Inside Even

Value flop

How people think about a "salary"

There’s a really easy and obvious way to explain Even’s value proposition: it turns your variable paychecks into a salary.

When we first started out marketing Even, we thought this concept of a “salary” would win people over big-time because it obviously stood for the financial stability people wanted. But when we tried that value prop out on potential Even members, it flopped.

Luckily, we learned a lot from the flop about how to improve both our marketing and our product, which I will now describe.

“Salary” meant something different to potential members than it meant to us

We assumed the strongest association potential Even members would make with the word “salary” would be “steady pay.” But to the many of them who’d always earned paychecks, we learned the meaning of “salary” wasn’t always that straightforward. As one of them put it:

For somebody that’s never had salary pay, I never even really got how salary works from the people that describe it to me.

To the extent “salary” did mean something to the people I talked to, it was just as likely to connote “better job” as “steady pay”:

Salary…that’s, like, a heavy — like, a big word. It’s the distance between saying “this is my job” and “this is my career.”

Many people I talked to also associated “salary” with the benefits they’d expect to come along with a salaried position, such as medical insurance and paid vacation. Those didn’t make any sense to people in the context of this new service they were getting separate from their employer — further muddying the concept we’d hoped would be so clear.

Obviously “salary” just wasn’t the obvious short-hand for “same pay every time” that we thought it would be.

The concept of “salary” was zoomed-out, while most potential members are zoomed-in

In the early days of Even, we tended to visualize “the problem” of income volatility on a “zoomed-out” time-scale of several months to a year:

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This zoomed-out visualization matched our (at that time) literature-based understanding of income volatility as a phenomenon that necessarily unfolds over the course of multiple paychecks.

But potential Even members, we learned, don’t naturally think about their own income in this zoomed-out way. Instead they zoom in, focusing on one paycheck at a time. Zooming in is natural and adaptive when you have no way of predicting what you’ll be making even one paycheck ahead of time.

A couple of days before I get a check, I can look online to see how much I’ll be actually getting. Once I do that, for the next week I can sort of budget out. But then it stops after a week, because I don’t know what the next week is going to look like.

To the typical member who’s zoomed-in to a mainly paycheck-by-paycheck experience of income, “the problem” of volatility actually looks like this —

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— the dreaded “low paycheck” that sets off a stressful scramble to cover expenses and get by till the next payday.

The pain of the low paycheck — by nature short-term, zoomed-in, and acute — is very familiar to most potential members. In contrast, the pain of income volatility, which we were referencing with our remedy of a “salary,” is long-term, zoomed-out, and chronic — and, while not unknown to potential members, much less pressing and salient.

Members were looking for a painkiller for their short-term pain; with “salary,” we seemed to be offering them a vitamin.

The value prop of “salary” destroyed the main perk of income volatility

In addition to not directly promising to do away with the primary pain of variable pay (the “low paycheck”), a “salary” threatened to take away its one redeeming pleasure — the “high paycheck”!

In contrast to the “low paycheck” and the stressful period of privation and forced financial errors that follows it, members explained to us that the occasional “high paycheck” is a blissful reprieve and an opportunity for taking care of all sorts of important things: making large purchases, catching up on bills, paying down debt, treating yourself and others, and saving.

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Members told us,

When you’re not on salary, you can do those overtime hours and get more money in. That’s a perk that I like.

By promising to take away potential members’ high paychecks, we were in effect doing this to their high checks:

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Missing out on high paychecks and their accompanying delights wasn’t just a depressing prospect for many members — it was a demotivator. Many members told us they hustle harder to power through extra hours because they know a fat check will await them on the other side. Losing that motivation would make work less exciting and rewarding. Who wants that?

How we partially recovered from our flop

The most obvious way to act on the above revelations about “salary” was to stop using that word, which we did. We changed the name of Even’s main feature, the “Even salary,” to “Even pay.” And on our website and other marketing, we zoomed in by trying low-paycheck-focused pitches:=

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These revelations about “salary” also helped us decide to change the product itself. At the same time as members were telling me in interviews that they didn’t desire to lose their “high paychecks,” they were telling our Even advisors the same thing in support interactions. As I wrote about in this post, it became clear that always having the full amount of any “extra” they earned on top of their Even salary withdrawn from their accounts was too drastic for members.

So, we switched to a more flexible and member-driven way of processing “high paychecks”: if the member owed Even some amount for past paycheck boosts, we withdrew only that amount out of the “extra”; if they didn’t owe Even, we suggested an amount for them to save to their Even cushion and let them decide whether to approve or alter that amount.

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This new procedure preserves the joy of the “high paycheck” by letting members hold onto some of their extra money, without eliminating the opportunity for them to save a little or pay us back.

Still a problem: How to explain what our product is

What we’re still completely baffled about here at Even is, if we can’t get across our value prop by calling it a “salary,” how should we talk about it?

Above I discussed the mismatch between members’ zoomed-in vs. our zoomed-out perspective on income. Another challenging mismatch is between members’ conception of the possibilities out there for managing their finances vs. what we know we have to offer them.

We know we can give people the power to turn their unpredictable paychecks, some of which are too low to cover basic expenses, into a completely predictable stream of income that will not just cover their bills but also build up into savings (once that money is no longer getting siphoned off by the fees and interest charges that come with the traditional methods of coping with low checks).

But the way in which we deliver this power, through software that automatically monitors members’ paychecks and reacts to them by either depositing or withdrawing money from their accounts, is something entirely new, which few if any potential Even members have ever conceived of before. This new thing is hard to describe, and even harder to grasp the first time you hear about it, as you can hear in these quotes from members recalling their first impressions of Even:

I just thought, “That’s a new idea. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.”

I found it to be really weird in a way, but interesting, because I’m like, “Who’s really going to give you money when you’re low on your check?” Like, that’s so weird. There’s not another company that does that.

I went, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that I will have the same paycheck every week no matter how much my paycheck is?” I’m reading this going — is this real? Is that a thing? I was like, “That sounds amazeballs.”

So we’re going to keep trying to express ourselves better. Until then, we’ll have to go with: “Even: It’s real. It’s a thing. And it may be amazeballs.”

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