data (e.g. if we were to sell banner ads to companies wanting to reach productive folks), but this limits the effectiveness of these ads.
Either way, you know you best. We’re not going to presume to know better than you and serve up ads in your experience.

3. Advertising would disrupt our team’s productivity

If we added advertisers, Toodledo would have two sets of paying customers: subscribers and advertisers. At some point, we may be put in the position to evaluate tradeoffs between the needs of our users and and the needs of advertisers. We would prefer never to find ourselves in this situation.
From our point of view, if you have a service that helps you save time or get more done, that’s valuable.
So the best model is usage-based pricing — paying as you use it.
This is why we at Toodledo have a subscription-first model. We want only one set of customers — our users.
This way, our entire team has clarity and focus on who we’re serving.

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