Tyler Travitz
I design human-centered digital products, services, and experiences in Chicago.
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CentUp

As with many businesses, this one started over beer and a discussion with my two soon-to-be cofounders in 2012. We were lamenting several emergent (and disturbing) trends in internet publishing. Reader’s disdain for display advertising (indicated by the rise of ad-blocking technology) and paywalls had caused publications we frequented and enjoyed to turn in desperation to clickbait headlines and more “sponsored content”. There had to be a better way for publishers to monetize their content, we thought, and so what if there were a “Like button” that had money attached to it?

And with that CentUp was born.

Roles &  Responsibilities

Roles & Responsibilities

- Co-founder, creative lead
- UX / UI Design
- Front-end developer
- QA testing
- Marketing design support
- Wearer of all hats

The concept was simple...

The concept was simple...

As a publisher/blogger, inject a single line of javascript into your publishing platform du jour. A lovely little button appears next to your other social media buttons. When a reader clicks the button, a popup appears asking them to sign up and show their support in the form of a monetary micro donation (“credits”, each credit translated to 0.9 cents or roughly one penny, hence the name CentUp) to the publication they love so much.

But...

But...

Unfortunately, we lacked the conviction to believe that users were willing to pay only for the content. We assumed that because users were used to getting content for free, the micro donation had to be paired with a donation to charity, thus diluting the value to the publishers and making the model more confusing for users.

Modest successes

Modest successes

We had some modest successes. We applied to Techstars Chicago and were nearly selected after many meetings with Troy Henikoff and Mark Achler. We conducted a very successful crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo that resulted in 589 unique accounts with more than $18,000 in account funding. We raised a small seed investment. We were generating millions of button impressions per week.

Key learnings

Key learnings

In the end, we created a product that, though well-intentioned, didn’t resonate with enough consumers to be sustainable. Today, there is plenty of validation that our core idea (compensating creators for their work) is valid. For example, Patreon is thriving and YouTube is testing allowing premium subscribers to tip content creators. However, we think our model (mixing micro-donations with charitable giving) proved to be too complicated, when supporting content creators was on its own a worthy enough cause. By the time we realized this, it was too late to pivot.

I wouldn’t trade the two years I worked on CentUp. In the process, I learned a lot about what it means to be an entrepreneur: wearing many hats, financial modeling, taking calculated risks, finding product-market fit, LTV and CAC, testing (testing, and testing), pivoting at the right time. I also learned more about myself than I did in all prior jobs combined.