Dave McClure wrote a long, humorous, rambling, profanity-laden rant of a blog post that focused on startup business models. While it makes for an entertaining read, McClure's post is also very insightful and makes a solid case for why startups should shift from advertising models and instead build their new businesses on subscriptions and micropayments. Earlier this month I had the chance to visit the headquarters of ZooLoo, a startup that witnessed this very shift first-hand with their own business model.Back in early February, while aboard a red-eye to New York,
During my visit I spoke with Aaron Baer, Director of Communications at the Scottsdale-based ZooLoo, a site that provides individuals with the ability to share and manage content on their own domain. Like many startups in the past decade, ZooLoo opened for business under an advertising business model, but eventually caught on to the changing trend McClure evangelized on his blog.
"[ZooLoo's original model] was an advertising platform, we had a shopping page, we would do affiliate marketing, you could buy and order prints off of our website - we had a very broad business model," says Baer. "We discovered that didn't work."
They also realized that it wasn't the model their customers wanted. Under the old model, users were presented with two options: a free basic service, and a premium service with more features in an "all or nothing," fashion. Customers complained that they wanted to upgrade and purchase premium services, but that they weren't willing to pony up the full price for a bunch of other features they didn't want.
In January, ZooLoo fundamentally changed their business model by creating a storefront through which customers could pick and choose features on a micropayment level. Now if a user wants to purchase their own domain name, but doesn't want to pay for ZooLoo's SEO services, they can do that instead of being forced into picking from a tiered package.
While customer feedback was a substantial motivator for the change, Baer says that potential investors also played a role in the addition of the storefront. "The investors said, 'You have a solid product, but I want to see you find a better way to package it, and a better way to sell it'," he says.
And the change worked. Since adding their micropayment storefront, ZooLoo has seen an increase in purchases of their premium services. The company is making more money marketing virtual goods in a micropayment system than they were when they bundled everything together at a higher price and relied on advertising and affiliate marketing. This is the exact paradigm shift in online marketing that Dave McClure preaches in his post mentioned earlier.
"Gradually we are discovering that the default revenue model on the internet should probably be the simplest one," writes McClure. "That is: basic transactions for physical or digital goods, and recurring transactions (aka subscriptions) for repeat usage."
Without repeat usage, McClure says that the biggest obstacle in the way of getting users on board with micropayments is that they forget their password. Honestly, if I was asked to login to my Amazon or PayPal accounts right now, I would be playing a guessing game with a handful of passwords because I don't use those services too often. But for iTunes, Google and Facebook - the services McClure says will be the leaders in eCommerce login in five years - I use those every day, and surely remember my password.
ZooLoo realizes this too, which is why they foster repeat usage by connecting their services with Twitter, Facebook, and other popular online social networks. Users can also log into ZooLoo using Facebook Connect, which eliminates the problem of remembering a less frequently used password. ZooLoo and Baer are fully on board with this emerging model, and suggest others hop on as well.
"There is this social media bubble forming where all these services are saying, 'We're free, come use us!', but eventually those services need to make money," says Baer. "We think micropayments are the next big thing."
Photo by Flickr user r-z.