The Freemium Business Model Complete Guide

The freemium – unless the whole organization is aligned around it – is a growth strategy rather than a business model. A free service is provided to a majority of users, while a small percentage of those users convert into paying customers through the sales funnel. Free users will help spread the brand through word of mouth.

DefinitionThe Freemium Business Model is a pricing strategy that informs a whole business model, in which a company offers a basic version of its product or service for free (the “free” + “premium”), with the option to upgrade to a paid premium version that includes additional features or functionality.
Free TierThe free tier is the core offering that is provided to users at no cost. It often includes essential features or services, making it valuable on its own. It serves as a tool to attract a large user base and create brand awareness.
Premium TierThe premium tier is the paid version of the product or service. It offers enhanced features, functionality, or benefits that cater to users willing to pay for a more comprehensive experience. It generates revenue for the company.
MonetizationFreemium businesses monetize through a mix of strategies, such as subscription pricing, one-time purchases, in-app purchases, or advertising revenue. The goal is to convert free users into paying customers while maintaining a free user base.
Conversion RateThe conversion rate is the percentage of free users who choose to upgrade to the premium version. Improving this rate is crucial for the success of the Freemium model, and businesses often employ marketing and upselling techniques.
Features PackagingFreemium companies carefully design feature packages for both the free and premium versions. They aim to provide enough value in the free tier to attract users while enticing them to upgrade by offering premium features that address specific needs or pain points.
User SegmentationUnderstanding user segments is essential. Freemium businesses categorize users based on behavior, needs, or demographics. This segmentation helps tailor marketing efforts, personalized communications, and feature recommendations.
Usage AnalyticsUsage analytics and data-driven insights play a pivotal role in the Freemium model. Companies collect data on user behavior, feature usage, and conversion patterns. This data informs decision-making and allows for continuous refinement.
Marketing StrategyFreemium models require effective marketing to drive user acquisition and conversions. Companies employ content marketing, email campaigns, referral programs, and more to attract and retain users, often utilizing free users as brand advocates.
Retention EffortsRetaining free users is vital as they can become paying customers over time. Freemium businesses implement strategies like user engagement campaigns, feature updates, and exceptional customer support to maintain user satisfaction and loyalty.
ExamplesSpotify: Offers a free tier with ads and a premium tier with ad-free listening, offline downloads, and higher audio quality. – Dropbox: Provides free cloud storage with limited space and offers paid plans with expanded storage and features. – LinkedIn: Offers free access to basic features and networking, with premium subscriptions for advanced job search and business networking tools. – Evernote: Provides a free note-taking app with limitations and offers premium plans with additional storage and features.
Benefits– Attracts a large user base quickly. – Builds brand recognition and trust. – Generates revenue from a portion of users. – Allows users to experience the product before committing. – Offers flexibility to scale and adapt pricing over time.
Drawbacks– Requires careful balancing of free and premium features. – Conversion rates can be low, affecting revenue. – Challenges in retaining and engaging free users. – Competition from free alternatives. – Relying on user data may raise privacy concerns.
ApplicationsFreemium models are commonly used in software and digital services, including apps, games, productivity tools, and online content platforms. They can be adapted to various industries where a tiered offering is feasible.

Is a freemium a business model?

You create a product or software, you make it available for free on the web, thus (if the tool is good) it gains visibility quickly, and you call your company a freemium business model.

Looking at things from this perspective makes you confuse your business strategy with your marketing strategy. This can be extremely limiting. 

A marketing strategy will focus primarily on acquiring users, leads, or potential customers for the business. 

A business strategy looks at understanding the whole logic of your business to find a viable and potentially scalable business model

To understand this key difference let’s look at the whole story behind freemiums. 

The origin story

On March 2006, venture capitalist Fred Wilson wrote an article entitled “My Favorite Business Model” which said:

Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc, then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base.

He mentioned examples of this successful business model at Skype, Flickr, and a few others. 

According to Fred Wilson, the core advantage of a “Freemium business model” is fast customer acquisition. But he made clear that it had to be as frictionless as possible:

A customer is only a click away and if you can convert them without forcing them into a price/value decision you can build a customer base fairly rapidly and efficiently.  It is important that you require as little as possible in the initial customer acquisition process.  Asking for a credit card even though you won’t charge anything to it is not a good idea. Even forced registration is a bad idea.  You’ll want to do some of this sort of thing once you’ve acquired the customer but not in the initial interaction.

The main aim was to “eliminate all barriers to the initial customer acquisition.” He didn’t have yet a name for this kind of revenue model.

Giving it a name 

At the end of his article, Fred Wilson had clear in mind what the Freemium business model looked like. However, he didn’t have a name for it.

That is why he invited people to comment and to come up with a proper name for this business model. A commenter, Jarid Lukin suggested the name Freemium model.

Thus, service and product wholly free and frictionless, where most users don’t pay, and a small base of users pay for a product that has premium features.

Over the years Fred Wilson kept emphasizing the importance of free. Today the freemium business model has taken over also the gaming industry. But it has also become the most debated business model in the software industry.

On the power of free

Building a free product and making it available to anyone and then expecting to make money isn’t the right strategy.

Instead, the “free” within the freemium, if appropriately used, can be a lever for quick success.

As Fred Wilson pointed out in October 2008 “freemium is far from dead, in fact, it may be the business model de rigueur.

What did he mean? He recounted in a later article:

Facebook is a perfect example of freeconomics at work. A woman who works for a major media company was in my office recently. She quoted her CEO as saying “why doesn’t Facebook just charge a monthly subscription fee, they’d be making money hand over fist?”. Well I believe that if Facebook did that, they’d be vulnerable to other networks offering a free service. And certainly not every one of those 200mm+ users are going to cough up a monthly subscription. But by offering a friction free service, they have built a powerful and growing network that they are now starting to monetize in various ways and that they will monetize even further in additional ways. And they are super hard to compete with because they are free.

So that you know what key questions to ask that person to make sure the freemium is the right growth tool for your business. Some of those questions are:

  • Do we have the resources to sustain a free product? Many forget that a free product still requires a lot of maintenance, updates, support, or else. If you don’t have those things in place, your free product won’t be good, which will make it flop quickly.
  • Is the free product cannibalizing my premium offering? It might sound obvious to some people, but engineering a free product isn’t easy. Do you know how much of that free offering is enough to be valued? Do you know how to strike a balance between what you offer for free and what instead should be paid? Is the free product in line with your overall business strategy?
  • Is the freemium in line with my overall business model? For instance, if your organization is primarily structured on a sales team, which works with enterprise customers a freemium might make sense as it enables your brand to be known by more people. But will the fact that more people will know my brand to be a way to speed up the process of acquiring another potential enterprise customer? If not, is a freemium aligned with a business strategy where I want to get the lower end of the market?

Below is an example of what a freemium decision tree might look like:


Case Studies


Dropbox generated over 90% of its revenue via its self-serve channels to convert users in paying customers through in-product prompts and notifications, time-limited free trials of paid subscription plans, email campaigns, and lifecycle marketing. Dropbox generated over $2.1 billion in revenue in 2021, with an average revenue per paying user of $133, based on 16.79 million paying users.
  • Offers free cloud storage with limited space.
  • Freemium users can upgrade to premium plans for more storage, enhanced sharing options, and advanced features.
  • Premium plans include Dropbox Plus and Dropbox Family.


Spotify is a two-sided marketplace where artists and music fans engage. Spotify has a free ad-supported service and a paid membership. Founded in 2008 with the belief that music should be universally accessible, it generated €11.7 billion in 2022. Of these revenues, 87.4% or €10.25 billion came from premium memberships, while over 12.6% or €1.47 billion came from ad-supported members. By 2022, Spotify had 489 million users, of which 205 million premium members and 295 million ad-supported users.
  • Provides a free tier with ads, limited skips, and lower audio quality.
  • Premium subscriptions remove ads, offer unlimited skips, offline listening, and high-quality audio.
  • Premium options include Spotify Premium and Spotify Premium Family.


Evernote is a note-taking, organizing, task management, and archiving app created by the EverNote Corporation. The company was founded in 2001 by Russian-American entrepreneur Stepan Pachikov to increase the capacity of human memory. Evernote works on the freemium business model. This means users can try out the basic product for free and upgrade to the premium service if so desired. The company is adept at turning free customers into paying customers the longer each utilizes the platform. Evernote has a simple revenue generation strategy, with three premium subscriptions for personal users, employees, and organizations.
  • Offers a free version for basic note-taking, organization, and syncing across devices.
  • Premium plans provide features like offline access, unlimited devices, and advanced search capabilities.
  • Premium offerings include Evernote Premium and Evernote Business.


LinkedIn is a two-sided platform running on a freemium model, where to unlock unlimited search and other features, you need to switch to a paid account. In addition, LinkedIn is the most successful B2B advertising platform. In fact, by 2022, with over 850 million members, LinkedIn generated over $6 billion in revenues through its Talent Solutions and over $5 billion through its Marketing Solutions (B2B advertising platform). Acquired by Microsoft for $27 billion in 2016, LinkedIn might now be worth anywhere between $100-150 billion. 
  • Provides a free platform for professional networking, job searching, and basic profile features.
  • Premium subscriptions (LinkedIn Premium and Premium Business) offer InMail messages, access to learning courses, job insights, and more.


HubSpot is a CRM (customer relationship management) solution providing various levels of its B2B and Enterprise subscription plans. Beyond subscriptions, the company monetizes via professional services. However, these carry a negative marginality as the company uses professional services (in onboarding and implementation) to increase its tools, which help companies leverage digital marketing channels to generate leads.
  • Offers free inbound marketing and sales software for CRM, email marketing, and lead capture.
  • Premium plans include Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, and Service Hub, offering advanced tools, automation, and analytics.


  • Offers a free plan for sending email campaigns to a limited number of subscribers.
  • Premium plans (Essentials, Standard, Premium) offer increased subscriber limits, advanced features, and enhanced reporting.


  • Provides a free social media management platform for scheduling posts and basic analytics.
  • Premium plans (Professional, Team, Business) offer additional social profiles, advanced scheduling, and team collaboration tools.


Canva is a graphic design platform renown for its simplicity and the fact that it is freely accessible to users. The platform follows a freemium model, where users are prompted to subscribe (Canva Pro) to get more features at $12.99/month. Other plans comprise Canva Enterprise ($30/month). Other services are Canva Print (allowing consumers to print a chosen design on physical material) and the Marketplace, where designs are sold at one-time, and Canva takes a cut of the sales.
  • Offers a free graphic design tool with basic templates, design elements, and collaboration features.
  • Canva Pro provides access to premium templates, stock photos, and advanced design tools.


how-does-wordpress-make-money became the most popular CMS and blogging platform in which the Foundation owns the trademark, and revenues come from donations. The Foundation holds a public-benefit-corporation who manages the revenues coming from WordPress events and conferences. Automaticc – the business arm – monetizes premium tools built on top of (a premium platform) through freemiums.
  • Provides a free open-source content management system (CMS) for website creation.
  • Premium offerings include themes, plugins, and hosting services from various providers.


  • Offers a free project management and collaboration platform with boards, lists, and cards.
  • Trello Business Class and Enterprise provide additional features, integrations, and security options.


Zoom is a video communication platform whose mission is to “make video communications frictionless.” Leveraging on the viral growth from its freemium model, Zoom then uses its direct sales force to identify opportunities and channel those as B2B and enterprise accounts, thus enabling Zoom to monetize the brands’ growth generated by its freemium. In 2022 Zoom generated over $4 billion in revenue and $1.37 billion in net profits.
  • Offers a free video conferencing service with limitations on meeting duration and participants.
  • Premium plans (Zoom Pro, Business, Enterprise) offer extended meeting capabilities, cloud storage, and advanced admin controls.


Grammarly leverages on a freemium service, where free users are prompted to switch to a paid subscription. Grammarly makes money by selling premium plans starting at $11.66 to $29.95 per month. The company also makes money by selling human proofreading services to its paid users.
  • Provides a free grammar and spelling checker for writing.
  • Grammarly Premium offers advanced writing suggestions, plagiarism detection, and genre-specific writing styles.


Slack follows a freemium model, where a free version is offered, and users can convert in paying customers if they want more usage or advanced functionalities. Slack combines the free model with a direct sales force to acquire enterprise customers with yearly recurring revenue of over 100K. Those customers were 575 in 2019, and they accounted for 40% of its revenues. 
  • Offers a free team collaboration platform with limited message history and integrations.
  • Slack paid plans (Plus, Enterprise Grid) provide unlimited message history, more app integrations, and security features.


  • Offers a free password manager for storing and autofilling passwords.
  • LastPass Premium and Families provide secure file storage, advanced multi-factor authentication, and emergency access.


  • Offers free video hosting and streaming with ads.
  • YouTube Premium removes ads, provides offline viewing, background play, and access to YouTube Originals.

Google Workspace:

  • Provides free productivity tools like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Drive.
  • Google Workspace Business and Enterprise offer more storage, custom domain, and advanced collaboration features.

Microsoft Office 365:

  • Offers free online versions of Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).
  • Office 365 subscriptions provide desktop apps, advanced features, and cloud storage options.

LinkedIn Learning:

  • Offers a free trial and free courses on various topics.
  • LinkedIn Learning Premium subscriptions grant unlimited access to a vast library of courses, certifications, and offline viewing.


GitHub’s open-source business model is web-based hosting for software development and version control using Git, facilitating collaborative source code development among programmers and monetizing via premium and enterprise support. GitLab’s open-core business model instead is a collaborative code repository used to host and review code, build software, and manage projects, monetized primarily through its two paid plans (Premium & Ultimate) and via its subscription add-ons.
  • Provides free public repositories for open-source projects.
  • GitHub paid plans offer private repositories, collaboration tools, and advanced features for developers and teams.

Freemium Games:

A free-to-play is a model that became particularly popular in gaming. Free-to-play is also commonly referred to as free-to-start. For instance, companies like Epic Games have launched popular games like Fortnite’s Battle Royale, which had ingrained a free-to-play model. This is a model that become extremely popular in the digital age of gaming.
  • Mobile games offer free gameplay with in-app purchases (IAPs) for virtual items, currency, or content.
  • Premium content and features can be unlocked with real money, enhancing the gaming experience.

Key Highlights on Freemium Business Models:

  • Defining Freemium: Freemium is a business model where a product or software is initially offered for free, with the goal of acquiring users efficiently and then converting a small portion of them into paying customers for premium features or services.
  • Marketing vs. Business Strategy: It’s essential to distinguish between marketing strategy, which focuses on acquiring users, and business strategy, which explores the overall logic and scalability of the business model.
  • Origin Story: The term “freemium” was popularized by venture capitalist Fred Wilson in 2006. He emphasized the importance of acquiring customers efficiently and eliminating barriers to entry.
  • Power of Free: Offering a free product can be a powerful marketing tool, but it should be aligned with a clear plan for monetization. The goal is to build a large and engaged user base.
  • Not One Size Fits All: Freemium is not suitable for every business or product. The success of freemium depends on factors like the customer profile, cost structure, and the ability to convert free users into paying customers.
  • Freemium Business Models that Work: Examples like Dropbox demonstrate the success of freemium models. Dropbox gained traction through free storage offers and converted many users into paying customers for additional features.
  • Balancing Free and Premium: Striking the right balance between what’s offered for free and what’s paid is crucial to a successful freemium model. Overuse of free services can strain resources and negatively impact revenue.
  • Freemium in Enterprise: In the “freeterprise” model, a free product is used to gain entry into organizations, with the aim of converting free users into enterprise customers through sales efforts.
  • Questions to Ask Before Adopting Freemium: Businesses should consider whether they have the resources to sustain a free product, whether it might cannibalize premium offerings, and whether it aligns with their overall business model.
  • Key Metrics to Track: Businesses using freemium models should monitor metrics like the cost of serving free users, conversion rates from free to premium, daily active users (DAU), average revenue per user (ARPU), and more.
  • MailChimp’s Lesson: MailChimp’s success with freemium emphasizes the importance of having a solid foundation (the “1”) before chasing scale (the “10”). Building up a user base before seeking venture capital funding can be a more sustainable approach.

Connected Business Model Types And Frameworks

What’s A Business Model

An effective business model has to focus on two dimensions: the people dimension and the financial dimension. The people dimension will allow you to build a product or service that is 10X better than existing ones and a solid brand. The financial dimension will help you develop proper distribution channels by identifying the people that are willing to pay for your product or service and make it financially sustainable in the long run.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Level of Digitalization

Digital and tech business models can be classified according to four levels of transformation into digitally-enabled, digitally-enhanced, tech or platform business models, and business platforms/ecosystems.

Digital Business Model

A digital business model might be defined as a model that leverages digital technologies to improve several aspects of an organization. From how the company acquires customers, to what product/service it provides. A digital business model is such when digital technology helps enhance its value proposition.

Tech Business Model

A tech business model is made of four main components: value model (value propositions, mission, vision), technological model (R&D management), distribution model (sales and marketing organizational structure), and financial model (revenue modeling, cost structure, profitability and cash generation/management). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build a solid tech business model.

Platform Business Model

A platform business model generates value by enabling interactions between people, groups, and users by leveraging network effects. Platform business models usually comprise two sides: supply and demand. Kicking off the interactions between those two sides is one of the crucial elements for a platform business model success.

AI Business Model


Blockchain Business Model

A Blockchain Business Model is made of four main components: Value Model (Core Philosophy, Core Value and Value Propositions for the key stakeholders), Blockchain Model (Protocol Rules, Network Shape and Applications Layer/Ecosystem), Distribution Model (the key channels amplifying the protocol and its communities), and the Economic Model (the dynamics through which protocol players make money). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build and analyze a solid Blockchain Business Model.

Asymmetric Business Models

In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus have a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility.

Attention Merchant Business Model

In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus having a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility. This is how attention merchants make monetize their business models.

Open-Core Business Model

While the term has been coined by Andrew Lampitt, open-core is an evolution of open-source. Where a core part of the software/platform is offered for free, while on top of it are built premium features or add-ons, which get monetized by the corporation who developed the software/platform. An example of the GitLab open core model, where the hosted service is free and open, while the software is closed.

Cloud Business Models

Cloud business models are all built on top of cloud computing, a concept that took over around 2006 when former Google’s CEO Eric Schmit mentioned it. Most cloud-based business models can be classified as IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), or SaaS (Software as a Service). While those models are primarily monetized via subscriptions, they are monetized via pay-as-you-go revenue models and hybrid models (subscriptions + pay-as-you-go).

Open Source Business Model

Open source is licensed and usually developed and maintained by a community of independent developers. While the freemium is developed in-house. Thus the freemium give the company that developed it, full control over its distribution. In an open-source model, the for-profit company has to distribute its premium version per its open-source licensing model.

Freemium Business Model

The freemium – unless the whole organization is aligned around it – is a growth strategy rather than a business model. A free service is provided to a majority of users, while a small percentage of those users convert into paying customers through the sales funnel. Free users will help spread the brand through word of mouth.

Freeterprise Business Model

A freeterprise is a combination of free and enterprise where free professional accounts are driven into the funnel through the free product. As the opportunity is identified the company assigns the free account to a salesperson within the organization (inside sales or fields sales) to convert that into a B2B/enterprise account.

Marketplace Business Models

A marketplace is a platform where buyers and sellers interact and transact. The platform acts as a marketplace that will generate revenues in fees from one or all the parties involved in the transaction. Usually, marketplaces can be classified in several ways, like those selling services vs. products or those connecting buyers and sellers at B2B, B2C, or C2C level. And those marketplaces connecting two core players, or more.

B2B vs B2C Business Model

B2B, which stands for business-to-business, is a process for selling products or services to other businesses. On the other hand, a B2C sells directly to its consumers.

B2B2C Business Model

A B2B2C is a particular kind of business model where a company, rather than accessing the consumer market directly, it does that via another business. Yet the final consumers will recognize the brand or the service provided by the B2B2C. The company offering the service might gain direct access to consumers over time.

D2C Business Model

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) is a business model where companies sell their products directly to the consumer without the assistance of a third-party wholesaler or retailer. In this way, the company can cut through intermediaries and increase its margins. However, to be successful the direct-to-consumers company needs to build its own distribution, which in the short term can be more expensive. Yet in the long-term creates a competitive advantage.

C2C Business Model

The C2C business model describes a market environment where one customer purchases from another on a third-party platform that may also handle the transaction. Under the C2C model, both the seller and the buyer are considered consumers. Customer to customer (C2C) is, therefore, a business model where consumers buy and sell directly between themselves. Consumer-to-consumer has become a prevalent business model especially as the web helped disintermediate various industries.

Retail Business Model

A retail business model follows a direct-to-consumer approach, also called B2C, where the company sells directly to final customers a processed/finished product. This implies a business model that is mostly local-based, it carries higher margins, but also higher costs and distribution risks.

Wholesale Business Model

The wholesale model is a selling model where wholesalers sell their products in bulk to a retailer at a discounted price. The retailer then on-sells the products to consumers at a higher price. In the wholesale model, a wholesaler sells products in bulk to retail outlets for onward sale. Occasionally, the wholesaler sells direct to the consumer, with supermarket giant Costco the most obvious example.

Crowdsourcing Business Model

The term “crowdsourcing” was first coined by Wired Magazine editor Jeff Howe in a 2006 article titled Rise of Crowdsourcing. Though the practice has existed in some form or another for centuries, it rose to prominence when eCommerce, social media, and smartphone culture began to emerge. Crowdsourcing is the act of obtaining knowledge, goods, services, or opinions from a group of people. These people submit information via social media, smartphone apps, or dedicated crowdsourcing platforms.

Franchising Business Model

In a franchained business model (a short-term chain, long-term franchise) model, the company deliberately launched its operations by keeping tight ownership on the main assets, while those are established, thus choosing a chain model. Once operations are running and established, the company divests its ownership and opts instead for a franchising model.

Brokerage Business Model

Businesses employing the brokerage business model make money via brokerage services. This means they are involved with the facilitation, negotiation, or arbitration of a transaction between a buyer and a seller. The brokerage business model involves a business connecting buyers with sellers to collect a commission on the resultant transaction. Therefore, acting as a middleman within a transaction.

Dropshipping Business Model

Dropshipping is a retail business model where the dropshipper externalizes the manufacturing and logistics and focuses only on distribution and customer acquisition. Therefore, the dropshipper collects final customers’ sales orders, sending them over to third-party suppliers, who ship directly to those customers. In this way, through dropshipping, it is possible to run a business without operational costs and logistics management.

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