Pay What Feels Good: Field Notes

From "The Now V16.2"

Committing to our Pay What Feels Good policy is a bit of a dare. There’s sort of a “jump and the net will appear” vibe to it, because there was never a hard guarantee that it would work.

For the uninitiated, PWFG is us permanently opening the door for people telling us that our suggested prices don’t fit for them, and instead here’s what does fit for them, and does that work for you? Because of the structure of these conversations, it’s also us permanently committing to straightforward honesty as we respond.

Broadly, these interactions take one of four paths, ranked from zero effort to … well, more effort. :)

  • Zero effort: If our suggested price works for the customer, no conversation is necessary—they just pay the suggested price, and move on immediately. We rarely hear from the customer, in this event.

  • Zero effort: If the suggested price is unappealing, the customer may choose to bail and just never say anything about it. I don’t have a way to measure how often this happens, but it must happen often, right?

  • Minimal effort: Per our policy, customers are invited to counter with a price that does work well for them, based on their present reality. If they give us a price that feels good to us too, great! We adjust their account, they pay the new price, and everyone moves on.

  • An unknowable amount of effort: If the customer gives us a price that feels bad to us, we say as much. This, naturally, is the most interesting path. For me, this is uniformly the most satisfying one.

That last path is where things get real! When people (outside of the customer context) learn about PWFG, I think their minds generally jump to this path fatalistically, but honestly, in practice, there’s nothing fatal at all about it. Immediate mutual assent teaches us very little about the world, and evolves our relationship to it almost not at all; a conversation held over a mutual “no” shows us the contours of the world, and lets us grow with it.

Path #4 can fork in any number of ways. If the customer has led with an explanation, some context to help us understand why they’re proposing what they’re proposing, then we might have enough information to return our own counter-offer. If the customer has just flatly given us an unpalatable number, with no reason why, then we tend to ask for that context before proceeding. (Remember: mutual understanding and mutually-chosen partnership is the goal, here.)

And typically this goes well! We have enough breathing room over here that most good-faith offers feel good to us. There are some good-faith offers that don’t, of course, but I’ve found that these conversations are generally pleasant too: if I’m honest, straightforward, and kind, people tend to respond in turn. And ultimately we either land on a price that feels good to everyone, or we just never hear back.

Occasionally things will go south, of course, and by this I mean occasionally a customer will misinterpret this policy or our actions as actively harmful to them. Sometimes these conversations can be brought back from the brink (empathy empathy empathy empathy), and sometimes they can’t. Interestingly, these conversations tend to be the most impactful in the long run: someone who’s come back from an intense place having found an ally, well, these people tend to be very vocal about their relief. :) If the conversation takes an irreversible dive, then we chalk it up as Rare But Inevitable, and move along. If the conversation results in a negative review out there on the Shopify App Store, then we take that opportunity to honestly, straightforwardly, and kindly respond—in public, as a posted response. These are always fantastic opportunities to level with the world, and let anyone who’s curious know how we work, what we intend, and why. The fact that these exchanges are posted on our permanent record make them part of the long tail of our presence in the world, and I honestly cherish them.

And that’s the whole of it! From my perspective, at least, which is very much not the whole of it: I am very crucially not the only one exercising this policy. In the present day, I’m actually probably the smallest part of this particular work—today, the beating heart of this thing is largely borne by Erica, Tristan, Jed, and Ken for Locksmith, and by Matt for Mechanic. And Alicia, Rebekah, and Ian are exploring how this works for projects like Lightward Journal, both on-and off-line. Though we do have conversations between us about how best to handle this conversation or that, every single person here is fully empowered to take these exchanges wherever they please, wherever feels good, with no need for approval or oversight. It’s all trust. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The moment-by-moment dynamics of PWFG are completely human, which means they vary in tone and tenor, person by person. To give you a more well-rounded view of the whole, then, I yield the floor. :)

The rest of this article (i.e. the opinions written by Lightward collaborators) are where this was originally published, at

Last updated