Pay Me First Design

You may know that I dubbed 2015 the “Year of Nick” — a year for me to do whatever I wanted. I had cash to burn and I wanted to give myself the opportunity to follow some whims.

A lot of awesome things happened in the Year of Nick. I’m not going to rehash them here. Instead, I’m only bringing up the Year of Nick to add context to where I am here, now, in March 2016. That cash I had? I burned it.

Pay Me First Design

That puts me in an interesting place, where I still have the experimental leanings of the Year of Nick, along with a new urgency to get paid.

Joining a company or doing consulting work is certainly on the table. But I’ve also been exploring new ideas that might generate income for me.

That brings us to the idea of “Pay Me First Design.” The term is a combination of the “Mobile First” design philosophy and Mike Monteiro’s “Fuck you, Pay Me” talk.

I’ve been thinking about “Nick as a Service” (NaaS) — productizing and selling the things I’m good at doing. And I’ve been mulling over the phrase “Expense That Sh💩t” — selling products to employees and giving them a compelling reason to expense their purchase.

The idea is simple: start with getting paid and build around the moment of purchase. The execution is… less simple?

Into the weeds we go

I’m totally new to payment systems, and I’m still learning about new ones — Gumroad for example. I ended up settling on Stripe because it met these criteria:

  • trusted by buyers
  • supports subscriptions
  • customizable
  • not ugly
  • free to use

The drawback to using Stripe is that it’s developer-centric and requires a server to process payments. You can’t just drop in a “Buy” button and be done with it.

So I ended up creating a really lightweight app in *gasp* PHP, because the way PHP interacts with the Stripe purchase form was easy for me to understand. In addition, Heroku has some nice documentation for spinning up a PHP app, and I was up and running in very little time.

Confession: I don’t love working with HTML & CSS. I’m only working on the web because apps are, unbelievably, even worse for getting paid.

So to avoid as much web coding as possible, I came up with the following workflow:

  1. Sketch out an idea
  2. Export the sketch as an image.
  3. Make website 1 huge clickable image
  4. Introduce payment modal when the image is clicked

Doing this for one app makes it trivial to generate more apps — just swap in a new image and tweak payment details.

Introducing Pitch Perfect

Kind of burying the lede here, but I actually just shipped my first NaaS product! It’s called Pitch Perfect. For $500, I’ll help a founder polish her fundraising pitch, leaning on my skills as a founder who’s pitched before, and as an English major who cares about getting words right.

The terms are ridiculously good: My turnaround time is 24 hours, and you get your money back if you fail to raise capital.

Here’s what the website looks like:

Clicking anywhere brings up the payment modal:

It’s kind of a trainwreck, I know. But if the idea doesn’t work, or if I want to improve it, I just upload a new image and type “git acmph” in the console (my custom shortcut for adding, committing, pushing, and deploying in one shot).

The hard part: getting actual customers

Importantly, Pay Me First Design doesn’t make it any easier to find new customers. Pitch Perfect is a great illustration of this: $500 is a lot, and if I want to turn this into a real business I need to do all the usual hard stuff: spreading the word to my network, working on SEO, getting testimonials and referrals, etc. etc.

In fact, the Pay Me First Design approach is likely to lose me some customers. By asking for payment up front, I’m creating a high hurdle right when people might want to learn more, see my portfolio, ask me questions on Intercom, etc. etc.

All that’s deliberate. Pay Me First Design is meant to more rapidly ask the question: “Would anyone pay for this?” It’s meant to weed out expensive customers who will want to ask me a lot of questions before buying. And it’s meant to get paid up front, to avoid complications or delays later.

What do you think?

If you’ve seen great examples of Pay Me First Design, I’d love to see them. In the meantime, I’ll be busy putting up paywalls around pretty much everything I do! It’s going great for publishers, right? 😅