For all practical purposes, MoviePass is no longer a thing. I mean, if we're being honest, it was never actually a viable business model, but more of a  questionable idea. Now, both the idea and the business have effectively been dead since at least July 4, when the service shut down to "improve our groundbreaking subscription service to ensure it meets the vision that we have for it," according to its website.

A report in Business Insider tells the story of how MoviePass got to this point, and while it's certainly an interesting tale of big ideas and broken promises, one detail stood out. 

According to the report, which cites former employees, at one point MoviePass's CEO, Mitch Lowe, "ordered that the passwords of a small percentage of power users be changed, preventing them from logging onto the app and ordering tickets."

Umm, I'm pretty sure you can't do that. I mean, if you charge people a monthly fee for an app that allows them to buy movie tickets, as long as they keep paying the monthly fee and aren't violating any of your policies, you can't just lock them out of your app. 

A math problem

In MoviePass's case, the problem wasn't that users were violating any terms. The problem was just simple math. 

At one point, according to Business Insider, MoviePass had a quarter of a million new subscribers signing up each month. That sounds great, but the math was never going to add up, which means that while the $10 a month price point was a total disruption to the traditional model of movie tickets, it was never a long-term business model.

I reached out to MoviePass's parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, but did not immediately receive a response to my request for comment.

Here's the thing: If you plan to be a disrupter, you should probably have, you know, a plan. 

Being a disrupter only takes you so far, and then you have to figure out how to translate that into a viable business. Clearly, MoviePass never made that leap, instead taking it out on customers. 

"We all knew we were selling something we couldn't deliver on," Business Insider quotes a former employee as saying.

Promises you can't keep

This isn't complicated, but if you find yourself in a situation where you're making promises that depend on all sorts of external circumstances to perfectly align in order to be true, you have a problem. 

Sometimes, pride keeps us from clearly seeing the right thing to do. But, most of the time, it simply keeps us from doing the thing we already know is right. It also tempts us to make promises we can't keep, while telling ourselves we'll "figure it out later." 

That's not a plan. I mean, sometimes it works to figure it out later. If you're taking a road trip, for example, and have no intended destination but are simply up for a drive. 

"Where are we headed?"

"I don't know, let's just drive and we'll figure it out later" is a perfectly adventurous response for a road trip. But a business is not a road trip, and your customers are not carefree passengers just along for a ride.

Fortunately, the "right thing" isn't that hard. Be honest and transparent, keep your customers' best interests in mind, admit when you've made a mistake, and when you do, make it right.

Published on: Aug 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.