Giving Workona a Second Chance

Workona logo

This is the first post I’ve made in 2 years—for the simple reason that my day job in SSI (the acronym for Self-Sovereign Identity—click the link and read the book if you want to learn more) has been all-consuming (and showing no signs of abating).

So that explains why the last post was a rant about an experience with Lyft. It’s blood-boiling incidents like that which move me past the inertia to actually push out a new post.

This post is similar, but with a different ending. Here’s the story:

For at least four years I had been an inveterate user of The Great Suspender browser extension to help save memory due to the dozens of browser tabs I always had open in Chrome.

Then last March Google remotely blocked The Great Suspender because it had been sold to a malware company.

A friend recommended I try Workona because “it does much more than just suspend tabs—it will transform how you work with your browser”.

I did a little research and found several more such breathless endorsements, so I decided to give Workona a try.

It worked exactly as advertised. Within 30 minutes “my life in a browser” was changed forever. I was never going back. (I won’t go into how Workona works here—just check out the many rave reviews.)

I was hooked enough that after a few weeks I tweeted out a love letter to Workona.

.@WorkonaHQ It is rare that a browser utility stands out enough to merit a direct personal endorsement. But Workona is that good. I read so many reviews saying “it will change the way you use your browser” that I wondered if that could really be true. It was. Within minutes.

When they replied to thank me, I responded.

Honestly, you deserve it. Pretty soon I am going to start wondering, “Am I using Workona inside my browser or am I using my browser inside of Workona?”

End of Act 1.

Act 2 began at about 6PM last Tuesday night when I clicked the “New Version – Upgrade” button that appears in Workona when there’s a new update. As usual, it refreshed in seconds.

Suddenly there was a new icon next to many of my Workona workspaces. I thought, “Cool, I wonder what new feature this is?” I clicked one to find out…

…and up popped a new dialog saying the workspace was now “locked” and the only way to unlock it was to buy a premium subscription (to that point Workona has been completely free).

I went ballistic. This fantastic new tool that had become an integral part of using my browser was suddenly blocking my own work in my own workspaces. I started clicking madly on the links provided in the upgrade dialog to find out who was responsible for this outrage. When I found a Workona contact form, I was almost shouting at the screen as I typed. A sampling:

I am beyond upset that after working with Workona for several months now—whose functionality I love and which I have already recommended to several friends and tweeted about—you suddenly, with NO WARNING—lock all but 5 of my workspaces and hold me hostage to upgrade to free them OR require an SSO connection just to export my own data.

That, my good friends, is highly unethical business behavior.

As you can tell, I was livid.

Thankfully, in the time it took me to go take a short walk and blow off steam, Alex Young at Workona sent me a reply via email.

We’re sorry for the frustration this has caused. To start, you should be able to access all of your existing workspaces if you click the “Open workspace” button when you see the Upgrade modal. We are not locking any users out of their workspaces. 

As for SSO, this is just needed to authenticate you for security purposes. You signed in via SSO, and as a result, that’s how we need to verify you. 

Alex was right. Despite what the upgrade dialog said, the “Open workspace” button that was greyed out (the universal signal that a button is not functional) did in fact work if you clicked it. So I wasn’t locked out of all-but-5 of my workspaces. They had just made it look that way.

End of Act 2.

Act 3 began a few hours later after I finished the work I was under deadline for and finally replied to Alex’s email:

Alex, I appreciate the rapid response to my email. I have no idea if Workona has an automatic timer for when that “upgrade prompt” appears for a user or whether Workona just applied the policy today. (If the latter, I worry that you and the rest of the support staff have been flooded with complaints like mine today.)

Honestly—and feel free to share this within the company—I would have been much more supportive if the whole thing had been messaged differently. For example:

First, an advanced notice could have been made that explained the change in policy—there was NO WARNING whatsoever.

Second, the upgrade could have explained that you can still access the rest of your workspaces, you just have to go through the nag screen.

But the best way to handle it would have been to be upfront from the start and explain that the free version supports up to 5 workspaces and beyond that, you have to subscribe.

That began a dialog in several more rounds of email with Alex where he acknowledged my criticisms and explained the rationale behind the upgrade policy. I particularly appreciated this one:

We did send out an email to all of our users that the change would be happening – are you subscribed to receive our emails? 

As for the rest of your feedback, I have passed this along to our product team. 
Also – a little background regarding our current pricing: We have had to overcome immense technical challenges in the development of what we believe is the world’s best browser work manager.

Work has steadily moved from the desktop to the cloud, and many people do almost all of their most important work in the browser these days. For people that work in the browser, $7 is a good match to the value our app provides, and our pricing survey data backs this up. If you don’t work in the browser, or don’t feel you need a professional/reliable work management system, then we certainly understand that a different solution may be a better fit. We hope this helps you better understand why Workona has the premium pricing it does.

It turns out that Workona had indeed sent out an advance notice (in email, not in their browser extension) of their change in policy in late August. I was on vacation, naturally, so I had missed it.

When I found it and read it—it was perfectly reasonable. And, although I thought $7/mo was a little on the high side for Workona (I use Zoom 6+ hours a day and it’s $15/mo), I really did feel that Workona represented the future of work in the browser.

I was going to wait until the next day to decide about upgrading. But before I went to bed, Alex had assuaged me enough—and most importantly restored my belief in the intent and integrity of Workona as a company—that I went ahead and subscribed for a year.

That was a pretty dramatic turnaround in a single evening. Kudos to Alex for his premium customer service. As I said to him in my final message:

Alex, FYI, I subscribed for the 1 year plan. I want to personally thank you for talking me off the ledge. That’s the kind of customer service that makes or breaks a company IMHO.
I have high hopes for Workona. Keep being awesome.

EPILOG

Today there was another upgrade message from Workona. When I clicked on it, a screen popped up (I had the foresight to take a screenshot) that offered an apology directly to Workona users right there in the browser. It contained a link to this page on the Workona website, the start of which I’ll excerpt here:

An Apology From Our CEO


September 24, 2021

This week, we made some serious missteps while launching Workona’s premium plans. Please allow me to personally apologize and explain exactly what what we’ve done to make it right.

We assumed that a detailed email sent a month ago announcing the changes was enough advance notice for users. Clearly, we were wrong. Your feedback has made it obvious that this was a major mistake. We should have announced this in the product, multiple times. We messed up, and we’re sorry.

Many users were caught off guard by the restrictions of the Free plan and wondered whether Workona was still a good option for them. This was exacerbated by the unclear language we used in our popup, which made them believe they were locked out of their workspaces. This was not the case (and not our intention), but that doesn’t change the damage it did to our users’ trust in Workona.

There’s more. I encourage you to go to the Workona website and read the rest.

I took the time to write this post—my first one in two years—because when you screw up as a company—no matter how big or small—this is how you make it right. You bite the bullet, admit your mistake, and fix it, no matter how much work it takes.

The faster and more transparently you do it, the faster you repair the damage and start restoring faith in your company.

Good job, Workona. (And great job, Alex.) My faith in you has been restored, and I’ll continue to recommend you as a browser work management tool. Keep growing it into something even more amazing.

About Drummond Reed

Internet entrepreneur in identity, personal data, and governance frameworks
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