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Subscription Stories: True Tales from the Trenches
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Subscription Stories: True Tales from the Trenches

Author: Robbie Kellman Baxter

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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.
29 Episodes
Pricing is one of the trickiest parts of building a successful subscription model. You want to make the model simple, transparent and easy-to-understand, but you also want it to be optimized for each customer, and of course to maximize revenue and profitability. It can be tempting to offer multiple tiers for different use cases, as well as promotions and add-ons. Before you know it, you have a complex mess.   Today’s guest, Xiaohe Li, is an expert on subscription pricing, with experience at organizations including Apple, VMware and now GitLab.    In our conversation, we cover what Xiaohe learned about pricing in the Membership Economy at three dramatically different organizations, how to balance the “art” and the “science” of good pricing strategy, and what Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has to teach us about pricing innovation.   Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
Launching something new is always tricky. It can be especially challenging be entrepreneurial inside a global brand like Nike. You want to align with the broader goals of the organization while also staying nimble and creative. When you’re also introducing subscription models into a transactionally oriented organization, the stakes are even higher. 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.   Today Dave is a co-founder of Unbrkble, an organization that helps start ups and scaling businesses stay close to their customers as they launch and scale their own businesses.   In this interview, Dave and I talk about how to start small with your subscription offering while thinking big, incorporating sustainability into an eCommerce strategy, and best practices for defining your subscription MVP.   Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
Many businesses struggle to decide what should go behind the paywall, and what should be free. Some experts say nothing should be free. But monetization expert Elena Verna of Reforge has come to believe in the power of “free” through her work with organizations including Miro, Survey Monkey and Malwarebytes. In her conversation with Robbie Kellman Baxter, Elena explains organizations can benefit from free trials, freemium offers and even free surprises. She also talks about the emerging discipline of “growth", and why everyone needs to be more data driven. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
How much content is too much? If you have really honed down to your ideal audience, the answer is there will never be enough. Indeed, you have to practically create a content machine to support the needs of your avatar because they would simply love it! 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. John started EntrepeneurOnFire out of that need. Since launching in 2012, the podcast has interviewed over 3000 people, including Tony Robbins, Tim Ferris, Barbara Corcoran, Gary Vaynerchuk, and this show’s host, Robbie Kellman Baxter. The podcast has gathered over 100 million listens over the same time. Over the years, John has incorporated courses, community, journals and other experiences, layering in more ways to help his members thrive. He recently launched a new book, The Common Path to Uncommon Success. In this short and sweet conversation, John and Robbie talk about how he has evolved his offerings over time in support of his avatar, "Jimmy", why he wrote his new book and how he has been able to build a content creation machine to serve the ongoing needs of his members. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
Now that you have launched your subscription model, it’s time to operationalize your business. For this, you will need a real team, systems to support your processes, and metrics to let you know how the business is doing. This episode’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. Joining Robbie Kellman Baxter on the show, Matt shares how he scaled VMP from a labor of love for a few fellow music fans to a multimillion-dollar business, how he operationalized the business without losing the personal touch, and how he recognized when the time was right to step back as founder. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
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. Alli Harper works at the intersection of subscription eCommerce and social impact. Dedicated to the advocacy of promoting diversity in the picture book industry, Alli is building OurShelves, a scalable enterprise that serves the underestimated audience for diverse children's books. Trained as a lawyer and community organizer, Alli launched the business from her kitchen table in the home she shares with her wife Jenn and their two children. Host Robbie Kellman Baxter featured Alli’s launch story in her recent book, The Forever Transaction. She now invites her to the podcast to share the way she is using her subscription business to persuade publishers to include more diverse families in the everyday stories they tell in their children’s books. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
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. Host Robbie Kellman Baxter met McKeel when she was helping the company as they prepared to launch the Hagerty Drivers Club. In this episode, they talk about how this insurance company has transformed into a lifestyle organization with a powerful membership offering by focusing on their forever promise. They also discuss how Hagerty has nurtured, engaged and celebrated their Superusers – those people who go beyond just being loyal subscribers and contribute their own time, resources and skills to support the Hagerty Brand.   Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
As subscription organizations scale, one of the trickiest challenges they face is entering international markets. While they often focus first on things like managing local currency, translating copy into local languages, and ensuring compliance with local regulations around privacy, securities and recurring billing, these tactical steps are only table stakes. It takes much more than that to truly localize the subscription experience for a particular region. Today, host Robbie Kellman Baxter and her guest talk about what it really takes to grow your subscription rapidly outside of your home country. 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. In this wide ranging conversation, Robbie and Renate discuss how to staff your first international program, the biggest mistakes American subscription businesses make when scaling into Europe, and the most powerful secret to increasing lifetime customer value, not just in Europe, but everywhere. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
With subscription models, acquisition is only the starting line. Organizations need to develop competence around onboarding new members, driving engagement, and expanding the relationship to maximize customer lifetime value. A whole new discipline has grown around this idea of "customer success," often replacing customer support, and with a radically different focus. Customer success is about proactively ensuring that subscribers get the value they're paying for. On this episode, Robbie speaks to Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, often called The Customer Success Company. Nick is both an expert on the emerging discipline of customer success and the leader of a SaaS company that is forever dedicated to a promise of “helping businesses develop deep and lasting relationships with their customers.” They explore the secrets of customer success—what it is, why its growth so closely aligns to the rise of subscription-based businesses and Saas specifically, and how a customer success orientation can help dramatically increase your customer lifetime value, a key metric in the membership economy. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
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. Robbie Kellman Baxter invited Eric to the show because she's been fascinated by CrossFit since her sister and brother-in-law discovered it in 2010. She wrote about how CrossFit develops superusers, members so committed and passionate that they spend their own money and time for the good of the brand, in her book, The Membership Economy. In this episode, Eric and Robbie talk about how to right a membership culture after a crisis, walking that fine line of rebuilding the organization while not losing what had made it great, and bringing together a broad group of stakeholders around a new forever promise. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
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 - as those companies went public. Steve is frequently sought-out for his advice on IPOs, often fielding three or more requests in a single week. He decided to put his advice on the subject into a new book, The IPO Playbook: An Insider’s Perspective on Taking Your Company Public and How to Do It Right. On today’s show, Steve sits down with Robbie Kellman Baxter for a discussion on why investors love subscriptions, how to take your subscription business public, what it takes to build a solid foundation, and how to tell your subscription story in a way that investors will understand.   Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
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. Many of them even qualify as “Superusers”—host Robbie Kellman Baxter's word to describe members who go beyond just being good paying members, and actually contribute significant time and money of their own to benefit the organization. In this conversation, Robbie and Scott discuss the processes YPO has developed to attract, engage and retain CEOs around the world, the surprisingly friction-laden process they use to onboard new members, and the reason so many members become superuser. Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
Growing a business takes a lot of effort and time investment. So when the time comes to exit, it would be a waste not to harvest the value you’ve created. So how do you get the ultimate reward for selling your business? Today, host Robbie Kellman Baxter sits down with John Warrillow, the founder of The Value Builder System™. John and Robbie first met when John published The Automatic Customer around the same time as Robbie released her bestseller, The Membership Economy. They bonded over a shared belief in the value of businesses that were optimized around recurring revenue and long-term relationships with customers. John is launching a new book, The Art of Selling Your Business. In it, he connects the dots about why subscription businesses are so valuable, how to optimize business processes and dashboards to create more value, and how to determine what your own business is actually worth. Tune into this episode to learn how to maximize the value of your own subscription business.   Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! Here’s How » Join the Subscription Stories Community today: Twitter Facebook
Get ready for another season of Subscription Stories: True Tales from the Trenches. This season, I've interviewed guests like Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, about building a customer-centric organization, Steve Cakebread, a serial CFO, who has shepherded IPOs of companies like Salesforce, Autodesk, Yext, and Pandora, and Eric Roza, my business school classmate as well as the new owner and CEO of the fitness and training empire, Crossfit. And that's just the beginning. We'll also have stories from a subscription box entrepreneur, the CEO of a family-based insurance business with a rabid fan base, and the head of the Young President's Organization, or YPO on building a global community of senior leaders.  
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. Highlights from this episode: 1:57 - Why Gina decided to create another online community platform after leaving Ning 5:40 - The distinction between launching a subscription company, and an ad-based one 8:20 - The Myth of More - why content is not always the answer 11:36 - Subscription Overwhelm and how to avoid it 13:00 - How MightyNetworks defines “community” 15:47 - Knowing when not to build a community 16:39 - How COVID turned a community from social running to career networking 18:12 - The importance of focusing on helping a customer achieve their goal, not consume a product 22:26 - Two common mistakes when building a community 23:25 - The right resources and structure for starting that nascent community 26:26 - MightyNetwork’s extra easy approach to onboarding 31:21 - Story Time: how a group of Cacao Growers built a MightyNetwork of their own 33:10 - Gina’s advice for entrepreneurs and executives who are sitting on the sidelines of community 34:48 - Robbie’s Speed Round Gina's Bio: Gina Bianchini is the Founder & CEO of Mighty Networks, an online platform that serves “creators with a purpose.” Creators can offer experiences, relationships, and expertise to their members via community, content, online courses, and subscription commerce. All of these features are offered in one place, under the creator's brand. In addition to Mighty Networks, Gina serves as a board director of TEGNA, a $3 billion broadcast and digital media company. Under Gina’s leadership, her prior company, Ning, grew to 100 million people in 300,000 active social networks across subcultures, professional networks, entertainment, politics, and education. Gina received a BA and MBA from Stanford University. Links: Gina’s LinkedIn: Gina’s Email: Oiselle Community: Mighty Networks: Robbie’s Membership Economy Lab: Robbie’s Book THE FOREVER TRANSACTION: Robbie's Website:
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”.   Highlights from this episode:   2:12 - Vena’s Forever Promise and business model 5:00 - The role community plays at Vena 8:29 - - Vena’s hub for community engagement 10:09 - Using a “methodology before technology” mindset to improve the customer’s journey 16:27 - Making sure the software follows through on its Forever Promise to the customer, the buyer, and the user 19:23 - How Vena’s onboarding process begins before the customer makes the purchase 21:50 - Vena’s “time to value” metric 24:00 - Balancing the needs of the salesperson and the customer 25:13 - When focusing on revenue can be counterproductive to creating a Forever Transaction 28:19 - How to analyze data in a productive and unbiased way 31:14 - Robbie’s Speed Round   Hunter's Bio: Since 2019, Hunter Madeley, a serial SaaS entrepreneur, has served as the CEO of Vena. There, he continues his track record of leading transformational growth at some of the cloud’s most important companies. Prior to Vena, he was at HubSpot, where as chief sales officer he led annual revenue growth from $80 million to $600 million in just five years. His 20-year career also includes sales and growth leadership roles at ADP and   Links: Hunter’s LinkedIn: Vena: Robbie’s Book THE FOREVER TRANSACTION: Robbie's website:
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. Highlights from this episode: 2:15 - EA’s journey to subscription and why subscription models are particularly challenging in the gaming industry 8:00 - How EA used their “player first” mindset to create a subscription that would not cannibalize their business 11:29 - The importance of giving subscribers a taste of the product that leaves them wanting more 12:50 - EA Play’s ideal customer 16:47 - The metrics EA used to measure success, and the key data point for tracking returning customers 18:58 - Why helping a customer discover more content is so critical in a subscription business 21:53 - How EA shares subscription data across the company without distracting from other “player first” projects. 24:45 - How to tackle pricing in the gaming world and how EA chose its pricing model 30:16 - How to create a subscription that is beneficial from both a business and a “player-first” standpoint 33:29 - Mike’s advice for someone tasked with bringing subscription to a transactional or episodic business 35:51 - Mike’s advice for creating something evergreen within a “hits” or season based industry 37:21 - Robbie’s Speed Round   Mike's Bio: Mike Blank is EA’s SVP of Player Network. In this role, he oversees how the company enables players to connect together, discover games and evolve to new distribution models. Mike is responsible for building teams, providing vision, and helping to invent the next generation of EA including the consumer platform and subscription-based products. Before his 18+ years with EA, Mike worked in law. He received a BA from McGill University and a JD from The University of British Columbia. Links: Mike’s LinkedIn: EA Play, EA’s subscription service: Robbie’s Book THE FOREVER TRANSACTION: Robbie's website:
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.   Highlights from this episode: 2:17 - The birth of Impossible Foods 4:24 - How Impossible earned its credibility through the famous restaurant empire, Momofuku 6:21 - Why the product, and not the marketing, is the key to creating repeating consumer habits 9:25 - How to build customer loyalty through an “easy out” 12:00 – Impossible Foods’ key to restaurant success: ensuring every employee gets a taste of their meat 15:33 - The milestones and metrics Impossible looks for 18:38 - How COVID rocked the food industry - and what Impossible did to battle it 21:03 - Why Impossible Foods made the jump to direct-to-consumer shipping 23:50 - What Impossible Foods learned from launching their own ecommerce direct to consumer 26:36- The magic of free shipping 29:10 - The ideal Impossible customer 32:45 – Impossible Foods’ loyalty program Taste Place, and how Impossible is building their Forever Transaction 39:26 - Robbie’s Speed Round   Jessie's Bio: Jessie Teitz Becker is a marketing executive based in Silicon Valley. She is currently the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Impossible Foods where she leads the B2B and B2C marketing, insights, and brand marketing teams. Jessie began her career at Netflix in 2000 as one of the first people hired in the marketing department, and eventually rose to interim Chief Marketing officer. She then joined Optimizely, a B2B software company, as Chief Marketing Officer and later served as the Director of Marketing at Google and YouTube. Jessie holds a Bachelor’s in History from the University of Pennsylvania, a Bachelor’s in Economics from The Wharton School and an MBA from Stanford University, where she was an Arjay Miller Scholar.   Links: Jessie’s LinkedIn: Impossible Foods: Podcast Website: Robbie’s Book THE FOREVER TRANSACTION:
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. Highlights from this episode: 4:10 - How the NPF Loyalty Forum remains an open environment for members to speak about their companies without holding back 10:08 - The origin story of the forum - how Fred Riechheld’s book lead to one of the most powerful discussion rooms 12:50 - How the forum has created a community that members never want to leave 15:00 - Subscription as a marketing tool or strategic element 16:17 - The benefits offered by the forum to keep its high-profile members engaged and open 19:20 - Stu gives a look inside the Loyalty Forum and the types of conversations that its members love so much 24:10 - Changes in the world of NPS and securing loyal subscribers over the past decade 28:03 - Stu’s advice for smaller firms and subject matter experts on creating a community around their practice or expertise 31:10 - Robbie’s Speed Round   Stu's Bio: Stuart Berman currently runs the NPS Loyalty Forum at Bain & Company where he works to build forever relationships with customers, employees, and partners. He spent the early years of his career as a management consultant at Bain before becoming General Manager of Intuit’s online store. He then worked in startup companies for a number of years before going to work as a Group Product Manager at eBay. Stu obtained a BA with a dual major of Economics and Mathematics/Computer Science from Wesleyan University and an MBA from Stanford University. He has over 20 years of business management and development experience. Links: Stu’s LinkedIn: Bain and Company’s NPS Loyalty Forum: Robbie’s Website: Robbie’s Book THE FOREVER TRANSACTION:
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. Highlights from this episode: 2:00 - The birth of The Spring, charity: water’s subscription program 5:44 - Why a mission is the most important factor for attracting subscribers 7:15 - The importance of building a brand based on quality over charisma 11:00 - How to lure customers in with emotion, and make them stay through strong relationships 15:00 - Why charity: water is allowing subscribers to press “pause” during the COVID-19 pandemic to combat high churn rates 17:26 - Ways for nonprofits to allow members to remain active without opening their checkbooks 19:00 - MZ’s advice for product leaders who want to transition to the nonprofit world 20:24 - the differences between building a community at a news company, a make-up company, and a nonprofit 24:20 - Robbie’s Speed Round MZ's Bio: MZ Goodman is a product and marketing executive with expertise in digital products and subscriptions. MZ began as the Product Management Executive Director for The New York Times in 2007, managing the digital product team as the company first created its online subscription product. From there, MZ joined Ralph Lauren as Product Management Senior Director and was then recruited to join the leadership team at goop. After goop, MZ joined Glossier as Vice President of Digital and Business Insights. She now serves as Senior Vice President of Subscription at charity: water where she oversees consumer and subscriber revenue. MZ earned a BA in journalism from Boston University and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Links: MZ’s LinkedIn: Charity: water’s The Spring: Robbie’s Website: Robbie’s Book THE FOREVER TRANSACTION:
Comments (1)


I strongly recommend Robbie Kellman books and podcasts to increase your knowledge about The Membership Economy and subscription businesses. Particularly, the one featuring Renate Nyborg from Tinder is very insightful for NA companies trying to go global.

Mar 8th
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