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."
"Our two Memberly projects are great ways for us to connect with our most passionate fans without taking big financial risks," says Thorn via email. "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.
"The subscription model is like a crowdsourced paycheck," says Mike Potter, Memberly cofounder. "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. "Memberly has definitely made it possible for Umba Box to be a lean startup," Thorp says.
Memberly is born out of a New York-based product incubator called Disrupto, which came into existence because its founders, Potter, Jack Cheng, and Jason Roos, wanted independence of their own. "It was like a 'fuck you' to our old jobs," Potter says.
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.
Potter says, "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," Potter says. "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," Potter explains. "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," Potter says. "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," Potter says.
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," Thorn says. "That's a really great line at parties."
[Image: Flickr user Steve Baker]