Membership Platforms: The Holy Grail Of Online Business?

Tim Rettig
Aug 3, 2018 · 5 min read

The theory really sounds astounding:

  • You get a 100% PREDICTABLE recurring revenue
  • Once you establish it, you can potentially keep it running forever
  • You know quite well how much time investment side the business requires from your side
  • You don’t need to ‘convince’ buyers to buy more of your products — they automatically renew the subscription (unless they consciously drop out)
  • Even if a user is relatively inactive, you nonetheless keep earning money

In short, membership platforms really seem to be the holy grail of online business on first look. This is particularly true for people running information-based products and otherwise struggle to make a profit.

But then, my question:

Have you ever actually signed up for a membership site? Have you ever been willing to pay quite significant amounts of money on a monthly basis in order to get access to such a membership platform?

I personally haven’t.

And I think the same holds true for most people.

Membership sites (especially those with extremely high fees) only work for a very specific type of target customer. Those who are heavy users and would pay almost any price to get X.

Often, they are also the kind of people who have already bought 10 different such packages and are still looking for one that ‘really works’.

So, what do you need to make this happen?

A truly outstanding product.

You need to have the EXACT solution for the customers EXACT problems.

And you need to be able to prove that your solution actually works for them to get rid of these problems.

If you can’t do that, the risk of purchase is simply too high.

The more specific you can get with your offering, the more value you are going to provide for your customers. You need to be very clear and very exact on what your product is going to do for your potential customers.

For example:

  • After this year-long course, you will have successfully established a food-truck business in your area that is creating $5,000 or more per month in revenue and ready to scale

A real community feeling.

“I came for the content , but I stayed for the community”.

The value which the product itself provides might eventually run out as customers have gotten everything possible out of it, but the value of the community around it could be infinite.

The community itself will…

… create more content.

… support each other.

… respond to each other’s questions.

In other words, the community around your product becomes an extension of the product itself. While you have only limited time to do certain things, the community is a collection of people who will solve each other’s problems.

If you can nurture that an provide a real outstanding environment for people, then that is worth a ton

For example:

  • Have a look at MJ DeMarco’s “The Fastlane Forum”. It is a forum built around his two books that help people become successful entrepreneurs. But the forum itself is much more valuable as it hosts a ton of successful business people who help each other in different aspects of business.

An ongoing value proposition.

Sometimes, that can be less than the customer acquisition cost.

To avoid that, you are going to have to figure out how to provide ongoing value over time. How you can get people excited to stick around to see what is going to come next.

In short:

You must provide awesome value from day one. But at the same time, you also can not spend all your ammunition right from the beginning. You need to show people that by sticking around, they get the value that they pay for.

So, you need a good plan.

Try to plan content for as long in advance as you possibly can. Then give people great value one little step at a time.


In short, you might spend 40 hours per week for a $100 paycheck.

Plus, these few existing members might also leave quickly (once they realize that there is no active community there yet).

One way of working around that is simply not to launch it right away. But rather, to ask people to go on a waiting list and sign up for the day that the platform is going to be released.

Then, only once you have enough members, you actually launch the platform itself. That way, there will be people actively engaging in the community from day one.

The downside of this approach:

You are going to risk a huge failure. If you already have many people signed up on launch date and the product just isn’t good enough, then you will disappoint a whole lot of people.

So, choose wisely.

But either way, you must realize that a membership platform doesn’t happen quickly. It is something that you slowly build up over time. As more and more people sign up for it, the value of the platform also increases.

It is much more of a long-term business model than, say, launching a single online course on Udemy.


So, if successful, that is indeed the holy grail of business.

But then, a membership platform is by no means easy to set up and run. It is not easy to provide enough value for people to keep paying the ongoing subscription costs.

Think carefully about whether or not a membership platform could be a great fit for your target market and the problem you are going to solve.

Do your research.

Ask people whether or not they’d be interested in such a platform and, if yes, how much they’d be willing to pay for it. Then, test your assumptions. Try to go for a pre-launch campaign and see if you can get paying customers.

If you can, then there should be no reason not to pursue it.

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Tim Rettig

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Author of Struggling Forward: Embrace the Struggle. Achieve Your Dreams / Subscribe: / Email:

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