Monetising without leaving the free plan

I’ve been wondering lately about how to monetise since I’m close to finishing my first apps. I can’t afford the google rates and I certainly don’t think the users I’d target would pay for it…

I’m a small subsistence farmer who’s rewilding land in the third world and in order to optimize the way I work and save time, I’m making apps such as rainfall records, rainfall catchment data (water tank levels and calculating when I next need to pump water etc), harvest records (ie I grow vanilla beans and like to keep records on each vines production to know if I’m stressing the plants or not), food forest database (basically tree/plant list on a map of the farm plus reminder list of things like I spot bananas that I think will need harvesting in a week) and a mushroom growing and tracking app.

At the very least, the apps I make have been useful to me, they’ve have helped me optimize my time and the data I collect is very useful for decision making.

Friends doing similar work have also expressed an interest and I’m hoping to raise a little cash through it to fund our native tree planting this coming rainy season.

What I’m thinking of doing… which maybe you can say is or isn’t possible (hopefully doesn’t run foul of google either) is for me to remain on the free plan and somehow create copies of the app for my friends via the URL.

I’ve done all the work to add a user email to each row and slices etc so what I was thinking of trying is have a column determine the duration that a user has been using the app (today() - the first data input). If it exceeds, say a 6 month trial period, the user cannot add more rows until a password is added. I could make a simple password generator based on a couple of letters from the users email and have an expression to determine if it’s valid. The user would need to obtain the password off me after payment?

What do you think of this idea? Is it even legal use of the free app?

I’m not planning on getting rich off this, I would just like to pay for more trees later in the year if possible.



(By the way, thanks for all the great content you’ve posted everywhere, have learnt everything from you and the other experts in the forums and (to a less extent) YouTube, thank you thank you!)

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Sounds like a very helpful app indeed! (^_^)

  • This would be okay, because essentially each “user” has their own copy of the app for themselves.
    • But…
  • This would be okay, if you were in a secure app.
    • The fact that you’re in a free app means you can’t really do any of this “login” type stuff - it’s a violation of the TOC.
      • When in a free app, you can’t built your own mechanism for determining who the user is - which means you then can’t subsequently base functionality off this.

Alternative Monetization Strategies

Here are a couple of strategies you might consider as an alternative method of raising revenue:

Open Communication

  • Use a secure login version of your app and pass the cost of the license off onto the user.
  • Explain to your friends/users that there is a cost associated with “hosting” the app
    • Which serves the purpose of maintaining the health/stability of the system (so we don’t have to)
  • Because of this, the app can’t be free of charge - there’s overhead involved.
    • This overhead is the cost of their license, which given the details you’ve described could be as low as USD$5/month ($60/year)
      • You could add a little to this to raise the money you’re wanting, informing the users as to what your intention is for this extra charge.

I find that this typically works, especially if they’ve already got a sense of what the app is, how it works, how it will benefit them, etc.

Fund Raising Copies

  • Run a true “Fund raiser” where people can donate money to the tree foundation
    • In return they receive a full copy of the app (without any sort of login stuff, or “subscription” checking or anything like that - just the normal app you’ve been using and have found helpful this whole time)
    • This means that the monthly cost of the app is now on them
  • This means that they’ve got their own copy of the app, on their own AppSheet account. The data is stored in their account, etc. etc.

This setup allows for future versions to be used for another fund raiser next year.

I love the idea of the app, sounds like it would be truly helpful.

Just another idea…

Post Processing

TLDR: You could have a bot that processes records after the fact and handle the rejections then.

For my supporters I’ve got a secure version of the Answer Portal that they can log into to use, but I’ve also got a free version that’s available to everyone.

  • This app doesn’t have any profile type of system, as that’s not allowed, but there IS a way that I could enforce some sort of limitation - without the user having to login, or use some password, or anything of that nature.

When someone submits a question through the free app, they’re submitting a record into the same table that the secure app is tied to.

  • Which allows me to “catch” the records submitted in the free app, and process them with the paid app.
    • I’ve got a bot that’s on a 5 minute timer (in the secure app) that’s constantly looking for new messages; if it finds one, it kicks off the process to being answering the question.

How to tie the records to the right person?

You can create a way for them to add their email into UserSettings, which you can pull into the form - creating a way to “automatically” tie their records to their account.

In that process for answering the question… I could just as easily create a system that would check how many times someone has submitted a free question that month.

  • And if they’re over some threshold, kick some rejection email to them instead of the “we got your email and will answer shortly” message.

This would not go against the TOC (since we’re not creating a login type of mech, and we’re not displaying customer specific info based on a profile or something); the users are using a public app to submit data.

  • Period.
  • Well within the TOC.

It’s the bot that I’ve got running after the fact, on my paid account, that’s doing all the heavy lifting.

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Thanks for this answer, it’s clarified things that I hadn’t quite had the time to research.

So for me, your first option is not viable. From the start I’ve realised Appsheet is best for businesses and the costs are reasonable for that. I sort of struggle to see how I’d convince people, especially farmers in the third world with agroforestry systems (which this may best be suited), to cover monthly costs when they see other apps in the appstore are mostly free.

This though, with your explanation of the free plan not having the login, may have simplified my app making significantly!

I’ve just started down the rabbit hole of google sheets query() in order to generate a dynamic statistics page for each user. I’m struggling with the syntax already. But if I don’t have any need for storing user emails anymore I can just have a static (?) statistics page using SUMIFS and AVERAGEIFS and FILTER (which I’ve completed already, yay)

Question: can I demo a COPY of my app without the “Copy and customise” & “Look under the hood” with all my rainfall data in it? So the potential user can see how it runs after collecting all the data…?

So my approach, I think, will now be…
Make app (no need for useremail()). Generate hype, etc (see question above). People email me to get a copy and hopefully make a donation, I send them their own copy (which I assume unfortunately they could also distribute, but hey I’ll put a “email and donation” link on the startup screen maybe… they won’t be able to “look under the hood” right?

Ok this is something more for me to think about. Not yet explored Bots, another rabbit hole to lose myself into haha

Are you sure that getting them to add their email into usersettings isn’t considered a login type of mechanism? So now I’m thinking, if it was a free app and I see all the public’s data, and they can see everybody else’s data, it would be in their best interest to add their email to the records they submit in order to only see their stuff ? To make it a clean view for them??

Is this a possibility → I give out free versions empty of data. When x rows are made into the main table, it defaults to a form requiring a “password” to continue (which they’d need to email me for). The form would also display (maybe) the date of the user’s first record. I could have a password that’s calculated from that date (say 7 * date) and email that back to them which they would enter into the form. The form would not be generated again because the check that the password has been entered is complete. And if I make “deleting” rows of data from the app difficult (i.e. user can only delete one record at a time) then I think most people might consider paying if they’d found the usefullness of the app after 6 months…

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  • Deal breaker right here

There is a setting that allows all of the records for a certain table to be filtered out, essentially turning that table into a data collection only table.

  • This way you can still collect data through the table, but you don’t have anybody seeing anybody else’s data.
    • This also means that they can’t see their data either.

So that sort of setups not going to work for you, where you need people to be able to see their data.

Honestly there’s no real good way to go about this, other than paying for it. That or just allow people to make copies of the app and let them run it on their own account without any kind of password or subscription or anything.

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A completely other route you might take… :laughing:

I’ve worked with people in the past that took their app and built a community around it.

  • People were given the opportunity to make their own copy of the app, and encouraged to tinker.
  • The developer then played a role of pseudo AppSheet tutor, helping people expand their app how they wanted.
    • naturally added extra cost.
  • Or even expanding directly into development work for others for pay. :muscle:

They really played on the ease of use of AppSheet for doing small tinkering little things. The fact that it’s relatively easy to get in and do something that’s actually useful is a hell of a selling point, they used that to their advantage and built on top of it.

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Thank you so much for these answers

I’d been meaning to ask these questions on the AppSheet forums but there were some quite hostile sounding comments on the similar topics made there.

While you may have nixed my dreams of owning a Maserati, hanging out with the Kardashians and buying a rocket ship company (only kidding) you have given me a very clear direction forward, thank you!

At least I’ll look like a good guy for giving away free stuff !!

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  • Absolutely; this was an explicit example given by Praveen back in the day.
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