That time Amazon flipped a default and made me thousands of dollars

I run a little single player software empire, and right now the product that’s paying my bills is S3stat. It’s a SaaS product that processes human readable reports from the basic logfiles that Amazon produces from its Cloudfront and S3 services. It’s kinda like Google Analytics, but for your Cloud stuff. You should totally sign up.

But anyway, the way it works is that you sign up for a Trial account with us and use a little installable tool we provide that lists out your S3 Buckets and Cloudfront Endpoints and walks you through setting up logging for the ones you’re interested in. Then it tells us where to find those logs so we can produce reports. Or at least that’s the way it originally worked.

Over the last few years though, more and more new users started coming on board with logging already running on their stuff. The tool will detect this, of course, and not screw everything up by changing your settings. It’ll just note the log location and send it along as per usual.

Every once in awhile I’d get an email from somebody with a few months of old logfiles sitting around asking if we (because we’re a company and therefore a “we” even though it’s just me) could generate reports for them. Sure, no worries, we’d say. And I’d kick off a job to run those old reports. Happy new customer.

But I’m a nerd. One of those lazy ones who likes to automate things, and even though this only took a few minutes out of my day, I’d much prefer to keep those minutes for things like blowing off work for the day to go rock climbing because it’s sunny and I can do that because I run my own company. The less time I have to spend dealing with these customers, the better. So I built a little sniffer that would detect pre-existing logfiles and gave the users an option of hitting the “go” button on the report runner themselves.

But I’m also a capitalist. So I didn’t push that out just yet.

Instead, I changed it to automatically run just one month worth of logs, so that new users could get a nice big taste of what they could expect from the service. Then I offered the option to purchase additional months of service so that they could process any older logs. And I priced those additional months of service at 100% the cost of normal S3stat service. All you’re doing is moving back the start date for your subscription.

And just as it has surprised me every other time I’ve asked my customers for more money for things, people actually started buying those extra months of service.


But it gets better.

Over time, I’ve noticed that the average purchase for extra service seems to be climbing. People are showing up with more and more logs sitting around that they want to have processed. And why has this started happening? Because of this:

That’s what you see when you go to create a new S3 Bucket in the AWS Console these days. Notice how the Next Step after naming the thing is to Set Up Logging. Gee, that sounds important, if Amazon is telling me to do it. And sure enough most people seem to do so when creating new Buckets. Cloudfront does something similar when creating a new Distribution, where it throws Logging right in your face before you can move forward.

So I’m sure you’ve made the connection back to my service, but I’ll go ahead and spell it out. Amazon’s new default way of setting up S3 and Cloudfront prompts you to start logging immediately. That means that when and if you do eventually decide to try S3stat, you’ll show up with a bucket full o’ pre-existing logfiles for us to process. And that means that you are pretty likely to decide to move your start date with us all the way back to the day you set up your stuff in the first place, giving us an extra several months worth of lifetime value from you right off the bat.

Cool, eh?

Big companies have a way of accidentally stepping on little companies as they move around sometimes, crushing a thriving business with a minor change to their Terms of Service or a decision to stop publishing a certain data feed. But every once in awhile, one of those seemingly random little steps manages to squish up the dirt under one of us little guys, leaving us better off than we were before.

It’s nice to be on the receiving end of that for a change.

Jason Kester

I run a little company called Expat Software. Right now, the most interesting things we're doing are related to Cloud Storage Analytics, Online Classrooms, and Customer Lifecycle Metrics for SaaS Businesses. I'll leave it to you to figure out how those things tie together.

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