Flexibits: Building value comes first, revenues come second

By Nathaniel Mott , written on December 5, 2012

From The News Desk

It's hard to compete with free. It's even harder to compete with a platform-maker on its own turf. Flexibits, the development studio behind the recently-released Fantastical for iPhone and its Mac counterpart, is doing both.

Fantastical is a calendaring app that one-ups Apple -- which has shipped its Calendar (nee iCal) app with every Mac and iOS device for the last decade -- at its own game. Featuring a natural language parser on both the Mac and the iPhone, and a new feature called the "DayTicker" that shows the week's events at a glance, Fantastical is currently the No. 1 productivity app in the App Store. This, despite being released just a week ago.

At $1.99, an introductory price that will go up next week, it's also more expensive than other solutions, which are often free. I asked Flexibits' Michael Simmons why he and co-developer Kent Sutherland have eschewed the "make it free!" trend, and his response, surprisingly enough, wasn't about revenues.

"Pricing is a huge part of ideal marketing, of product placement, of what people perceive. If we charged a hundred dollars for the app, we'd probably sell copies of it. I truly believe that even on the iPhone, people would buy copies of it," Simmons says. "The price sets the perception of the app."

Others have tried to make the argument that a lower price will drive more sales and increase revenues, but Simmons isn't buying it. "We don't necessarily sell our apps to people who want to pay 99 cents," he says. "We want to sell our apps to people who want to buy our apps." Peeling that back a bit to avoid confusion (I'm sure most people want customers who really want their products): The increase in sales might be nice, but Flexibits is building apps for people who will value them no matter what the price. Because the team takes so much pride in its work, its users to see the value in what Flexibits has built – if they don't, they can go elsewhere.

This respect for its work and its customers is also why Flexibits took its time building Fantastical for iPhone, waiting to have a "knockout" feature – the DayTicker – ready for release instead of  immediately capitalizing on the Mac app's success. Simmons and Sutherland actually put another project, a contacts application that they've revealed little about, on hold once the DayTicker had been conceptualized.

When I point out that Flexibits is tackling problems that many others, including Apple, have tried to solve, Simmons is quick to point out that Flexibits isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. "We're of the vein that if something is broken, and we're frustrated, and there are pain points, we want to solve the problem," Simmons says. It just so happens that many of the most frustrating apps happen to have been built by Apple.