I am starting an online b2b networking portal. It is somewhat comparable to linkedin in a sense that most of the content is user generated, meaning more users it has more attractive service becomes. Since it's a network without any users, it is pretty much useless obviously.
Now I am trying to run this as a freemium service, meaning service is for free but if you want to get an extra benefit you can pay for premium. Obviously the selling point of premium service is to get better access to other users similar to what linkedin is doing with its "inmail". So if I dont have user base, I dont see a reason why would someone want to subscribe for premium and as such am hesitant to offer payed services right from the launch (as the user base will be 0 = 0 benefit for subscriber).
I was thinking that in the beginning in the "beta" stage, I am going to offer the whole service for free including premium (status to premium becomes available maybe after you refer the site to your connections by email). The logic behind this is that I want to build a steady user base before I convert some features to premium services and relaunch the website without the "beta" tag. At this point I hope to home some active user base to make the service attractive even for potential premium users.
I am heavily bootstrapped business model so I have no real pressure to turn profits in next year or so.
Do you think this model would work? If so, do you think once I convert beta to the actual service (no real change in functionality expected) and make the premium features payable, users would stay and wont run away, or in other words pay to convert their accounts or stick with basic free service? If I offer the website without premium content in beta stage, I think it wouldn't have as much appeal as it would have with the premium features which I think is important when building your user base from 0.
What do you guys think?
All advice is very appreciated,