Why everything is a subscription

Why everything is a subscription


– When you show up and you’re like well, what’s your business plan? You’re like well, we sell robots. And they’re like, get out. (laughs) This needs to be a lot
more clear than that. – We were sitting with one of
these well respected funds, and my co-founder was running late. We were very nervous to meet them. Overall, I remember the part
of being very interested in the technology we were building. The problem, taking lots of notes, and I remember getting an
email after the meeting, and the email basically said something along the lines of love the product, it’s a worthy pursuit, but we’re not really interested unless you have a path to a recurring revenue stream of some sort. – I think it’s always risky
to change the business model. If you think about
Adobe, when they switched from buy once and own it, to essentially renting the software, people were up in arms ’cause
it felt like a betrayal. It felt like a real betrayal that at some point you were
able to own a software, and now you had to rent
a software from them. – Making just the gadget
doesn’t cut it anymore. Hardware creators have to not only build a brilliant tech product, but also find a sustainable business model that keeps cash flowing in
long after people buy a device. Subscription plans are everywhere, but why are they so
prevalent and so important to hardware startups now? (percussive music) – We literally needed
probably 100 million dollars. So that’s the thing that,
nowadays we’ve raised about 170, but at the very beginning we raised one, and we did five, and
then five, and then 10, and then 50 and a lot more, but it was very incremental. It was like let’s me see if
you can make this at all. – Adam Wilson is one of
the co-founders of Sphero, a connected toy company that
makes programmable robots. You’ve probably heard of them. The company came up through an
accelerator called Techstars which forced them to hone their business and think about how it
could be sustainable. Although the company still sells one-off robots to people like you and me, that’s only part of their business. Sphero has an entire team that’s dedicated to selling robots to schools
on a recurring basis. – We usually one 30 pack per school, sometimes more if it’s a school that will be doing it a lot, and that’s why the 30
pack needed to come in a little Pelican case with wheels that plugs into the wall for all of them because we realized again
if you ever watched, or had to help a teacher, that was a thing, get
involved with it for real, but we had to help teachers carry 30 of these boxes from this
class to this class, and then get ’em all out and charge ’em and you’re like oh my gosh, there’s no way this will work. – How many schools are you in? – About 40 thousand now. – Oh my gosh. – We’re in quite a bit of schools. That’s worldwide. So how did we make it so a, you can get professional
development on this, ’cause that was a huge question, it was like that’s great,
how do I teach this? And so professional development is a good recurring revenue. We do have a program, sort
of the unlimited program. So here’s your thing of 30, if any of ’em break for any reason, we’ll replace any of ’em all the time. – Have you guys pitched investors since education became a
big part of your business? – It’s changed a lot. When we first started, we got
laughed out of a lot of rooms. It was none of this other
cool stuff, no education, just hey man, we wanna make a robot ball, and you connect it to an
iPhone, and that’s the product. A lot of people did not, like what is that, I don’t get it. And a lot of investors nowadays wanna see a recurring revenue model because hardware sales are very, very challenging. – Businesses with the best economics are subscription businesses because there’s this low cost
at acquired the user, and then you’re making
money in a recurring revenue basis on that existent sunk cost. And the successful business
we’ve looked in this space, it’s always been hardware
sort as this Trojan horse for a software play of some sort. Lynq is what we affectionately
call a people compass, and what that means is
anywhere in the world, if you have one and I have one, it’s gonna give you a really simple arrow and distance that
updates in real time for working with ski
resorts, music festivals, amusement parks, and we recently launched a successful Indiegogo campaign. We hit 1.7 million in
revenue in two months, and sold 20 thousand
units in under 60 days. Because Lynq is unique in the sense that we are independent from phones or networks or apps or anything of that nature, we had to be a little more clever or creative about how we got
to that recurring revenue and that’s where that rev
share model came about where we’re licensing the hardware, and then rev sharing on the
rentals to the end customer. – Both Lynq and Sphero found a way to keep the cash coming in, but finding the best business
model for them wasn’t obvious. Haje Kamps is the director
of portfolio at Bolt, a hardware-oriented venture capital firm. He advises companies on how
to make their businesses work and how to make
themselves profitable. – I think really, what you end up looking
at with any business is how much money does it cost
you to acquire a customer. Now, for some companies,
that might be $100. So you spend $100 to get a customer, you haven’t made any money yet. The second part of that equation is how much money is that customer ultimately going to spend on your company. So if you spend $100 to acquire a customer and you make $80, you’ve lost 20 bucks. One half of that equation is usually known as CAC, or the customer acquisition cost, the other half of that if
the lifetime value, or LTV. And really what you try and do is to have a lifetime value of a customer that is big enough to be
a significant multiple over your customer acquisition cost, and if that works, then
basically you’ve made it. – Basically what Haje is saying is that it could take
$100 worth of Facebook, Instagram, and subway ads to finally convince someone to buy
a new $300 coffee maker. That $200 of revenue is about
as much as the coffee company is going to get out of that
customer maybe forever. People don’t upgrade their
coffee makers that often, and therefore these coffee companies need a way to get a more steady revenue. So, that coffee maker company could sell propietary coffee pods which are required to use the maker, and that serves as its
recurring revenue source. And it’s that additional revenue that eventually makes up for
that initial $100 ad spent, and then keeps cash flowing in. So to bring it back to Sphero and Lynq, they both found a different way to get that recurring revenue. Sphero’s education market allows them to sell robots to schools, while Lynq takes advantage
of a revenue sharing option by working with amusement parks and other big spaces that license the devices from the company, and then share the profit they receive when customers rent them. Basically, companies have gotten creative. – I think in the hardware
space there’s a couple of companies that really, really made it. I think Peloton is a really,
really good example of that. For one thing, ’cause it was a weird idea. It’s an exercise bike. Are people really gonna spend two grand, two and a half grand, whatever it is, on an exercise bike,
and on top of that spend 40, 50 bucks on a subscription every month to be able to ride that
bike you’ve already bought. It was a huge gamble. The thing that was actually turned out to be really interesting is that, if you think about the $400 exercise bike you can go to Costco and
buy, versus the Peloton, yeah the Peloton is nicer, but ultimately you get the same exercise. So the real value from
Peloton came from the content. I’m a massive media nerd, I think content is really important, and I think that is a way to build a real relationship with your customers. And so what they discovered was, we’re not a competitor
to the $500 Costco bike, we are a competitor to spin classes, to SoulCycle, to all those kind of things. And so, if we want to replicate
the SoulCycle experience, it isn’t the bike that makes it good, it is the fact that there is somebody at the front of your room pushing you that over time you build
a relationship with, who points at you and goes,
“Haje, you can do better!” Yes, I can do better! And you work a little bit harder. And what they were very good at doing was replicating that
experience in the home. – Armed with its subscription plan, Peloton is now reportedly looking to go public with an IPO. It’s said to be worth at
least eight billion dollars and to be profitable all thanks
to that recurring revenue. It’s obvious why investors want to see that constant cash flow. It ensures they’ll make more than they invested in the first place. – As a person who does invest, and I have other things
that look to investment, if you don’t have that recurring revenue, you are literally gonna spend a certain amount of money per robot or per device or whatever it is to sell them. Your market cost. And currently, in this world, that plus the build the materials for any hardware is
usually about the price that you can sell it for. So without the recurring revenue, you just can’t make a lot of money. If you want to, you could, but it’ll be a much slower business, and that’s not what VCs look for. I wanna see. (rocket sound effect) And so, you do need to build that in. I can’t imagine a robot or hardware or any other company that
takes off without it. You think of Nestor Ring or any of those people who are like, the hardware part, honestly pretty simple. Camera, wifi thing. The recurring revenue, the software, the access, the easy use,
there’s your company. – So I think what’s great about a lot of these subscription business and licensing is that
it kinda works better for both sides of the equation, especially in our case, the end user is getting this really low barrier to trying the product over and over again, it’s less capital to outlay, and then the business is able to generate better economics on the hardware, the assets that they built. As an end user, you’re paying this small, nominal monthly fee that
obviously does add up over the longevity of the product, but generally what that comes with is new updates, new products, the ability to use whatever is newest, and latest and greatest. – I think there are definitely hardware businesses that
can do perfectly fine without subscription models. Casper being an example,
they’re doing perfectly fine, but I think it all really boils down to the CAC to LTV arbitration. So how do you make sure that your lifetime value is high enough to make it worth acquiring the customers. And for a lot of companies,
I just think that means that unless you can figure out a way of having a subscription
model attached to that, it is very hard to meet that ratio that makes any sense. – I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to live in a world in
which I don’t own anything, and I soon might be able to find out. I can already rent my car,
my home, and my clothes, so why wouldn’t I rent my gadgets too? That might be one of the only ways to keep the hardware business alive. Hey there, thanks so much for watching this episode of In The Making. Stay tuned, May 14th is our final episode, so be sure to subscribe to The Verge so you don’t miss anything. Alright, we’ll see you later. Bye!