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Towards Monetization

This article was originally published on Indie Hackers on February 11, 2021.

Around this time last year I was excited to announce I had just gotten my first batch of users for Unearth 1.0 from a comment made on Hacker News. As many makers would know, getting users to use your product and validating the idea is useful is super exciting so I vowed to continue delivering value as long as the issue at hand persisted.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2020. After several months of using Unearth 1.0 myself, I realized I personally was not satisfied with the functionality and thus set out to address my own pain-points. From this came Unearth 2.0, a web app similar in looks to Pocket that would allow users to more easily manage and organize their Reddit saves.

This new version of Unearth has been doing quite well namely because it actually addressed many of the issues Redditors had complaints about. With a little marketing via answering questions about Reddit saves in subs like r/help, r/beta, and r/ideasfortheadmins, as well word-of-mouth from other Redditors, Unearth 2.0 is currently at:

  • 160k+ Reddit saves synced
  • 1300+ saves tagged
  • 270 registered users

With that said, Unearth is nowhere near perfect and I was always left wanting to get more out of it.

Over the past week I've had a yearning to start my own Internet business, and by this I really just mean making a dollar online. I had been listening to some truly inspiring Indie Hackers podcast episodes and thought to myself, "Why don't I finally give this a try myself?"

The only problem I faced was not having an idea of what to make, or so I thought. Using the Indie Hackers "Products" page, I looked at companies that had a transaction-based business model with less than \$5k monthly revenue. This search was based on the idea that a subscription-based product would be too time-consuming to build and that I could probably build something that would serve a customer's need one or more times and just kind of grow via ads or word-of-mouth.

I soon realized within a transaction-based business model there are multiple ways for a business to actually make money. For example, the business could offer a two-sided market and take a cut of the transactions that they facilitate on their platform (Art in Res). A business could also offer more traditional payments where customers are purchasing a good directly from the business (Place Card Me). Alternatively, a business could use a credit-based payment system where users purchase credits that enable them to do something within a (often software) service (Leave Me Alone).

Remember that at this time I still didn't think I had an idea for how to make my first dollar on the Internet until I discovered these various pricing schemes.

That's when it clicked: I could utilize a credit-based business model in order to monetize Unearth and accomplish my goal of starting an Internet business!

I do feel somewhat guilty for going against my original claim that Unearth would be free and now wanting to charge for the service. Truthfully I don't think too many people will hold it against me, but I did come up with a sensible compromise:

  • Unearth 3.0 will use the credit-based pricing scheme mentioned above, where 1 credit = 1 sync of the users Reddit saves.
  • Up until some to-be-determined future date, anyone who signs up for Unearth will be grandfathered in and given unlimited credits (essentially granting them lifetime free access) for their loyalty towards the product.

One pressing question I still need to solve is: what should the worth of a credit be? Assuming I have multiple pricing packages where larger packages cost more but have discounts baked in based off the base tier, what should I charge for 1 sync? Leave Me Alone's base package (the inspiration for the credit-based pricing) is 50 credits for $2.50, which equates to $0.05/credit. Determining this price point is something I'll want to experiment with through A/B testing with different pricing copy on the landing page.

Not to get too ahead of myself, but I also thought of offering a monthly subscription for the potential power users of Unearth which could grant them:

  • unlimited syncs
  • option to also sync (and therefore manage and organize) their Reddit upvotes, downvotes, hiddens, etc.
  • access to a browser extension to tag things directly from Reddit when saving/upvoting/downvoting/hiding content

I'd love to dive further into my motivations for wanting to actually start a business/make a dollar on the Internet as well as what Unearth 3.0 will look like, but this post is already fairly long so I'll save that for another time.

Ultimately, success will be gauged based on two things:

  1. can I actually build and launch a good enough product
  2. …and will anyone actually pay me for this

I think it's definitely possible and I look forward to the challenges that come.

Cedric Amaya

Written by Cedric Amaya, a software engineer who enjoys occasionally taking a break from coding to write about what is on his mind. You should follow him on Twitter.