Thoughts on Launching Our First “Pay What You Want” Experiment Today

Danielle Morrill
3 min readNov 16, 2014

Today we announced pre-orders are now available for the 2014 Startup Traction Report. This post details the thinking behind this PWYW experiment.

UPDATE: In the first 2 hours of the campaign we have received more than 100 pre-orders and the average price chosen per report is hovering around $10.5 — a full 10X our asking amount of $1. Can we make it to 1,000 orders?!

At Mattermark we do in-depth research on the startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem, producing what is starting to be referred to as “data-journalism”. I’m passionate about this kind of writing, but it is extremely time consuming to write and edit so as my company has grow my writing has taken a back seat to becoming a good CEO.

I was talking with my cofounders about how we might bring data journalism back to Mattermark in a regular, sustainable and high quality way. It comes down to building an editorial team — a scarily expensive and potentially distracting goal on top of building our SaaS business. But I couldn’t help running the numbers anyway, and was shocked to discover if each of our newsletter readers donated just $1 per quarter for premium content I could hire a writer to live and work full-time on investigative data journalism.

Of course not everyone wants to pay for this kind of content, I understand that, but if we could get even a fraction of our readership to help financially support editorial we could certainly commit some of the company’s own cash from revenue and funding to help move things along.

Kicking Things Off

Instead of trying to get annual subscription for the Mattermark Daily, our daily newsletter, we’re starting with something a little simpler and offering pre-orders for the 100+ page analysis I’m putting together to summarize all that has happened in the startup data world in 2014. I’m setting the minimum contribution at $1, and hope those who are familiar with my analysis will consider donating more. You can order it here!

Here’s a little teaser of the types of questions and graphs you’ll find inside:

We’re grateful to be working with the folks at the DEMO Fall conference to release this report next week at their conference, where I’ll be giving a high level overview of the report and sharing more insight into the methodology and vision for where this can go in the future.

Deciding on “Pay What You Want”

At Mattermark we don’t see ourselves as a media company looking to make a profit through low-margin lines of business like content. However, the idea of having a small and sustainable high quality writing effort has always been of interest (and was part of the original founding vision for the company) so instead of spinning up a whole team and then discovering we’re not writing what people want, we’re going to flip things around to make sure the community is interested in paying for what we provide.

Our friends over at fellow startup Gumroad have a great post on how to evaluate whether pay what you want pricing is a good idea for your business. We found this very helpful, and so far the average contribution has been $6/report — 6X our recommended amount of $1!

This is still an experiment, and we’ll see how it goes as we release this report. I’m looking forward to providing you with an update on the numbers in the next 24 hours and encourage you to pre-order our 2014 Startup Traction Report — every dollar helps!