April 2, 2019

Help, gut check moment. What would you do?

Chad Thiele @Chaddeus

Hello, fellow indie-hackers... I'm hoping you can help me make this gut-check decision.

I founded TokyoSpark in October. Traffic is now starting to pick up, and I've been adding content at a furious pace to cast an even wider net and keep this growth going.

I also have a membership, where subscribers get access to Japanese courses. These courses aren't built yet. They're being made in front of the members.

I should say, member. There's only one. Partly because I honestly haven't had time to market.

With traffic clearly growing I was thinking about going the more classic route - make everything free.

Then give it a few more months of growth. After I get traffic to a certain point, add monetization.

My monetization strategy would be cleanly placing ads non-disruptively as possible, affiliate links to niche-focused products I personally recommend, Voyagin tour affiliates, and Booking[.]com hotel bookings affiliates.

I'm a digital artist too so I could add artwork of Japan for sale as well -- possibly before adding ads, affiliates, etc...

This is my gut check. Do I stop the membership now while I only have one member to refund, open everything up/optimize for Google to bring more traffic -- and then monetize that?

What would you do?


  1. 6

    I don't see where I can sign up to buy anything.

    Also, I find it interesting that your site is mostly about Tokyo and eating/dining within. You'd almost be better off selling a detailed guide to Tokyo - or direct access to you for questions.

    People go to your site to learn about Tokyo, not to learn Japanese.

    Figure out the intent of the keywords people are using to visit your site from Google, and deliver a product that solves those problems.

    1. 2

      Love it. Thanks. I have gone completely free and you’ve given me some product ideas I can create in the future when traffic picks up even more.

      Thank you.

  2. 4

    The danger of making it free is that you don't get true value-based feedback. With offering paid content, you'll get honest responses in terms of revenue.

    Edit: I checked your site, pretty cool value proposition about the hand picked sights. Have you thought about compiling a small guide book and offering it for sale? Could even do prepurchase while you put it together.

    1. 1

      I have gone free. :)

      The guidebook is definitely something I’ll work on,adding it to the list of things to create for added revenue streams.

      To be honest, I wasn’t getting much feedback on the value. Seemed more like false promises like “yea, sounds awesome!” and then no action.


  3. 3

    I would be really interested to know if the traffic you have is:
    a) people who are already living in/near Tokyo
    b) people planning a future trip to Tokyo

    If most of your users are B then the suggestions from @IAmAFunction and @jordanmoconnor would seem like the most natural fit for your audience.

    Perhaps the Free product is some kind of weekly spotlight on the particular site/restaurant. Then offer two products for people who don't have the time to see recommendations one by one :
    Want to get my complete list of Tokyo highlights for 2019? Purchase my XYZ guide to Tokyo.
    Looking for a personalized itinerary? Book a consultation and I will craft one just for you

    1. 1

      The organic traffic is people mostly in the US, I imagine looking to eventually come to Japan.

      My social traffic is almost 95% US military personnel and their families who are stationed in Japan for 2-4 years.

      So it’s a pretty decent split.

      Thanks for the ideas. They’ll definitely become separate products visitors can purchase.

      Appreciate the advice.

      1. 1

        Are you familiar with Scott's Cheap Flights? When we are about to drop hundred and thousand of dollars on airfares we wouldn't mind paying for a premium deal-to-inbox service. Perhaps you could turn the table around and market your service to restaurants/businesses instead? and turn your site into a Dining, Arts, Entertainment portal ala Gothamist.com with guest contributors and user comments.
        ps: I looked really hard but couldn't find your email anywhere. I'm building a blogging platform with maps (https://mappandas.com) and wanted to chat about possible collaboration [email protected]

  4. 2

    Thanks for all the advice.

    I decided to go free 100%.


    Well, for one, membership was a hard sell. Even in direct conversation with a potential subscriber. They’d agree it was “awesome, a good thing they’d enjoy, perfect for them” but never subscribe — even after a couple weeks of follow-up.

    At $7 a month, that started to feel like a tall mountain to climb.

    Also, by going free, I was able to strip out some performance sapping code and better cache everything. My site was already fast, now it’s even faster and uses less server resources per visit.

    You might be wondering why that matters. I host on Google Cloud Platform. The more resources I use, the more it costs. But I’m able to keep it below $10 a month right now, and should be able to support even more visits before the price increases at all.

    Also, by stripping out some premium paid plugins, I won’t have the overhead of renewing licenses each year on them. And I was able to cancel the zapier subscription, saving even more.

    Finally, I no longer have that sense of pressure to do more and better for subscribers. I can now focus all that energy on making more helpful, highly-optimized articles that will bring more and more traffic into my realm.

  5. 2

    Why not do both? :)

    For Members you can still offer courses and also make the site ad-free.

    1. 2

      Honestly, I think the "battle" to market and sell a $7 subscription almost made it not worth it.

      And I don't think the value was worth upping the price to make it worthwhile for me.

      Instead I can focus on the content, continually improve it, and when traffic gets high enough I can add in monetization channels.

      Voyagin is a global, local tour booking company. They have an affiliate program I could easily integrate nicely into my content.

      Booking[.]com has an affiliate for booking hotels, another one good for my audience.

      Amazon has some perfect products too.

      Then when traffic is high enough, there are some great curated ad networks that aren't spammy like Adsense.

      And of course, I am working on my own separate products as well.


      1. 2

        Good luck, hope it works! ✊

        1. 1

          Thanks! So far so good. ;)

  6. 1

    This comment was deleted a year ago.

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