tl;dr: I think there is a flaw in the current support and pricing structure that hurts companies like us and is a missed revenue opportunity for Particle.
Wanna give some feedback for the Particle team on support and pricing.
I love Particle. Y’all do amazing stuff, and it’s a joy to build things with your products.
We are a studio (fannininnovation.com) that works in the biomedical field, so we’re not a typical user. For the most part, we do very complex stuff at small scale during the prototype phase, and then when we scale up it’s probably not to the 100,000+ devices but to the 1,000+ devices. So we have a different business model than many IoT players.
We occasionally do IoTish project, and for that the support and pricing structure works fine.
We do very innovative stuff at the very early stage, so we have a very high failure rate. So we have to be very parsimonious during early development to keep our “dead deal” costs low.
We are committed to using Particle on a number of our products, and I don’t see that changing.
When we start a project, we will go a long time in the Prototype tier. We may only build a handful of devices, and as we do changes to our devices - which happens very frequently - the particles don’t change. So we may only have 5-10 devices at a time, and while we do a TON of new device iterations, we still use only 5-10 particles. This is because much of the iteration is on non-particle issues: mechanical, electrical, chemistry, optics, fluidics, etc.
We have been working on a particular project, with 8 or 9 functional devices working great. Then, for some unknown reason, all of these devices, spread across two locations, went offline all within minutes of each other. They all simply blink green, and don’t connect to the cloud. This basically blocks our team from working with the devices, which rely on cloud connectivity to do certain critical functions.
This kind of thing doesn’t rock our world all that much - part of the fun of working with early-stage innovation is solving the problem that pops out of nowhere. We tried a number of things - reflashing, update system firmware, etc. - before we reached out to Particle.
I went on the Particle Console, where we monitor our devices, and clicked on Support, and asked for help. The next day, I got a response that said I was not in the right place, this was just Console support and I needed a different support group. Jonathan - the console support dude - was thoughtful and helpful, and forwarded my issue on to support.particle.io.
(NB: Keep in mind that this was the first time in >36 months of using Particle products that I needed help beyond what I could get from the docs or community. That’s a pretty strong positive for Particle.)
Having now realized I went to the wrong place, I went to support.particle.io and opened a ticket. (During this time period, of course, my team of 5 is basically blocked - so while we have some amazing and colorful graffiti on the lab whiteboard, we haven’t really moved the ball on company objectives).
That was Friday at 2:23pm CT. Now, it appears it could be days before this gets resolved. (And, remind you, the loyal reader, these devices were doing just fine, and then dropped for no apparent reason. I’m sure that it was something we did, not a Particle problem, because it doesn’t appear to be a system-wide failure, but I don’t even know what it is or how to fix it until I can communicate with someone at Particle.) The first guaranteed response tier is Rollout, and we are still stuck back in Prototype because we only have a few devices. And that tier only guarantees a 1 day response, so I’m figuring it could be days.
And, yes, we work on weekends, so we are losing lot of time. (The timing was especially bad because we had one of our semi-annual investor days at our studio yesterday, so all of our devices were non-functional as our investors dropped by. Sigh.)
RESULTING THOUGHTS ON SUPPORT
By tying support levels and response time to the number of devices, groups like us are forced to sit idle while we wait for someone to get back to us. We would be willing to pay for support, but there doesn’t appear to be any way for us to do that. Yes, I could bump up to the Rollout phase, but paying $250/mo for stand-by support that we rarely use seems a little pricey for just support (after all, this higher tier also include more devices, more data, etc., not just more support). We really do try to solve problems ourselves before bugging support people.
Still, I’d happily pay a per-ticket support charge for guaranteed turnaround on a critical item. I’m pretty confident that once a tech support person actually looks at our case, it could be resolved in minutes.
One possibility might be for me to pay for an expediting fee for a ticket. Maybe something like $75 for 1-day turnaround and $250 for 4-hour turnaround (sort of mirroring the Pilot and Rollout monthly fees, but just for one ticket - which also creates a nice incentive for heavy support users to commit to higher tiers). Just a thought.
Without such a pricing mechanism, there is no way to distinguish between folks like us who need the quick turnaround and folks who are happy to wait a few days for free support.
Anyway, thanks for reading. And I do hope to hear back from someone at Particle soon ;-).