This is Readup’s current growth hypothesis:
Readup, as it currently exists, is worth paying for and sharing. Soon, new Readers will have to pay a monthly subscription to read on Readup. When that happens, they’ll be delighted to discover that the money they pay to read on Readup goes directly to the Writers they read in an easy, fair, and transparent way. Meanwhile, Writers arrive on Readup (to cash out, at the very least) with a strong incentive to become an active member of the community.
The goal of the growth hypothesis is to explain, clearly: How? How is Readup going to grow? How are new Readers going to find out about Readup? And how will growth reinforce growth?
I am sometimes asked about how the soon-to-be-implemented Subscriptions product will impact Readup’s overall Reader acquisition numbers, a measure for how quickly new people are joining the community. Conventional wisdom states that adding another “gate” in the onboarding process will inherently lead to slower growth. In other words, if we’re currently getting X new Readers per day, then after we start requiring people to pay we’ll only get Y. And Y has to be less than X.
But we don’t think of Subscriptions as something that will slow down our current (very slow, very steady) growth. We think that comparing paid Readup to free Readup is an apples to oranges comparison. Paid Readup has growth built into it. The existing platform does not. Free Readup is a free utility. Paid Readup is a two-sided marketplace.
From the first dollar we make, we are turning more than 90% of our revenue stream into an alternative source of value for us and our community: compensation for Writers. By giving the money we make directly to Writers, we are integrating the entire concept of “Writer outreach” into the mechanics of the platform itself. Thus, we’re turning a bunch of our own cash into something more like committed “advertising” dollars. Readup will keep a very small cut (5%) to cover the cost of managing the platform and facilitating payments to the Writers. That, plus outside investment, is enough for us to manage the growth that we expect to see: millions of Readers within a year.
Readers will still pay Readup for the three things that they currently are getting for free: (1) distraction-free reading (2) the unique community experience on Readup and (3) to be treated like a dignified human being at all times. Importantly, on Readup, you are not the product. You’re a customer.
Our message to Writers is clear: “You deserve to get paid every time someone reads your writing. This month, you earned x dollars. To cash out, you need to get verified. Want to connect to your Twitter account?” Boom. That’s the spark that’s going to set this whole thing off. And at that exact moment — when a Writer realizes Whoa, I want my readers reading me over here — we’ll be there with a handy link, ready to help make it happen. Everyone will want everyone reading on Readup. We already have a list of pre-verified Writers.
And that’s why that number — that “x” — is so very important. The first Writer payouts can be small, but not so small that they’re meaningless. Writers won’t cash out for just three or four dollars. But they will for fifty.
We’ve done the math and we like our odds. But more importantly, we like our value proposition. Unlike our competitors (Medium and Substack, for example) we don’t ask Writers to feed Readup with lots of new writing in order to have a chance at making money. Instead, Writers earn money every time they’re read on Readup, no matter where they’re published. Every complete read triggers a transaction, the exact amount of which depends on the Readers total monthly readings. Many of the Writers who are currently popular on Readup write high-quality, evergreen stories for the world’s top publications. The Article of the Day (AOTD) trophy is the ultimate prize. Soon, it will have a major financial reward attached to it.
Within this massive new vision there are hundreds of features that still need to be built. For example, each one of the following features is actually about a dozen smaller features: Writer Verification, Writer Profiles, and Writer Earnings to put on the Writer Profiles.
I’m happy to report that as we move along we continue to notice smaller, positive feedback loops within the larger growth hypothesis. For example, our target audience is Writers and Writers are the people who we often refer to as “the press.” So, good news: Writer outreach is press outreach, two birds with one stone. And from now on, instead of asking journalists to write about Readup, I’m just going to tell those same people that we have money for them. I’m looking forward to having a fun new context to get Writers interested in Readup. It’s gearing up to be an excellent bootstrapping story, if we can pull it off.
Also, more Readers on Readup means better comments and conversations, higher quality articles in the AOTD game, better Discovery, and more opportunity for competition on the Leaderboards. In countless ways, growth leads to more growth.
There is one reason why any of this is even remotely possible: Because Readup already is a thriving community. It took five long years and a lot of meaningful input from thousands of people all around the world. We are small, but powerful. And a whole lot of new energy is about to be infused into the community. All new Readers will be paying Readers. At the very least, it’ll be a hoot to watch all of the changes go into effect. Our top-level revenue numbers will be visible to the public in real time.
We also transformed the entire RI (Reader Interface) around the concept of My Impact. A few weeks ago, we had wireframes, and now we have a working prototype:
That’s a real world simulation using my personal, real reading data. For testing purposes, we took a look at what My Impact would look like at a $14.99 subscription that started on the first day of the month. You can see my entire payment in an interactive graph getting chopped up and doled out to all of the Writers I’ve read. In this case, Lauren Oyler, one of my favorite Writers, gets almost a buck. Oyler’s article was 25 minutes long. It’s the longest article I read, so she gets the largest piece of pie. As I keep reading, the pie changes shape. And at the end of the month, I watch everything click from my account to Oyler’s account, and everyone else’s accounts.
As we get closer to a fully-formed vision for what Readup needs to become, free Readup is already starting to look like something that belongs in the past. Almost every aspect of the Reader journey is about to change, and the new and improved version needs to be simpler and clearer than everything we have now. The homepage needs an overhaul. Onboarding needs spiffing up. Soon, you’ll need to create an account in order to poke around.
The thing I love most about all of this new technical and financial infrastructure that Readup is building is that it all ties back to our singular true north: Reading. And, to be even more specific, the reading flow state. That’s the activity that Readup recognizes and tracks. That’s what needs to happen in order to make a slice of pie for a Writer. That’s the lifeblood of the curation algorithm. And it’s even the way that I’ll measure the performance of this blog post that you’re reading right now.
So thanks for making it to the end! And remember, it’s not just about what we build, it’s also about how we build it. So, please: Keep us honest. And keep reading!