This Startup Wants To Make It Much Easier For Creators To Get Paid

Digital payments have transformed everything from consumer spending to political donations. Creators, meanwhile, have spent the last 10-15 years striving to monetize their passions on the internet.

Platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon have made headway, but they haven’t tackled the biggest issue; creators want to focus on what they love most. For many of them, the last thing they want is to run a small business.

You can’t turn Jackson Pollock into Don Draper. Sorry, Etsy.

Enter Buy Me A Coffee. The YC-backed startup (founded by Jijo Sunny, Joseph Sunny, and Aleesha John) reduces all this friction. The company wants creators to focus on what they enjoy most and make it easier for fans to offer their support. I talked with the team about the origin of their button, the competitive advantage of their design, and how they recently achieved the bulk of their growth.

This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What problem are you solving?

Jijo Sunny: We make it super easy for creators to get paid by their fans. As a creator, you might have an audience of like tens of thousands. And some of them, maybe 1-5% of them, would support you financially, directly, as opposed to clicking on a referral link or something like that.

Fans want to be a part of the creative journey. Buy Me A Coffee enables creators to do that by letting their fans support them. It could be purely out of gratitude, or to get something in return like content or rewards.

The first time I came across your brand, it reminded me of those old Buy Me A Beer buttons I used to see on web development sites. It really brought me back.

Jijo Sunny: You’re right. Buy Me A Beer was all over the web, back in the days of blogging and WordPress and everything like that. I used to be a blogger — I still am, but I also used to be an active user of those Buy Me A Beer plugins.

Buy Me A Coffee resonates much more with creators. My goal when I first thought of Buy Me A Coffee, was to make it sound creative, like creators would want it to be. And to make it sound simple, so that they wouldn’t feel like they’d have to launch something, like a Kickstarter project. It should be as simple as setting up a button or page, which you can do in two minutes.

You offer subscriptions like Patreon, but I assume that’s just to cover your bases. Would you say most of your transactions are one-off donations?

Jijo Sunny: I would say more than half are from tips. (We don’t say “donations” because that is not accurate for some creators. We call it “supporting” or just “contributions” in general.) We make it super easy for anyone to provide support in less than a minute. They don’t have to sign up to actually pay someone.

That’s the thing with Patreon, or any other service. You have to go through a signup process, enter all your details, including your address. With Buy Me A Coffee, you can just click pay, and leave a really good comment with your support. It takes less than a minute.

And you get to write something on the creator’s page. That drove a lot of growth for us. We took that from Twitch, where the tippers actually tip a lot just to get their name on a stream. They’re one of the largest creative monetization companies out there, and we took that from them — to give audiences that moment of glory, to be on that creator page thanking them or asking them a question. And the creators reply to them. So that’s…that’s a beautiful thing.

We are betting on this tipping culture, or Gratitude Economy, where you feel thankful for someone who has helped you with their content, or helped you have a good time. So you thank them with a coffee after consuming the content, as opposed to paying something monthly, expecting to get something else in return.

Your logo feels warm and homemade like Kickstarter. It feels connected to maker culture in an authentic way, whereas Patreon feels more businesslike. How much is design a competitive advantage for you?

Jijo Sunny: Yeah, we are designers at heart. We almost obsess over design more than features to a point of fault. Design really helps us because creators like it. Creators love the design.

Startups often swear by MVPs, but there’s no single definition for what makes a minimum viable product. Given your emphasis on design, what’s your standard for an MVP?

Jijo Sunny: Great question. I don’t know if you have read Eric Ries’ Lean Startup book. He did this AMA on Product Hunt1 and I got a chance to ask him about this exact same thing. And he said, the whole point of Lean Startup is to ship something that’s super simple and quick, but to make it delightful for users.

So you can’t half-ass something and call it an MVP. You have to do something that’s beautiful and perfect and usable. Limit the features, but it has to be usable. And Buy Me A Coffee was essentially that. It was a link to receive donations with a beautiful design when we launched it.

Now we are past 70,000 creators and I’m pretty sure — no, I know we couldn’t have done it if we did not make it super simple.

Can you repeat that number one more time? 70,000 you said?

Jijo Sunny: That’s right. The bulk of the growth has been in the last three months, but the launch really helped. I think we saw like 15,000 creators after 30 days of the launch. The Hacker News and Product Hunt communities really helped us launch.

But why did you hockey stick in the last three months?

Jijo Sunny: We launched PayPal support. That’s what happened.

So you’re saying switching over to a new payment processor is at least partially responsible for accelerating your growth?

Jijo Sunny: Right. We kept getting these emails from Indonesia, or some parts of Europe even, asking why we were not in their country.

I can picture you looking at a heat map like, “Why are all these continents showing no activity whatsoever?”

Jijo Sunny: Yeah, exactly. PayPal supports 190 countries.2

Key Takeaways

  • It’s best to call a micropayment a “contribution” when a creator’s involved.
  • People will always pay good money to put their names on things, whether it’s a wing at MoMA or a stream on Twitch.
  • Sometimes a single alteration, like switching over to a new payment processor, can lead to explosive growth. That’s why constant iteration is critical when you search for product/market fit.
  • Buy Me A Coffee 2.0 just launched!