Recurring revenue vs one-time revenue

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I have a love and hate relationship with recurring revenue.

On one hand, I think it’d be great to have a product with many customers that regularly pay me a monthly or yearly fee.

On the other hand, any time I decide to set up something like this, I hate it.

I’m not new to this concept.

A few years ago (ok, 10 years?) I had an open source software business with a recurring license to access support and updates. Eventually the revenue did not reach the expected numbers because the market I was into kept declining in popularity and I decided to sunset it.

More recently I set up a membership for my online courses, 2 years ago, which I have now sunsetted.

Whenever I stumble on a great product with a cool MRR number, I wish I built a similar thing a few years back. But I never do.

I have a few issues with it.

First, I have a long list of projects I tried but I never got to a success level. It’s easy to think your next app will be the one that’s successful, but of course it’s just an illusion.

So, the first issue is that it’s not easy to get to a MRR that’s meaningful.

One reason for this is churn. When I tried the monthly memberships on my online courses, at some point the number of people joining the membership was equal to the people that stopped their membership, and growth stopped at a level that was not nearly enough for the effort.

Another issue is lock-in.

When you have people using your product, unless it’s a low maintenance product where you don’t need to do basically anything, then you have to support those people. Depending on the fee they pay regularly, they might be few people, or a lot of people. In the latter case, it becomes a job.

What if you create something that is then used by companies and people, and you don’t want to do it any more? I know if sounds crazy to think you might “kill” a product that is a success, but what I want is avoid something that feels like a job. I know I could hire people to do that job, but I also don’t want employees or contractors.

What I want to do in the present, and in the future, is creative work that can be “finished”.

In the end recurring revenue is attractive from the outside, but it is difficult to reach, and I think I’ll lose some freedom as it grows.

Lately my cup of tea is one-time sales. I know many iOS apps try to move to recurring revenue with subscriptions, and thinking about it, I like paying a subscription for an app or service I use.

But when it comes to providing a service, I don’t like being locked in with it. Part of this reason is that I’m a solopreneur and I want to work on things I enjoy. What if a business I like today is a business I hate 4 months from now?

I have found the best way to “solve this problem” with my online courses.

I create the course, when it’s ready I launch it, and I hope it’s providing enough value to enough people to be a compelling offer.

After the initial purchase, there’s no other monetary relationship. The course is there, it won’t need updates and it does not need debugging like an app, it does not break like an app can break, it won’t need support other than, you know, answering questions people have.

This concept applies in an even more radical way with other “still” digital products like ebooks. You write the book, it’s there, it’s a finished product.

Perhaps in this phase I’m more interested in creating something that I can think it can be “finished”.

One day I might change idea, but that’s my current line of thinking.