Jesse Thorn produces a web series that teaches men how to dress like grown ups. But he's found a new way to make money off of his site while he's sleeping like a baby.
It's not just ads. Thorn uses a bake-your-own-subscription service called Memberly to sell both pocket squares and newsletter subscriptions. One square, every other month, for $45 a pop; an "Inside Track" newsletter for $1 a week. He calls it the "Put This On Gentlemen's Association."
Thorn said via email.
"Our two Memberly projects are great ways for us to connect with our most passionate fans without taking big financial risks. Our growth percentage is in the double digits month-to-month."
Thousands of entrepreneurs, freelancers, and independent workers have eked a living out on the wild wild web since Ebay launched in 1995; the rise of other platforms like Etsy and Kickstarter have substantially reduced barriers to opening a store or raising money for a business. But there's an inherent risk in starting a business--whether online or off, content or commerce. It's the unpredictability of forecasting revenue.
Memberly aims to mitigate that risk, so entrepreneurs can monetize passions without freaking out about where next month's rent will come from. They do it by helping people set up subscription businesses in the time it takes to order a pizza.
Mike Potter, Memberly cofounder says.
"The subscription model is like a crowdsourced paycheck. You can make that transition [to independence] easier. As opposed to Kickstarter or starting a store--those just defer risk."
Last October, Lauren Thorp used Memberly to build a subscription service called Umba Box that delivers curated, handmade items to its members. Umba Box costs $26 a month and has grown to 300 subscribers. That's $93,600 a year. Not bad for a one-woman show. Throp says.
"Memberly has definitely made it possible for Umba Box to be a lean startup."
Memberly is born out of a New York-based product incubator called Disrupto, which came into existence because its founders, Mike Potter, Jack Cheng, and Jason Roos, wanted independence of their own. Potter says.
"It was like a 'fuck you' to our old jobs."
Out of obligation, too many people continue working at careers they're not passionate about, because they've made a huge financial investment in education or the ladder climb, Potter explains. Ironically, such reasoning keeps unhappy workers working, which strengthens their perceived obligation toward unfulfilling jobs.
"We wanted to help."
To this end, the team prototyped several ideas in Summer 2010, eventually landing on Memberly's build-a-subscription model.
"The fact that there was no workflow around shipping recurring goods felt like a big opportunity. It's always a secondary feature--like on Shopify or PayPal Pro--and it usually ends up looking like a spreadsheet [on the businessman's end]."
He claims there's no "full stack" solution for creating a subscription, setting options and volume discounts, generating shipping details and reminders on time.
"We prototyped it and then talked to ten customers. Ten out of 10 said, 'Let me know when this exists' at the end of the conversation."
"Memberly is focused on having people quit their jobs to do what they're passionate about. We think it's going to explode in a big way."
The company intends to extend its stack further, eliminating any sort of barrier for sellers--from tools helping sellers ballpark how much to charge to meet their financial goals to order fulfillment--and "making it one click."
"As long as you're doing something you love, we want to find a way to support that."
So far, Memberly users have been doing just that.
"Probably the best part of the experience for me so far is telling people that I run a pocket square of the month club. That's a really great line at parties."
COMMENTARY: Member.ly is a bootstrapped social commerce startup that offers a new software as a service (SaaS) offering for entrepreneurs who’ve caught the subscription club bug that is currently a hot area of social commerce. Have an idea for a monthly discovery box club Japanese candy, lingerie, razors, cosmetics, or even the next Netflix, then member.ly will help you launch your online subscription club without having to worry about the technology – a simple integrated platform works as a site-builder, CMS, billing and payment system – and will even manage printing out labels to stick on the subscription boxes you send out. Member.ly the brainchild of New York based digital product development studio Disrupto, and despite their impressive big budget client list – member.ly looks to be start-up friendly. Free to use, with the service taking just 5% commission from subscriptions.
Here's what Memberly's press release says:
NEW YORK—July 21, 2011—Introduced today, Memberly (http://member.ly) is a platform that helps individuals and small businesses run their own subscription programs. For providers, Memberly is the best way to run a subscription service without the hassles of integrating e-commerce packages and managing disparate communications with customers. By helping providers ease these technical complexities, Memberly lets them focus on their area of expertise and deliver surprising, creative products and services to their subscribers.
"We love the subscription model," said Jack Cheng, co-founder of Disrupto, the company behind Memberly. "It comes with less uncertainty than running a full-blown online store. When you know how many subscribers you have every cycle, you can plan ahead. You can order in bulk and negotiate discounts. And if you look at the technology behind existing subscription services, it's all the same. We're saying to people, here's that technology. It's free to sign up. We've designed a great experience around it and are going to continue improving on it. You just do what you do best—focus on delivering remarkable products and services."
Though crowd-funding sites have made it easier for creative individuals to launch one-off projects, Memberly is the first of its kind aimed at helping them launch sustainable businesses. The idea of subscriptions has been discussed within Disrupto since they launched their first website, Steepster.com, an online community for tea drinkers. "One thing we've always wanted to do with Steepster was start a tea of the month club," said Cheng. "But it never made sense because of the disproportionate resources required—setting up the technology and integrating the billing, payment and CRM tools. And that doesn't even including working with tea companies to source the tea, pack it up and ship it out. In consulting with various brands and startups over the past couple of years, we realized that we weren't alone. There were a lot of others who could benefit from a platform like Memberly."
Integrated Billing and Payment
Memberly allows anyone to accept credit cards and recurring payments. The site has streamlined checkout and order pages, and providers can offer both cycle-to-cycle and prepaid plans.
Intuitive Customer Communication
Providers can easily communicate with their members, contacting all of them at once or on an individual basis. Member information is provided in context with the messages, showing relevant details like how long that person has been a member.
Gorgeous Showcase Pages
Customizable showcase pages put the spotlight on providers and their subscriptions. The pages are optimized to tell compelling stories, helping convert potential subscribers into passionate customers.
Tools to Assist Fulfillment
Memberly generates well-formatted templates for shipping labels and packing slips that can be sent straight to the printer without tedious copy-and-pasting. Providers can also export spreadsheets of customer and order information to their own tools.
Subscribers and providers can visit http://member.ly starting today. At launch, the site is showcasing a tea of the month subscription from Steepster (http://member.ly/steepster-select) and a quarterly subscription of illustrated books from Portland-based independent publisher Little Otsu (http://member.ly/little-otsu-living-things). Additional subscriptions will be rolling out in the coming weeks. For providers, Memberly is currently by application only. "We're being selective right now because we want to get the experience right, for both sellers and their end subscribers," said Cheng. "We've been working closely with our initial set of providers to make sure that all their needs are addressed and that nothing gets in the way of them wow-ing their members."
Disrupto is a digital product development studio in New York, founded and led by a team with experience in design, technology, social commerce and advertising/marketing. To learn more about Disrupto, visit http://disrupto.com.
Logos and Screenshots
Memberly appears to be very user-friendly, easy to setup, maintain and operate. Here are a sampling of some of the tracking reports generated by Memberly.
Memberly Subscription Showcase Page
Memberly Unfilled Orders Report
Memberly Messages Inbox
Click Image To Enlarge
Now that's what I call a cool idea to get started in your own subscription business. The key is to have great products that your customers are willing to subscribe to receive regularly for a certain period of time, 3 mos, 6 mos, 1 year. You could send a new item each month, quarterly or other frequency. Take for example, "The Put This On Gentlemen's Assocation," (See above screenshot) which delivers a new "hand-selected pocket square" every other month.
Since you know the length of the subscription, it's much easier to forecast your monthly subscription revenues. This is much easieer than a regular ecommerce site, which are one-time sales transactions, and you don't know if they will be a repeat customer.
Courtesy of an article dated January 12, 2012 appearing in Fast Company