How Knock is increasing revenue, expanding their addressable market, and building customer trust with Orb
“Orb gives us the ability to expand our addressable market, increase revenue, and quickly experiment on ways to do those things without introducing excessive technical debt or future costs that we’d have to deal with.” —Sam Seely, Co-Founder and CEO at Knock
Knock, a flexible, reliable notifications solution, launched in 2021 and has been helping businesses scale their notifications system without the hassle of building an in-house tool since their inception. Co-founders Sam Seely and Chris Bell were product and engineering leaders at Frame.io and were tasked with the challenge of building a notifications solution in-house. “Building notifications was not a fun process,” Sam explained. “It’s a hard system to maintain and scale as you grow as a company. We started Knock so no product or engineering team would ever have to go through that again.”
Knock is “the most powerful notification system you’ll never build.” With Knock, organizations can send cross-channel notifications, power notification preferences, and be thoughtful about not spamming their users. Knock also sets up their customer’s notification experience in a few days instead of the customer spending months and years building and maintaining an in-house notification system.
Knock’s dedication to building a valuable product and ensuring customers see value in that product is evident in their pricing model.“At Knock, our notifications-as-a-service platform uses a usage-based billing model. We charge our customers for the volume of notifications sent each month,” said Sam. By employing a usage-based pricing model, Knock can embed value into every customer interaction with their product—customers are billed for what they use instead of a flat fee.
But usage-based pricing comes with a handful of challenges to manage: metering usage data, managing upgrades across different usage tiers, and getting all of that detail into an invoice that’s intuitive for customers. The process can be both time consuming and error prone—both of which were true for Knock before they started using Orb.
“Orb helps us deliver a better product to our customers. We want our customers to have a clear, transparent view into the value they’re getting from our product and how we bill for that. We want our customers to understand that and be comfortable with it.” —Sam Seely, Co-Founder and CEO at Knock
Landing on Orb as Knock’s billing partner
The Knock founders had experience working with complex billing and pricing models at Frame.io, which drove their willingness to outsource the infrastructure needed. “We have a deep belief in outsourcing any part of our product that isn’t core to the customer experience,” said Chris, co-founder and CTO at Knock.
At first, the team considered using Stripe, but they ran into several challenges. Stripe couldn't handle a lot of Knock’s common billing needs: per-customer adjustments, support for different billing providers, point to a single source of truth for subscription data, or provide flexibility to model complex product offerings, to name a few.
Knock considered and evaluated several solutions including Metronome, Kable, Lotus, and Orb. You can read more about their comparison of these tools here. Chris explained their evaluation, “Ultimately we chose to partner with Orb as our usage-based billing provider. We found their team incredibly helpful during the buying process and very aligned with how we operate as a team. Beyond that, we found their documentation well-written, the UI interface and dashboard easy to use, and their API and primitives well thought through.” To learn more about Knock’s implementation of Orb, you can read more here.
“We deeply value partnering with teams at similar stages in the journey to us. We felt Orb did a great job here and provided exceptional support throughout the process of working with them.” —Chris, Co-Founder and CTO at Knock
Usage-based billing was manual and time-intensive
Billing customers at Knock was a manual, arduous process that required looking up each customer’s volume every month, then adjusting invoices.
During Knock’s beta phase, this was somewhat manageable, as the company onboarded new customers via a waitlist. After their public launch, their number of customers grew dramatically, and managing customer billing required the team’s limited time. “I was the one going through all of the customer accounts that crossed into our paid threshold in a given month and invoicing them manually,” said Sam. “It wasn’t fun or efficient, or the best use of my time.”
Beyond the manual billing process, Knock didn’t have a fast way to add new line items for billing. Their current process also didn’t allow them to test different pricing models, a must-have capability for a new business that had just barely launched to the market. And the option to build a solution in-house required time and resources the team didn’t have. Sam explained, “We didn’t want to push out our launch date by building a self-service billing process internally. That could have taken several months or longer.”
Saving time and getting to market faster
With Orb, Knock’s billing process has improved dramatically, with no more manual work. Knock got to market 6 months faster than they would have without Orb in place. And, by outsourcing their billing solution to Orb, Knock can focus their engineering resources on building their core product. “Instead of building and maintaining an in-house process, we liked that Orb gave us the tool we needed without us spending the massive amount of time it would have taken us to build it,” said Sam. “What we get with Orb is engineering bandwidth that we don’t have to attribute to that part of the service. It’s peace of mind that it’s all working.”
Now, when the team wants to roll out a new billing or pricing strategy across all plans, they can manage it with Orb and remove impact to the product roadmap. “It’s really helped us boil down those decisions to the impact of revenue on the business and how we can expand or grow the business instead of balancing a new feature with the cost of building out a new way to bill the customer,” said Sam.
Delivering a better billing experience to customers
Knock customers get a better experience with Orb, too. With Orb’s interactive invoices, customers have better visibility into the value they’re receiving. And on the backend, it’s helping Knock test out pricing when customers request new features. “Rolling out new features and adding one-off line items was really time consuming for us,” said Sam. “With Orb, it’s low cost for us to introduce a new line item and bill for it.” The process with Orb is easy for the team to manage on a per customer basis—they can set up trials, add discounts, and override existing pricing plans—addressing one of their main challenges with the Stripe platform.
“Good pricing, good invoicing, and real customer visibility into that process is part of the product experience. And with Orb, we get all of that.” —Sam Seely, Co-Founder and CEO at Knock
Orb has also given Knock a better invoicing process. Before they send out an invoice to a customer, Knock’s team can go in and see everything—invoice history, discounts, how each unit or line item is billed, etc. “As a startup, having that visibility is critical. And seeing how everything maps one-to-one with what the customer sees is super helpful,” said Sam.
Building a partnership of trust with Orb
Through this process, Orb and Knock have built a partnership of trust—Orb acting as an extension of the Knock team, replying to requests and prioritizing updates to meet Knock’s needs. Sam explained, “The Orb team has been great. We’ve had a lot of requests—maybe more than the average customer—and they’ve always been incredibly fast to respond.”
When the Knock team is in the Orb product and they see that something might be missing, such as a report filter, they let the Orb team know and the feature is live within a few days. “Orb works as an extension of our team and that’s been a huge part of building trust between our companies. Their responsiveness and willingness to adapt to our needs and help us out has been incredible,” said Sam.
With Orb, the Knock team has seen significant benefits, including:
- Faster speed-to-market | “One of the initial benefits of Orb is simply the speed to market,” explained Sam. By partnering with Orb, Knock was able to save six months in engineering time bypassing the need to build an in-house billing solution that could manage customer usage billing.
- Flexibility to build out new pricing plans and strategies | Orb offers Knock more flexibility and a faster process to bill for new features. With the option to test out new plans and customize each plan on a per-customer basis, Orb is helping Knock better deliver value to customers more quickly.
- Focus on their business | Knock is saving their engineering hours for their core product instead of building internal billing tools. “We’re not at a point in our business where we can put an entire team on billing and deliver features with invoices that show up-to-date usage. We can only work on so many priorities at a time and billing just doesn’t make the list at the current stage of our company,” said Sam.
- Time saved with automated billing | The Knock team no longer has to manually assess each customer’s usage and send out a corresponding invoice every month. With Orb, invoices are automatically created based on customer usage and sent out on time.
- Lower cost of maintenance | “With Orb, we just have a lower cost of maintenance for our billing and pricing management moving forward,” said Sam. Not only is the Knock team’s time freed up from the manual billing work at the end of the month, but they’ve also gotten engineering time back on billing implementation for new features.
- Visibility into every invoice and customer’s billing history | “Orb’s dashboard and user experience are so intuitive, it’s so easy to see everything I need to see about a customer’s billing history,” said Sam. With more visibility, Knock can provide a better customer experience as they scale up, and every customer can see how their price aligns to the value they get from Knock.
- A better billing experience for every customer | “For any customer and any product, the way you feel about the product is always tied to the price,” said Sam. “If that pricing is opaque and you don’t really understand it, it’s really hard to feel good about it.” With Orb, that transparency has elevated the customer billing experience. Now customers can see exactly what they’re billed for based on their specific usage. Sam explained, “Our customers get better visibility into our pricing than they would have without Orb.”
With Orb as a partner, Knock has clear visibility into how their pricing model will impact their margin and help them compete against their competition without managing an in-house solution with added engineering costs.
Ready to see how Orb can support your business with usage-based pricing? Talk to our team.