Rather than pivoting, it’s sometimes the case that tech startups launch a new product alongside their original one after gathering customer feedback. That’s the move the Ballymena, Northern Ireland-based cofounders of Nine, a new ecommerce platform designed to simplify the process of selling product-based subscription services online, banked on.
Almost two years ago, Pete Hawkins and Scott Wylie launched PayHere, a tool that lets people set up and take payments online. It was designed as an easy way to help people who offer services charge for their time without having to chase invoices every month. However, as Scott explains, the platform began to increasingly attract users who wanted to sell physical products – and they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“People kept coming to us wanting to sell candles or coffee beans despite us telling them that PayHere wasn’t suitable for that,” Scott says. “We directed them to Shopify and other options out there, but the feedback we got was that those services were still too complicated for their needs – they just didn’t have the money, time or expertise.”
Having formerly founded the software house Alt Labs, a Shopify partner, Pete and Scott had prior experience in building subscription-based applications for clients and understood the complexities involved. In Nine – which has launched in the UK and Ireland alongside the US and Canada – they spotted an opportunity to create a new tool with native subscriptions at its core. Their goal was to make setting up a product-based online store as easy as creating a social media profile.
“We learned a lot from PayHere, and the best feedback that we got was that people like its simplicity, which we’ve carried over to Nine.” says Scott. “We’re calling it express commerce for subscriptions – you just add your logo, a description about your business and your products, and you can be up and selling in about 20 minutes.”
Nine’s interface allows product information to be added such as brand, category, description and variants (colour or size), in addition to images. Products can be sold with monthly or weekly pricing. Its simplicity is such that anybody who has ever sold something on Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or eBay will feel instantly at home.
Due to its simplicity, Scott says that businesses can easily run Nine alongside their existing Shopify (or equivalent) ecommerce offerings to add subscriptions to their armoury and bring in extra revenue each month.
“With everything going on with Covid, a lot of local businesses are still operating but haven’t been getting footfall,” he says. “They’re still making money, but they can assure themselves of a little bit more income each month by using Nine. On the other side of it, for individuals who think their job might be at risk, now is the perfect time to set up a store and take that risk that they’ve always wanted to take.”
Nine, which gets its name from the number of product subscriptions that can be offered on its base plan (that’s nine, then), starts at $9 per month plus 2% of transactions. Plans for a higher tier allowing for a larger product catalogue are in the works. Nine uses Stripe to process transactions in the back-end, allowing users to create payment links to share with customers without technical knowledge.
“For individuals who think their job might be at risk, now is the perfect time to set up a store and take that risk that they’ve always wanted to take.”
The two cofounders plan to educate Nine’s customer base on best practices around offering subscriptions – from adding new customers to looking after existing ones over time. Covid-19 has already accelerated digital transformation across the UK, and Pete predicts that the same will happen for subscriptions.
“Covid-19 has pushed businesses to modernise, and I think that’s even more so for the subscription economy,” he says. “Despite what’s going on in the world, it’s never been a better time to do business because everybody’s looking for solutions to cut down on paying in cash and being in close contact with other people.”
Having had chats with VCs located on the US’s West Coast, Nine’s cofounders have decided to take the bootstrapped route. Pete says that the pair are “fiercely ambitious” and are betting on themselves to grow the business, fuelled by profits made from Alt Labs’ previous agency work.
“There’s certain ideas and teams that might need investment, but even if we did take on funding, we would still be doing the same exact thing that we’re doing now,” says Pete. “We’re not going to take on a £2m Seed round to burn through when we have the technical expertise in-house.”
“The VC stuff is a game in all respects – and that’s fine if you’re if you know what you’re getting yourself into, but essentially it would take one of us to go out and be a full-time fundraiser,” he adds. “We’re just trying to do things a different way that we think is better for us.”
With economic uncertainty set to last for some time, Nine has the opportunity to grow along with its customer base. Encouraged by the self-belief of its cofounders, that’s something we can subscribe to.
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