The Genius of MacHeist: Putting Users to Work

MacHeist Logo

Again, this opinion may be a few months old, but I wanted to put down my thoughts on — a promotional website which drew a lot of attention and criticism amongst the Mac web.

To give some background, MacHeist launched as a 6 week long Mac software promotion which ran near the end of 2006. The structure of the promotion involved weekly “heists”* which were essentially web-scavenger hunts. Each successful heist rewarded participants with free shareware applications and cumulative discounts for the final Mac software bundle which was for sale at the end of the promotion. The final software bundle included 10 applications for $49. If purchased individually, the software would cost $356.74. The bundle was only on sale for one week.

Now, I’m going to sidestep the controversy of MacHeist, which has to do with some people feeling that MacHeist made a disproportionate amount of money (vs the developers) during the promotion. This criticism, however, is related to what I feel was the biggest genius of MacHeist… and that was transparency of software sale numbers.

Once the bundle sale was launched, MacHeist did a few things that made sales of the bundle far more successful than it otherwise might have been.

First off, MacHeist decided to donate 25% of revenue to one of ten possible charities. This move, by itself, was unlikely to draw many more sales, in my opinion. I don’t believe that people otherwise unlikely to buy the software bundle would necessarily be inspired by a 25% charitable donation.

Second, MacHeist held back two software applications from being distributed in the bundle until sales reached one of two predefined sales set points. These setpoints were defined by how much money was made for charity ($50,000 for Newsfire and $100,000 for Textmate).

MacHeist Total

Finally, they put a running counter of sales and the total amount raised for charity on their site — for all to see. Suddenly, everyone who visited the site knew exactly how much MacHeist was earning from total sales of this bundle. In part, this transparency was the source of much of the criticism the site received: outsiders and developers knew exactly how much money MacHeist was making.

But the success of the bundle sale was directly tied to this transparency. By setting these $50,000 and $100,000 set points for giving away more software, they suddenly made every customer financially vested in the success of the MacHeist. MacHeist customers were actively rooting for the charities (and therefore the MacHeist team) to make more money. MacHeist users were racking their brains in their forums… “how can we get the word out, how can we tell more people about this bundle sale.” By giving their customers an sales incentive, they made them an integral part of the marketing team.

A lot has been written on the web about putting your users to work for you. Certain sites, like Wikipedia and digg depend on volunteer efforts of their users to create useful content. is a popular example of how an online game can put users to useful work (tagging images).

MacHeist similarly succeeded in putting their customers to work by giving them a financial stake (more free applications) in the ultimate success of the sales. Meanwhile, the use of charity sales goals also provided a tactful way to specifically target their sales goal.

* was involved in a cross-promotion agreement with MacHeist during the first heist, but we received no direct financial reward and had no direct involvement in this venture.

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