How I converted a software thief into a customer

**UDPATE 21 July 2012**

Due to the fantastically high traffic this blog post has seen, the Easter egg mentioned within is no longer much of a surprise.  Also, honest customers have written in wondering why only attempted thieves should get discounts.  Good points.  

Thus, the Easter egg with the coupon code with the coupons for the almost-pirates has been removed, and I’ve decided to give everybody who reads this blog a coupon code just for being a good person: NOBLUR (Good for 10% off a Blurity purchase between now and September 1, 2012)

Software piracy doesn’t really represent lost sales, claims by the software and entertainment industries notwithstanding.  That’s why I was absolutely giddy when I converted an attempted pirate to a customer today.

Not long after I launched Blurity, I started to notice a strange pattern.  A handful of people were trying the same two invalid registration numbers.  The numbers had the right form for valid keys, but they were clearly invalid.

I couldn’t figure out where those numbers were coming from.  The people trying the invalid numbers seemed to have nothing in common, and my Google-fu failed me.  What could those two numbers possibly have to do with removing blur from blurry photos?

So, as I often do in these situations, I asked my friend Tyler for advice.  Not only did he figure out the origin of the numbers almost immediately, he proposed an idea: show something to whoever tries one of those numbers.  Make them squirm.  Make them know I’m on to them.

I thought that was a great idea!  I added a few lines of code, and whenever either of those numbers were entered, the user would see this dialog:

Redacted for obvious reasons

That’s right: Not only would I call them out on their attempted piracy, I’d reward it.  I figured it would be better to get some money from them, if possible, rather than no money at all.

Nobody tried the numbers again for a while, and I gradually forgot about the dialog box.

Until today.  And it worked better than I could have hoped.

An automated alert popped up in my inbox notifying me that somebody was trying an invalid registration key.  I noticed the number, figured that they’d be seeing the “easter egg” dialog box, smiled, and went back to what I had been doing.

Then, a couple minutes later, another new message popped up in my inbox: a purchase!

*Ding!* You've got money! (Note that Blurity was on sale at the time)

I checked the server logs, and indeed, it was the same person who had tried the special invalid registration keys.

Not only had the person made a purchase, they did so at the full price!

Had the pirate been shamed into becoming a customer?  Had they been too embarrassed to use the “I’m a thief” coupon code?  I’m not sure, but I’m happy I got paid.

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