True Tales from the Trenches
Subscription models are crazy powerful. Savvy small companies can easily deploy them to knock huge Goliaths off kilter. We’ve seen it in entertainment, software, hardware, news, retail, hospitality—the list goes on. In her podcast series, Robbie Kellman Baxter interviews the leaders of this revolution about how they’re using subscription pricing and membership models to redefine the biggest industries and generate predictable recurring revenue along the way.
Listen to the wrap-up:
Today’s guest, Molly O’Connor leads Business Planning Strategy for WarnerMedia Sales Distribution, HBO Max, Cinemax and Turner Networks, all US distribution partners. That means she’s responsible for managing the (sometimes competing) demands of the consumers, cable and satellite partners, and the app stores, weaving these disparate products and partners into a single cohesive strategy.
“Pricing is a holistic area. It’s science married with the arts and humanities.” Subscription pricing expert Xiaohe Li joins Robbie to talk about balancing the art and science of pricing strategy. She also opens up about the things she learned about pricing from her experience at three prominent membership organizations and what Sun Tzu has to teach us about pricing innovation.
Dave Cobban spent over 12 years at Nike, many working with the innovation team. A few years ago, as a result of his work as part of a team looking at driving exponential growth at Nike, Dave identified an opportunity for subscription commerce as a potential way to achieve several key Nike objectives. Dave incubated and developed what has come to be known as “Nike Adventure Club,” a shoe subscription for children.
Some businesses today give products and services for free to entice customers to purchase more. However, a huge number of entrepreneurs distance themselves from giving away a freemium offering because of the risks of decreased revenue. But for Elena Verna, Reforge EIR and Partner, this must not be the mindset.
With an uncanny stroke of genius, John Lee Dumas solved this problem early in his podcasting career. An avid podcast consumer himself, he identified an unmet need for a daily podcast to punctuate entrepreneurs’ long days with bouts of gainful learning.
Today’s guest, Matt Fiedler, is the co-founder and chairman at Vinyl Me, Please, a record of the month club and online record store. After launching in 2013, Matt successfully scaled VMP to more than $15M in revenue, while establishing the brand as one of the largest DTC vinyl retailers and one of the most admired and respected brands in music.
Most subscription entrepreneurs initially are attracted to the model for its predictable recurring revenue. But there are other benefits to having an ongoing relationship with members. Today’s guest, Alli Harper, works at the intersection of subscription eCommerce and social impact.
McKeel Hagerty is the CEO of Hagerty, a specialty provider of classic car insurance and lifestyle company headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan. The company has become well-known for the tremendous loyalty of their policyholders, who feel a kinship with the brand and its forever promise of helping classic car enthusiasts get the most enjoyment from their passion.
Renate Nyborg is an expert on globalization strategies for subscription-based business. Prior to her current role as General Manager of the EMEA region for Tinder, she spent many years helping two of the world’s biggest subscription companies and many small and fast-moving European subscription startups learn to compete on a global stage.
With subscription models, the acquisition is only the starting line. Organizations need to develop competency around onboarding new members, driving engagement, and expanding the relationship to maximize customer lifetime value. A whole new discipline has grown up around this idea of “Customer Success”, often replacing Customer Support, and with a radically different focus.
In mid-2020, Eric Roza bought CrossFit, Inc. from CrossFit founder and former CEO, Greg Glassman. The sale was first announced on June 24, 2020, just a few weeks after Glassman had resigned as CEO amidst a swirl of controversy. Eric took over as CEO at a critical time for a membership organization known for its cult-like following and devoted members. He brings tremendous experience and passion to CrossFit.
Today’s guest, Steve Cakebread, knows a great deal about subscription pricing models and IPOs. Steve has brought three notable subscription-based companies—Salesforce, Pandora, and Yext—to successful initial public offerings, or IPOs, and served on the board of three other subscription-based companies – eHealth, SolarWinds, and Bill.com – as those companies went public.
Scott Mordell was CEO of the Young Presidents Organization, or YPO, from 2011 through 2020. What is fascinating about YPO is how intensely engaged their community is. Members will move mountains to make sure they can attend their regular meetings, despite the fact that they’re among the busiest people in the world.
John Warrillow is the founder of The Value Builder System™, a simple software for building the value of a company used by thousands of businesses worldwide. A startup veteran himself, who’s started and exited four companies, these days John helps business owners build valuable businesses through his network of independent advisors known as Certified Value Builders.
Gina Bianchini brings her community-building and subscription expertise to this episode. She joins Robbie to discuss the role of community in building a broader Forever Transaction, why some communities go off the rails, and how to use community as a starting point for membership, before layering in other elements of value, like content, digital courses and subscription commerce.
Vena CEO Hunter Madeley joins Robbie to share best practices learned working at multiple B2B SaaS success stories. They discuss when it does and doesn’t make sense to pull out another company’s playbook, how to onboard for engagement and loyalty in a complex B2B environment, and his concept of “methodology before technology”.
Electronic Arts’ Mike Blank joins Robbie to talk about his journey bringing subscription to the world of gaming. They discuss the challenges of subscriptions in the gaming industry, how to encourage consumers to discover new content within the subscription, and how EA offers multiple consumer models to support their “player first” promise.
Jessie Teitz Becker, the SVP Marketing at Impossible Foods, brings her impressive marketing knowledge and expertise in forming long term recurring revenue relationships to Subscription Stories. She joins Robbie to discuss how Impossible is applying principles learned at subscription companies like Netflix, YouTube and Optimizely, best practices in introducing & building habits with a new product category, and why they launched an “every day” product at special occasion restaurant Momofuku.
Bain and Company’s Stu Berman joins Robbie to talk about what makes the Net Promoter System (NPS) Loyalty Forum itself so powerful for the members and for Bain. They also explore how the best organizations build customer-centricity into the fabric of their businesses, a core value of NPS. They discuss the value of creating a private community for senior executives across different companies to meet and discuss, how a subscription can be used to deepen relationships with key customers, and the importance of always listening to your customers first.
Charity: water’s MZ Goodman joins Robbie to share how she is applying subscription model best practices to a nonprofit. They discuss how MZ leverages content marketing and digital community strategies developed in her work at The New York Times, Glossier and goop to build a donation-based subscription model, how they’ve leveraged a single 20-minute video to raise millions, and how to think about a Forever Promise in the context of engaging donors.
Dan McCarthy, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, joins Robbie to share his expertise on the intersection of marketing and finance. They discuss why customer lifetime value is such an important and misunderstood metric, how to rethink the way companies are valued by the public markets, and what all of this means for subscription businesses.
Greg Piechota, Researcher-In-Residence at the International News Media Association, joins Robbie to discuss the increasing importance of subscriptions and reader revenue in a world of declining ad sales. They talk about the value of studying one industry to gain insight for another, new models for advertisers, and the importance of customer-centricity in any subscription business.
Anthony Napolitano, VP and General Manager of HP’s Instant Ink Subscription Service, joins Robbie to discuss his role as an intrapreneur, and what it’s like to be the subscription guy in a transactional business. They cover running a physical subscription business, ensuring customers get full value from their subscriptions, and managing a business in times of change.
Piper Rosenshein, VP Subscription Video Services at A+E Networks, shares her tips for creating a customer-centric approach and a lasting digital subscription model. Join Robbie and Piper as they discuss how to operationalize a digital subscription businesses, how to minimize cannibalization in a business that already has a successful model, and how to manage a recurring revenue business in a time of change.
“Everybody gets the free. But if you want the really good stuff, you cross the velvet rope and subscribe.” Adam Taggart, President and Co-Founder of Peak Prosperity, joins Robbie to talk about his tips for building a community of subscribers that will grow into superusers who generate content of their own. They discuss how to handle a spike in acquisition, building a lifestyle subscription business with no outside capital, and how to create a “tribe” of highly engaged members.
A good product manager “meets customer needs and solves customer problems and fuels the business”. Jennifer Mazzon, Chief Product Officer at Thrive Global, joins Robbie to discuss her experience as a product expert. They cover finding the right team, how to build digital subscription products, and the importance of customer-centricity and knowing who your superusers are.
“Life is too short to play vacation roulette.” Brad Handler and his brother Brent are vacation entrepreneurs who incorporate membership and subscription into their luxury travel service, Inspirato. Brad joins Robbie to discuss the importance of “celebrating failure” when innovating, how a strategic approach to real estate and data give Inspirato a unique advantage, and the power of a “people-as-a-service” structure to create strong member relationships.
“Our goal is to teach forever habits.” Joanna Strober has reimagined the youth weight loss industry through her wellness program, Kurbo. Tune in to hear Joanna talk with Robbie about the role of a human coach in a digital program, how to communicate with both parents and kids, and instilling habits in customers for the long term.