A little backstory. Me and my cofounder have been working on our app, Curated for almost 2 years. It's a content-discovery app with social features where you get and share content suggestions with others. We've invested significant amount of time and resources bootstrapping it since we believe it has potential.
We've achieved some success with our Android version, being in a semi-permanent featured position in the Early Access section of the Google Playstore since the end of 2018. We got some nice press in the first few months of 2019 and that's pushed us to about 1k MAU (with a small group within of core users that use it a lot and love it).
Unfortunately our bootstrapping funds have started running out and both of us are now back contracting full time (we each have families and a mortgage so financial security is important to us). This has made us think more seriously about the future of this project and whether it has a viable path to start paying for itself (and beyond).
We are now on the verge of releasing our iOS version and have been discussing our options for making money from this:
A - Keep it free and try to grow it to a much larger userbase - then try to get funding with the idea of using an advertising model at scale.
B - Experiment in making it paid (small monthly subscription with trial period) - see if enough users stick around and we have at least some growth in numbers .
C - Keep it free with a monthly donation option if people want to give us money, Patreon style.
Option A was our plan for longest time but after having talked with some investors we've gotten the impression that social apps are not seen as a good investment and we'd need seriously ridiculous growth and numbers to even be considered. I also really want to sustain this project without an ad-model since I feel that would skew it's identity and priorities.
I have a feeling that the time is coming where option B might be viable. There's a backlash against classic social media that might mean enough people would consider paying for a product (and not actually being the product). It would also help in keeping trolls of the platform to a large extent (even at our current scale we have quite a few) since they'll most likely refuse to pay. The main risk here is loosing our core users which means we get less content which makes us unattractive for new users. We would also need to redo our entire messaging and positioning if we shift to this model in order to do it correctly, I feel. If this works it seems attractive - slower growth but each user a guaranteed paying one.
I've added option C just because it seems obvious. Knowing the percentage of a user base that actually donates, though, it would require a large chunk of users to actually reach the point of profitability so that puts it loosely equal to option A. And it involves almost constantly begging and reminding users to donate which I'm not a huge fan of.
I'm looking for some guidance and thoughts on these options and our situation in general, especially from people who've worked in the social app space.