monthlygifter blog

The definitive marketplace & guide to local & unique memberships, subscriptions and clubs

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What the F#&k is your problem?

Last week I attended a tech meet up where several startups presented their ideas to a room full of entrepreneurs and investors.  The pitches weren’t very formal, and consisted of roughly 5 minute verbal presentations explaining the idea, the story, and where they currently were with the business.  Some of the startups were very cool, others left me thinking…”wait, what the f#&k is the problem you’re solving?”

For someone who is actively looking for a technical co-founder for my own business, when I see and hear pitches from super smart and extremely technically capable people that leave me asking that question “what the f#&k?” it pisses me off.  Here I am working on trying to help small, local, and start up businesses build more sustainable businesses, but struggling on the technical side to get anything going, and then there’s this team of super savvy hackers that decided the comments sections on webpages and blogs is a “broken” system that needs to be fixed.  Huh?…am I missing something?…is that really the biggest problem you could come up with to solve? 

Too many times I see super smart people focusing on problems that aren’t really problems.  Our economy is struggling, people are being laid off, several countries are nearing bankruptcy, and you want to build a revolutionary way to make the comments on the bottom of webpages slightly better?  Is that really necessary?…seems more like a nice to have.  

Now don’t get me wrong, not every startup needs to be pursuing solutions to noble problems…but if I’m left asking myself “what the f#&k,” then maybe you’re being a little too “cutesy” with your idea…and maybe you should come work with us on some actual problems hah, just kidding…but not really.

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March Madness Monthly Subscription Guide - Perfect Your Party

With March Madness right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about entertaining your group of basketball buddies.  To throw the perfect party, you only need a couple essential items.  To wow your friends, you’re going to need a sweet TV, plenty of snacks, and of course, some refreshments.  

With subscription commerce gaining popularity, it’s the perfect tool to discover professionally curated items for every occasion.  Although subcom may not be able to help you with that 60 inch LED TV (yet), it can provide a delicious spread of snacks sure to cure those hunger pangs and frothy brews to quench your thirst.  

You can take a quick look at some great snacks and tasty beers.  There’s a large selection listed on these pages but here are MonthlyGifter’s top choices.

The Original Craft Beer Club 

Receive 12 (4 styles, 3 of each) or 24 (4 styles, 6 of each) world-class craft brews from small-production, independent brewers who use only traditional brewing ingredients and time-honored brewing methods, and monthly newsletter. Also receive up to three gifts including beer bottle opener (2+ month order), craft-roasted peanuts (6+ month order) and 4 beer tasting glasses (12 month order).

This club tops our list because it is fairly cheap, coming in at a minimum price of $38.  Even though it’s possible to purchase only one month, we suggest getting a couple more months.  Let’s just say the beer is good, you’re going to want more…

Fresh Flavors Popcorn Club

Start out receiving a 6.5 gallon tin with butter, cheese & caramel corn. Each subsequent month, receive a clear container with exotic and delicious popcorn such as cinnamon, caramel apple, and kettle corn.

Popcorn is the perfect snack for anyone’s March Madness party, especially when priced at $12 a month.  If you’re getting the Original Craft Beer Club mentioned above, everyone is only going to have one hand free for snacking.  Slap some of this popcorn in a bowl and watch your guests get the most efficiency from that use-to-be empty paw.

Hot & Spicy Month Club

Receive 1 hot sauce, 1 salsa and 1 additional item (mustard, pickle, etc.) each month to satisy your need for fiery foods! 

At only $24 a month, this fire breathing club will kick you right in the… mouth.  Choices are made in conjunction with the experts at SalsaExpress.com - this club is NOT for the faint of heart! You have officially been warned.

Don’t be afraid to check out our other choices over at monthlygifter.com.  Keep up with our twitter to stay up to date with the hottest subscription commerce clubs.

Filed under beer march madness monthly clubs snacks subcom subscription commerce startups

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Get Consumables or Get Eaten: Why your sampling subscription will probably fail & what you can do to prevent it

Subscription commerce has been one of the more interesting business models to grow in popularity over the last year, with an explosion of new startups and small businesses seeking the benefits of recurring revenue and easier supply chain management. 

For example, monthlygifter.com has discovered over 500 clubs and counting, with new and unique takes on the model popping up almost everyday.  While the renaissance of this age-old business model is in full swing, many businesses are failing to understand some of the key components of why a subscription model works, which basically comes down to the question: do people need or want the product(s) on a consistent basis. 

Duh…I know what you’re thinking, there’s nothing ground breaking or profound about that statement, but take a look at the wide variety of sampling subscription programs that have been popping up lately.  Everything from beauty samples to artisan food and high-end baby products…sure they’re all really interesting concepts, and I could even see myself signing up for one of the food boxes, but when it comes down to it, how many samples can I get before I can sample no more?  Say it’s 3 months, or even 6…that seems like a relatively short period of time for me to be a customer of a company before I no longer wish to be a paying member.  If you’re business model is about recurring revenue (which it is when you’re a subcom), then you should want me to be a customer ideally forever…or at the very least for more than 6 months.

At a certain point in the product sampling lifecycle, I’ll have discovered a few products that I really love and want to make a more permanent part of my life.  And yes, I know that many sampling companies have opened up more traditional e-commerce platforms to allow me to purchase full-size quantities of the products I want to replenish, but why not take it one step further?  Why if you’re a subscription company focused on discovery, can you not also be a subscription company focused on essentials too?  If you’ve got me hooked on the sample, why not lock me in for the real thing?  You’re my ‘cheese’ drug dealer now, thanks very much for introducing me to that super artisanal cheese from Maine, now I want it every 2 months, can you do that for me?  The answer is no, and I have yet to come across a company that has implemented a process to transition it’s customers from a discovery-based subscription to a replenishment-based program.

In addition, another question a sampling startup needs to ask themselves is, do my products possess a “consumable” quality to them?  As a reference, when I say consumable I don’t mean edible (mmm…cheese), I actually mean is the product something that when it gets “used up” do I need to / want to replace it?   I think before any startup jumps into the sampling subscription space they should really know if their “discovery” based customers would ever want to sign-up for regular replenishment of the samples that they really enjoyed.  It’s very important to get a good idea if it’s even a possibility to transition a customer over from a 3-month sampler to more long-term and regular buyer.  My recommendation, before jumping in head first, make sure that if the product is great for sampling based subscription (samples readily available and common practice in the vertical, light weight, etc), it’s also a good fit for a convenience or essentials based subscription too.  Start with the sampling, but as a complement to your main discovery focus, make sure you can be my regular supplier when I find something I like.

I think subscription commerce is just at the beginning of it’s growth, and we’re going to continue to see a lot of startups get into the mix with more discovery / curated models, however, I think the real staying power for a subscription business is going to be based on the consumability of its products.  Don’t just go for discovery; make sure you have a solid plan for when I grow tired of sampling.

Filed under subscription commerce subcom startups sample boxes sampling Birchbox beauty samples

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Birchbox Alternatives – Newcomers Focused on Adding ‘Twist’ to the Standard Beauty Sample Subscription Service

Within the increasingly popular subscription commerce industry, ‘beauty product of the month’ subscriptions focused on providing members with deliveries of sample-sized beauty and skincare items  have been popping up with fervor.   

Generally, new subscribers begin by creating an online profile, answering questions about skin-type, beauty interests and other tidbits which in turn assist in-house beauty experts with their task of selecting appropriate items to be included in each month’s delivery.  Detailed write-ups, colorful packaging and access to discounted full-sized versions of products are usually included with subscriptions.

Among these beauty-focused businesses, one company in particular has already created an astoundingly large footprint.  Founded in 2010 by two enterprising Harvard Business School classmates, Birchbox operates with the mission “to help women cut through the clutter of the beauty world to find products that really work for them.”    Subscribers receive a monthly package containing 4-5 deluxe beauty samples, access to premium online beauty-related content, and discounts on full-sized makeup, skin-care, hair and other beauty products.  With nearly $12M in venture funding and over 100,000 users, Birchbox has established itself as an absolute powerhouse in the subscription commerce and beauty industries.

However, potential subscribers may be disappointed to learn that Birchbox subscriptions - sold on a first come, first served basis– sell out regularly and often require hopeful users endure a waiting period before officially signing up.

For beauty enthusiasts looking to avoid waiting lists, similar companies focused on providing subscribers beauty samples and more continue to pop up, and the monthlygifter team has profiled our favorites, each of which offer their own unique twist on the beauty sample model.

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The Company: Beauty Army

The Goods: 6 beauty samples per month

The Twist: Users can personally choose up to 6 items from a monthly curated selection of 9 sample-sized beauty products.

The Cost: $12/mo.

The RestBeauty Army has teamed up with beauty industry experts to provide its users with high quality recommendations, and subscribers can purchase full-sized versions of samples at discounted prices.

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The Company: MyGlam

The Goods: 4-5 sample or deluxe-sized makeup & beauty products each month

The Twist: The MyGlam team produces “look-inspiration” videos using the actual products included in subscribers’ Glam Bags, and encourages users to upload their own videos sharing beauty ideas and techniques. 

The Cost: $10/mo.

The Rest: Discounted pricing is also available for full-sized beauty products through their online store. 

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The Company: Beautyfix

The Goods: 8 full-sized deluxe beauty products per month

The TwistBeautyfix is geared towards users interested in trying out a large variety of beauty products, subscribers trade a higher price for the opportunity to choose up to 8 full-sized deluxe beauty items in each delivery.

The Price: $50/mo.

The Rest: Members can earn gift cards for completing feedback surveys, credits and free subscriptions for recommending new members, and have access to exclusive discounts on other beauty products.

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The Company: Goodebox

The Goods: 6 or more trial-sized beauty and personal care items each month

The TwistGoodebox has distinguished itself by focusing on offering eco-sensitive, innovative & effective beauty and personal care products, along with occasional samples of natural & organic health and wellness products.

The Price: $16/mo.

The Rest: Members also receive exclusive discounts on full-sized products, sneek peeks at upcoming products, practical tips on using products, and more.

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The Company: NewBeauty

The Goods: TestTube filled with approximately 6 sample and deluxe-sized beauty products 4 times per year

The Twist: Each NewBeauty delivery also includes a copy of NewBeauty magazine and video-mails showing subscribers how to use the included products

The Price: $29.99/quarter

The Rest: NewBeauty members are encouraged to share reviews, tips and comments with their community of over 25,000 active subscribers.

If you are interested in learning more about these beauty companies and more, check out monthlygifter.com and be sure to check us out on twitter

Filed under beauty samples birchbox monthlygifter startup subcom subcomonomics subscription commerce beauty

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Don’t Forget About Fido! – Subscription Commerce enters the Pet Owners Market

With new and unique subscription services and ‘of the month’ clubs popping up constantly, it should come as no surprise that merchants are now focusing on our furry friends.  

Without a doubt, pet-focused clubs make great gifts for pets and their owners by injecting a level of expert curation into the toy selection process while striking a balance between affordability and high-quality products.  From a more practical standpoint, pet owners can save time and cash by automating purchases of pet food, supplies, medicine, and more.

Check out this selection of pet clubs and services that will keep you and your furry friends happy and healthy!

Fair Ivy - Fur Ivy Pet Club

Fair Ivy has created a club for dog and cat owners who want to pamper their furry friends.  With prices starting at only $18/month, members receive a package containing a healthy treat and new toy tailored to your cat or dog. 

BarkBox - Dog Essentials Subscription

The BarkBox team packs 4 or more carefully selected doggy products ranging from bones and treats to shampoo and leashes into each month’s delivery. Starting at $17/month, this club makes it easy to stock up on things that Fido will love, and as an added bonus, you can feel good knowing that a portion of proceeds from each box will be earmarked to help doggies-in-need.

Toys4Tails Dog Toy of the Month Club

Since 2005, California-based Toys4Tails has been delivering amazing dog toys and treats to happy customers across the United States. With packages beginning at around $9/month, club members can choose from a wide variety of dog toys and treats each month, or receive surprise picks, chosen and tested by Chief Toy Tester Chase (a lovable Golden Retriever.)

Pet Food Direct Auto-Delivery

Pet Food Direct makes it simple to receive recurring shipments of pet food directly to your front door.  With a huge selection of food, treats, pharmacy items, and more for dogs, cats, birds and fish, pet owners can streamline their shopping commitments and enjoy saving up to 25% on recurring deliveries.

Botanic Choice Pet Health Supplements

Botanic Choice offers a large variety of Dr. Goodpet pet supplements and products made with pure human grade ingredients.  These natural pet supplements contain no yeast, wheat, corn, lactose, salt, sugar, or other harmful or allergenic ingredients, and no animal testing is ever done.  With automatic monthly delivery, keeping your pets happy and healthy has never been easier.

Find links to these great clubs and more at monthlygifter.com

Filed under cats dog pets subcom subscription commerce startups

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The Subcom Microbrewery: From ‘IPA’ to ‘Belgians’ - So many options…but they all start with water, hops, barley and yeast

Subcom is fast becoming the new Mecca for hungry entrepreneurs looking to test their startup mettle. The abundance of new subcom companies entering the space has been astonishing, with new clubs seemingly popping up over night (For a comprehensive and growing list check out monthlygifter.com, which has identified over 100 clubs and counting.) With the emergence of so many new subcom businesses, understanding what the businesses do and how they work can seem somewhat overwhelming.

The good news, however, is that despite the many options and varieties, when distilled down to their purest form, each utilizes some combination of 5 ‘ingredients’ based on 1) Club focus: convenience vs. curation, and 2) Payment type: pre-pay, opt in/out, post-pay.

Part 1: The Convenience-Curation Conundrum

It is no secret there are a LOT of web-based subcom businesses, each delivering everything from artisan food to soap and underwear, exotic cars, jewelry and everything in between.

While each business appears different on the surface, the fundamentals driving each company are firmly rooted in the idea of convenience and/or curation, which is less of a binary distinction, but rather a spectrum on which subcom businesses can be plotted. Take the product of soap for example, it can either be an item of convenience (i.e. generic bars of soap) or it can be an item of curation (i.e. all natural, organic artisan soap.) Both types of soap can be put in a box and sent to your door, but each satisfies a very different consumer want or need.

That said, pure convenience clubs exist in many verticals, but all strive to provide consumers with everyday necessities as easily as possible. Relative newcomers Manpacks and Guyhaus and others offer “everyday essentials” such as socks, underwear, and hygiene products delivered to your door at competitive prices and convenient time intervals (to prevent build-up). The name of the game for these businesses is to get consumers things that need easily and affordably.

On the flip side, curation-based clubs strive to provide consumers with exceptionally chosen items, offering a level of experience and expertise of which a ‘regular’ person cannot reasonably expect to possess. The level of actual curation, whether real or perceived, can vary widely between clubs and individual experiences, but these clubs are geared toward providing ‘wants’ over ‘needs’, with an emphasis on finding the most unique “hand-made”, “exclusive”, and “small batch” items around. A few examples of pure curation clubs are Birchboxfor beauty, Foodziefor food, Blissmo Box for organic & sustainable goods, and Little Passportsfor families with children, and Bluum for mothers and babies.

Part 2: To pay or not to pay, that is the question?

Now with a firm understanding of convenience vs. curation, let’s talk payment style. Given the current subcom landscape, we view there to be three major payment categories: 1) Prepaid, 2) Opt In/Opt Out, 3) Post-Paid. All three are easy to understand, but for the sake of clarity, let’s quickly review each type.

Prepaid Subscription Clubs

This is the most straightforward payment option in subcom, which in its simplest form, charges consumers either the entire cost of the subscription up front, or each month before the goods or services are delivered. While this category can potentially be segmented into more specific sub-groups, e.g. varying monthly dollar amounts based on how much product club members need delivered, as is the case for companies like Hoseanna, generally consumers are completely disengaged from the monthly/periodic payment, and just expect their delivery to occur consistently each month.

Clubs utilizing a prepaid method of payment can fall anywhere on the convenience-curation spectrum, and can range from traditional wine of the month clubs and beauty samples (curation), to more convenient options such as soap, underwear and other daily essentials.

Opt In/Opt Out (Coco Clubs)

The opt in/opt out model is a new twist on its more straightforward cousin represented by the prepaid model. Sometimes referred to as Coco clubs (…the two ‘O’s stand for Ooh-Ooh, like the sound a monkey makes…Seinfeld…anyone?), whereby consumers are required to be more engaged with the club, but in return are rewarded with additional flexibility. Coco clubs like Shoedazzle and JewelMint will notify members of the upcoming month’s selection of items for delivery. After the notification, club members are given a short period of time to decide whether they would like to opt-in and receive an item for that month, or if they’d prefer to opt-out and not receive anything. Members that opt-in are charged a flat fee per item selected, while members that choose to opt-out are charged nothing.

Typically these clubs emphasize curation, and compete for your business by fine tuning recommendation software designed to learn your personality via short online quizzes, order history, etc. Each month these clubs promote “personally” curated items they believe you will like, and hope you opt-in to the program for that month.

Post-Pay

Post-pay clubs actively engage their club member to make decisions each month. These clubs usually employ a full-time staff of experts that learn your personal preferences, and hand select items they believe you will enjoy. For example, Chicago-based Trunk Club sends members a shipment of clothing each month, and charges only for items not returned using the prepaid shipping materials provided with each order. An adaptation of this model has begun to emerge in the arts community as well, with examples like turningART, which sends its members artwork each month and charges members a ‘rental fee’ until the piece is purchased or returned. In the event a member wishes to permanently own the artwork, credit from the “rental fees” can be applied against the total purchase cost of the item.

Post-pay businesses take coco clubs to the extreme and are typically entirely devoted to personal curation. If their experts do not pick attractive items, it can quickly degrades the clubs’ value to members and shakes the fundamental appeal as to why you would want be a member in the first place.

Conclusion

In the broadest sense, regardless of the product or service being provided, subcom businesses are created from some combination of 5 ‘ingredients’ based on where they fall on the convenience-curation spectrum, and depending on the payment plan utilized (pre-pay, opt in / opt out, and post-pay.) As the industry continues to mature and the space becomes more crowded with competitors, it will be interesting to see whether certain combinations lend more strongly to attracting customers, or more importantly, which model will most effectively retain customers.

We would love to hear our readers thoughts on the subject, especially with regards to whether certain focuses or payment types lend themselves better to different verticals.

Filed under subcom subcomonomics convenience curation

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Subcom’onomics’ - a (not so brief) series examining the subscription commerce industry

Welcome to the first in a series of articles examining the burgeoning subscription commerce (“subcom”) industry.  Before we begin, please allow me to acknowledge that this series in intended to focus on internet-based, often nationally distributed companies in the business of providing consumers a membership or subscription style club.  We will be examining the industry from the perspective of merchants, consumers, and prospective entrepreneurs in the process of starting a subcom business.  (I’d like to note that any attempts at humor you find funny were absolutely intended, and any jokes or references that appear to fall flat are of course due to typos and/or the work of extremely-specific hackers.) 

Subcom companies exist, in the broadest sense, to provide consumers with periodic (often monthly) goods or services in return for periodic payments.  There are endless variations to the basic model, but if you have ever heard of a “Wine of the Month” club, you already have a pretty good idea of this style of business. For a more substantial view of the huge variety of companies already available, check outmonthlygifter.com which devotes section to listing unique and locally-focused subcombusinesses.

Interest in the subcom space has begun to rise as evidenced by the increase in the number of web-based clubs and related venture capital investments.  Although to some this trend may seem like an exciting new, internet-specific business model (Doesn’t the word ‘subcom’ sound kind of techie? Or at least like the name of a secret hide-out for a James Bond villain?), to call it so may be considered inaccurate.  Rather, it is based off an old model (remember Omaha Steaks, how about Columbia House Records) that is getting dusted off and revitalized by recent consumer interest combined and new e-commerce tools available.  NYC-based entrepreneur Mark Birch has already written an interesting blog post highlighting some of the fundamental issues inherently facing the industry, which I will address in a future article.

As with any new (or revitalizing industry), perceptions and understandings are constantly being redefined, and with this in mind, I encourage readers to challenge these articles with the goal of adding to the collective knowledge of the greater subcomcommunity. 

Forthcoming articles in the series will examine the different types of club models available (by product, theme, etc.), specific subcom companies (established vs. newer rivals), and some of the peripheral players that are becoming more important to the industry.  If you have any topics in particular that you’d like covered, please feel to reach out to the author at scubbon@monthlygifter.com, or via twitter @monthlygifter

I hope to make this blog a sounding board for any and all to reference in their own learning about the growing subcom industry.  There are many quality articles emerging on the subject, to which I will reference within the series, and I encourage readers to contribute any additional readings they have found interesting or helpful.    

Please also note that the term ‘subcom’ can be attributed to Sean Percival who has written several excellent articles covering this industry as well.

Filed under subscription commerce entrepreneur startup subcom monthlygifter subcomonomics

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Starting Up - Hello from the monthlygifter team

Welcome to the monthlygifter.com blog, where (for better or for worse) you will be able to connect directly with our team.  If you haven’t already met us, feel free to have a quick read regarding Stu and Dan’s background.

We have started this blog for a trifecta of reasons:

1) To provide our followers, customers, merchants and friends a channel for connecting with the monthgifter team and see what exciting things have going on with the business

2) As a resource for information regarding the subscription based commerce industry (‘subcom’) as well as our thoughts, experiences, and analysis regarding new venture creation and entrepreneurship in general 

3) As an excuse to use the word ‘trifecta’ in a non-ironic way

As you may come to realize, our sense of humor is sharper than a knife (just ask us, we’ll tell you!), and we are as witty as something that is witty but unable to make creative metaphors.

But please make no mistake, the intent of this blog is to capture our positive addition to the already thriving community of entrepreneurs in NYC and everywhere else, and we’d like nothing more than for our readers to agree with, dissent against, tear apart, or contribute to the topics, events, and experiences discussed here. 

Filed under entrepreneur monthlygifter humor new venture creation subcom