Growing Gratipay

I’d like to make a proposal about how to grow Gratipay, based on our user segmentation: we should try to get to a million active users as fast as we can, by optimizing for people giving to other people. We should optimize for organization givers and receivers after we have a million active users.

We use two metrics to track Gratipay’s size: weekly active users, and weekly dollar volume. We segment Gratipay users along two axes:

  1. Person / Organization
  2. Giver / Receiver / Taker

Under “organization” we have an additional distinction between charities and businesses. People spend less than organizations, but they move much faster. Organizations are slower than people, but they spend much more. What do we do with these facts?

Breadth through People

Gratipay’s success depends on a network effect: the more people and organizations using Gratipay, the more incentive there is for new users to sign up. Because people move faster than organizations, we should focus on people in order to increase the number of users on Gratipay.

Gratipay’s value proposition for people is, “Play a feel-good game with your friends!” The strict anonymity is key here, to keep things positive. Here’s a sampling of tweets demonstrating the value proposition for people on the receiving end:

The value proposition for people on the giving side is to see these tweets in their stream and know that it was them that made their friend’s day. The giver gets to feel generous, the receiver gets to feel grateful. Note that the dollar amount is irrelevant: it can be a quarter or a dollar, maybe even a penny.

To increase the number of weekly active users on Gratipay, we should improve the experience of giving small amounts of money to lots of friends. Here’s a brainstorm:

  • Give a penny to all of my friends (1,000 friends would be $10 per week).
  • Browse my friends and give a quarter to the ones I especially like.
  • Notify people on Twitter or Facebook when they have money waiting.
  • Write a Facebook app so people don’t have to leave Facebook to use Gratipay.
  • Streamline the process of adding a credit card.
  • Revisit other payin options: PayPal for the security-conscious, Dwolla for the cost-conscious, Coinbase for the bitcoin-conscious.

Depth through Organizations

Gratipay as a feel-good game is nice enough, and it seems to me to be our best strategy for getting people in the door, but we do want to go deeper. We want many, many people to make a living on Gratipay, freely contributing to society and taking freely in return. We want to enable an entire economy of gratitude, generosity, and love.

Now, it is possible for a single person to make a living directly on Gratipay, funded by many small gifts from other people. Let’s call that the “personal brand” or “celebrity” case. Making a living as a celebrity is fine, but, by definition, the vast majority of people are not celebrities, and personality-driven exchanges account for a small part of current economic activity. The personal brand approach to making a living is not sufficient for the depth we want on Gratipay. The way to increase dollar volume on Gratipay is through organizations, both as givers and as receivers.

As givers, organizations move slower than people but spend much more. Organizations give to both individuals and to other organizations. Here are some ways we can improve the experience for organization givers:

  • Decouple adding funds from weekly payouts. Organizations want to pay monthly, quarterly, or annually.
  • Implement ACH debits to minimize fees.
  • Provide invoices (not just receipts).
  • Email invoices.
  • Loosen up anonymity rules: let organizations promote their giving to other organizations.
  • Build a widget for community members to showcase organization givers.
  • Decouple logins from social accounts and allow multiple logins per organization. Marketing owns the Twitter account but it’s accounting that needs access to Gratipay.
  • Implement Khan-style account management where staff inside an organization share control of organization giving.

As receivers, organizations present the possibility of many, many people making a living on Gratipay. This is where the distinction between charities and businesses comes in. We should implement a verified charity status for Gratipay accounts, which would break anonymity for the sake of satisfying charity reporting requirements. Businesses receiving on Gratipay are the most unique and innovative segment of our users; for them:

  • Evolve the Teams feature into a full-blown open payroll product.
  • Break anonymity and expose payment info via an API.
  • Become an OAuth provider, so business users can implement “Sign up with Gratipay” and then dynamically adjust payments to usage.
  • Implement opt-out payments to take advantage of the power of defaults.


We want to grow both the number of users of Gratipay and the dollar volume they exchange. My hunch and proposal, based on the above analysis, is that we should go for breadth first.

First, let’s go for people. We can grow the number of users faster than the dollar volume, because people move faster than organizations. What would it take to get a million active users? As the above tweets demonstrate, the recurring nature of Gratipay works in our favor, because someone can sign up, forget about us for a year, and then return to a find a small pot of money. In other words, we don’t even need super-engaged users at this point. If we had a million people exchanging a quarter each who forgot about us for a year, that’d be fantastic.

Second, let’s go for charity receivers. Charities are the type of organization that is used to freely receiving money. Unlike business receivers, the funding model and tax situation of charities is well-established. My hunch is that the effort required to make Gratipay work for charities is small compared to the dollar volume they represent. Charities are looking to engage with younger, digitally-savvy donors, and are looking for sustainable funding. If we reach a million active users moving money every week, we will have something that charities will want to tap into.

Third, let’s go for business receivers. We’ve got the basics of our Teams system in place, but frankly there are a lot of hairy legal and tax questions that we’re flying under the radar on right now. Along with that, the funding model is too new: people are just starting to get used to the idea of paying for what they take. Strategically that’s a trend wave we’re riding, but it’s going to break relatively slowly over the coming decade. Focusing first on breadth through people and volume through charity receivers is like paddling into place so that when the wave crests, we are in place to ride it.

Let’s optimize for organization givers last. It’s organization receivers—both charities and businesses—that are going to bring organization givers. This is where the dollar volumes will really start to reach the level we want to get to, but this is where the product gets more complicated, with multiple logins per account, advanced funding rules, etc.

So … how fast can we get to a million active users? :-)

Next: ”Pay Your Heroes”

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