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Chargify vs. Recurly — Choosing a Recurring Billing Platform

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

We’ve been busy preparing the MediaCore Cloud for launch, and have been looking into how to handle the recurring billing as we plan on offering monthly plans. Initially we were considering building our own recurring payment solution (or implementing one built by a payment gateway), but after some research we found that there are a number of amazing SAAS recurring billing services. Notably, these include:

In distilling things down further we started by doing a quick search on Quora, and it seemed like most people were either on Chargify or on Recurly. Our good friends over at New Bamboo have used Chargify for Pusher and have never had a problem, and our friends over at MetaLab have been using Recurly for Flow and also have very positive things to say. So both services have passed the social validation check for us.

Digging in a little deeper we found a number of really useful graphs over at Matt Mazur’s blog that essentially showed how the services compared in cost as your subscriber base grows.

The big takeaway here is that Chargify is substantially cheaper early on as they offer lower pricing for your first customers. As the number of customers increases, then the costs of the services roughly equal out.

The next big factor in making a decision on whether to choose Chargify or Recurly boiled down to the feature differences between the two. We’ve drawn up a little feature chart to show off the differences between the two initially.

Let’s go through a couple of the big differences that we see between the two platforms:

Interface Design

There really isn’t much of a comparison here, Recurly wins hands down. Chargify’s interface is considerably less polished, and they really haven’t paid attention to many of the small details that makes Recurly’s interface hyper-useable. As we’re an interface design company, these little things (although not critical to our decision making process) do bear weight on our overall opinion of the service.

Customizeable Emails and Mailing List Integration

Although both systems do dispatch emails, Recurly’s are more user-friendly by default, and are also a lot more customizable. After playing with both platforms, I would prefer to send customer’s emails via Recurly. Another nicety of Recurly is that they also offer mailing list integration, so it’s possible to easily take your subscriber list, and link it up with tools like MailChimp to email blast your subscribers about new features, company news, etc.

Packages / Addons

Using Recurly it is possible to create a Addon (some people might call it a package) that is bundled with a payment in addition to the recurring monthly charge, so if for example you are selling subscriptions to a blogging service, and a customer chooses to add a theme that costs $9, then Recurly will charge the customer their monthly fee, plus the extra $9 for the theme they bought. This is a great feature for anyone who is up-selling subscribers on additional one-time purchases. Note: Chargify does have similar functionality. See the comments by Chargify’s founder.

iPhone App

Chargify really leads the way on this one, providing you with a great iPhone app that gives you all the quick business data you need such as the number of signups you have received that day, the number of customers you have, and your revenue figures. Handy!

VAT Support

Recurly supports charging VAT on items, which will make people who are building SAAS apps in Europe and need recurring billing very happy. Sadly, Chargify does not offer this feature. Note: This feature is coming to Chargify. See the comments by Chargify’s founder.

Intelligent Payment Routing

Recurly has the ability to route payments to the appropriate gateway based on easily configureable rules. This feature can help with avoiding paying unnecessary fees, and can help in unlikely event of a payment failure as it will fallback to the secondary payment gateway if you’ve added one to your account.

Gateway Support

Both Recurly and Chargify offer support for major payment gateways, but they don’t both offer the same ones, so depending on which gateway you want to use one may be a better fit over the other.

Chargify supports:

  • Beanstream
  • PaymentExpress
  • QuickPay
  • TrustCommerce

Recurly supports:

  • Beanstream
  • Braintree
  • Cybersource
  • First Data
  • Intuit
  • Litle & Co.
  • Paypal Payflow
  • Paypal Website Payments Pro
  • Sage Card
  • Wirecard

On Paypal w/ Recurly: we tried Recurly with Paypal Website Payments Pro for a recent project, and had nothing but problems with PayPal as we found it dropping around 10% of transactions. Switching from Paypal to Braintree solved the issue, and since  implementing Recurly with Beanstream for a client we haven’t had any issues.

The Card Store

Up until now we’ve been looking at some of the minor differences that separate Recurly from Chargify. Perhaps one of the most major differences between the two services is that Chargify does not keep the card store on it’s server, instead it stores the data with your merchant account of choice. The problem here is that if you decide to switch merchant accounts, you are left in the position of having to persuade your merchant account vendor to release your card store, which they are very reluctant to do in most cases. Recurly keeps the card store on it’s own servers, so if you decide to switch merchant accounts for any reason (ie. to get a better rate) then you don’t need to worry about switching and getting your data since Recurly holds the information. You can read more about this on Chris Compton’s blog here (the article was written before Recurly re-designed their service, but the core point still applies.)

Final Thoughts

After some careful consideration, we’re close to deciding finally on choosing (drumroll…) Recurly as our subscription billing platform of choice. The main factors affecting this decision include:

  • The Card Store: The fact that Chargify does not keep the card store
  • Payment Routing Support: Recurly’s intelligent payment routing support (although we don’t need this feature now, it’s definitely something we may need to use in the future)
  • Number of payment gateway choices: As our service grows, it’s nice to have a broader range of payment gateway vendors to choose from, especially since switching gateways in Recurly is relatively straight forward.
  • Interface design: We really do like the interface that Recurly offers over the interface that comes built into Chargify.
  • API ease of implementation: We’ve taken an in depth look into both Recurly and Chargify’s API’s. On the whole, Recurly’s documentation is better, and flexibility of their API is superior.

We’ll be looking forward to providing an update on our findings in a couple of months. If anyone else has further remarks on the differences between the two services we’d love to hear them!

Words on simplicity

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

A few choice words on the importance of reducing clutter from the master of marketing, Seth Godin:

Digital media expands. It’s not like paper, it can get bigger.

As digital marketers seek to increase profits, they almost always make the same mistake. They continue to add more clutter, messaging and offers, because, hey, it’s free.

One more link, one more banner, one more side deal on the Groupon page.

Economics tells us that the right thing to do is run the factory until the last item produced is being sold at marginal cost. In other words, keep adding until it doesn’t work any more.

In fact, human behavior tells us that this is a more permanent effect than we realize. Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention. More clutter isn’t free. In fact, more clutter is a permanent shift, a desensitization to all the information, not just the last bit.

And it’s hard to go backward.

More is not always better. In fact, more is almost never better.

Increasing the value of email newsletters

Monday, November 29th, 2010

I just finished reading the latest edition of Jacob Nielsen’s alertbox covering email newsletter usability. As many of our clientele have email subscriber lists we thought we’d comb through his tips and pull together a few key points and tips.

Key Points / Tips:

  1. The number of new or unread emails in an average inbox is 300% higher than it was 4 years ago
  2. The title of your email needs to be attention grabbing, and straight to the point, not abstract
  3. Put the most important information first, the first paragraph is crucial as it may be the only one that your readers look at
  4. The most important information should be the information that is important to your client, not to you
  5. Newsletter subscribers are more important than Facebook/twitter followers, treat emails with respect and don’t spam subscribers
  6. People are more likely to want to receive updates via an email newsletter than a facebook or twitter post
  7. Making your newsletter mobile friendly is important as many users browse newsletters on their mobile devices
  8. Users are hesitant to click on videos within emails
  9. 50% of users said email marketing influenced their B2B purchases when timing was right
  10. View email newsletters as a long term investment

The full article is well worth a read, and provides a much more in depth look at the key points I’ve summarized above.

CPAWS: Making an environmental impact in Canada

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Last year we kicked off our company environmental policy by donating 5% of our profits to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). Today, we are pleased to announce that this groundbreaking environmental non-profit has managed to protect 400,000 hectares of Canadian wilderness in 2009. Some of their major highlights include the huge expansion of the Nahini National Park, and the addition of a massive protected wilderness area near Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia (which is the largest protected area to be added to Nova Scotia in a decade).

Our heartiest congratulations go to all the staff at CPAWS who have worked incredibly hard this year to preserve Canada’s unique wilderness.


*Note: If you are interested in donating to CPAWS more information can be found on their site.


Friday, October 30th, 2009

leavingStuart Bowness heading out into the surf. Photo by Al Belote – User Experience Designer

This month is about to bring some interesting changes at Simple Station as I am heading to London for the month of November, followed by an extended business trip to Boston and possibly New York until the middle of January. Before leaving I took one last opportunity to grab my surfboard and head out to Jordan River. The waves were beautiful and I will miss the west-coast, but opportunities in London and on the east-coast beckon. New frontiers await.

Our client work will continue as normal as the rest of the Simple Station team remains in Victoria and I will still be working and accessible via email / skype / gchat / twitter.

Yvon Chouinard on sustainability

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Fast Company recently interviewed Yvon Chouinard (one of my business heroes) on his thoughts on sustainability. His drive and determination is unstoppable. A true inspiration to the environmentally minded business man.

Yvon Chouinard fishing in Terra del Fugo
A passion for outdoor activities, fishing in Tierra del Fuego | Photograph by Doug Tompkins

“I’m kind of like a samurai,” says Yvon Chouinard, founder of outdoor-apparel maker Patagonia. “They say if you want to be a samurai, you can’t be afraid of dying, and as soon as you flinch, you get your head cut off. I’m not afraid of losing this business.”

He may actually mean that. Ever since Chouinard began forging mountain-climbing pitons in 1957 and selling them out of his car, he has defined his business’s bottom line as something other than pure profit.

How important is a good name?

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Dawn Foster from Web Worker Daily gives a comprehensive look at the importance of a good name in establishing your online brand and identity. A while back I wrote an article on choosing a good business name based on my experience in founding Sentient Development, which I renamed a mere 1 year later to Simple Station. I wish I had found a similar article to the one on Web Worker Daily before we chose our original name as it would have saved a whole lot of time and money involved in changing our brand.

Here are a few things from the Web Worker Daily article you might want to think about the next time you need to pick a name.

  • Is the domain name available? Is it available as a .com domain?
  • Is it unique and memorable?
  • Does it fit well with your business and the image you want to project?
  • Will the name grow with you or limit you later?
  • Will it be confused with other names?
  • Are there any obvious jokes about crickets or anything else that might get annoying?
  • Can people spell the name?
  • Is it short enough not to be annoying when typing it on an iPhone or other mobile device?

Freshbooks vs. Harvest vs. Blinksale

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

After spending hours searching the web for a review of the top 3 online invoicing platforms we have finally decided to write our own review based on our usage of Freshbooks, Harvest and Blinksale over the past 3 years. We used Blinksale our first year but eventually outgrew it and switched to Freshbooks which we used for around 1 year before discovering Harvest. As a result of our experience we feel we are adequately qualified to comment on the merits and downfalls of each web based invoicing application. Hopefully this will be a helpful tool for people trying to figure out which one they should use.

Get Harvest

A lot of the plans share the same features (unlimited clients, invoices, projects etc.) and are quite similarly matched. I won’t cover the minor differences and instead will focus on what each does well and what it does not.


Perfecting design game

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Most big corporations have neither the focus, the skills, nor the appetite for risk to build mass-produced products that feel as if they were made by high-priced boutiques in New York or London. While computer companies have focused on pinching pennies these past few decades, Apple has been perfecting its design game. The fact that rivals are now talking about design is not proof they’re catching up — but of how far they have to go.

True in 2006, still true today. Amazing how somethings change and others remain constant. Apple has proved its consistency and at the helm is Jonathan Ive.

Read More: BusinessWeek “Who is Jonathan Ive?”

Worst copy of all time

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Want to know the top secrets of Remote Viewing? In this book has details step by step methods to master this skill. Sapphire has mastered many skills including Remote Viewing and The Third Eye. Contents include: How to achieve Remote Viewing, how to do it correctly, how not to get spotted when you are Remote Viewing, and how to sense someone is Remote Viewing you, and how to turn down a Remote Viewing, and how to view out of space. Also, includes The Third Eye Viewing as a bonus for this book. Want to be a super human being? Having X-Ray eyes? This is the book for you.

Source: Amazon

Possibly the worst marketing copy I’ve ever read.