Hi, my name is Corinna Baldauf. In 2012, I had a month of free time between quitting my old job and starting at a new company. During that time I created Retromat. Before Retromat, it took me at least an hour to plan a retrospective, looking through various blogs for inspiration. I was sure that there must be a faster way to find a wide variety of ideas. AFAIK there wasn’t one at the time, so I built it. Retromat launched with 16 activities.
2014 came along and 2 things happened:
- I became a mom. From then on, my free time belonged to my daughter.
- Retromat became popular. With it came “community work”. People suggesting activities, asking questions, sending photos etc.
As someone interested in Open Source, I eventually recognized that I had landed myself in the Catch-22 that successful OS projects suffer from: You have a successful project. Yay, that’s awesome! People are using your brainchild. But it means community work (bug reports, pull requests, questions, contributors that need onboarding – if you’re lucky). Community work is not why you started the project. It’s mostly invisible work and takes away time to improve the original project.
In my case, community work soon became 95% of what I did. After a job and family I just didn’t have much energy left. What little energy I had went into answering emails – and feeling guilty about the ones I hadn’t answered yet… It took me months to answer emails.
I might sound ungrateful. I’m not! It’s still remarkable to me that so many people use their time to translate Retromat into 6 languages, suggest activities and so on. Still, in 2015 I realized that the current situation was not sustainable. (And we’re big fans of a sustainable pace over here in the agile camp, aren’t we ;))
Goal: Work part-time
You probably know the phrase “Time is Money”. The opposite is also true: “Money is Time” as in, “money can buy you time”. Money that the projects earn is money I don’t have to earn in my day job. If I want to have time and energy for my original projects (i.e. new activities and features for Retromat, new summaries, new blog posts), I have to find some way for the projects to support themselves.
Retromat is the only project with an audience big enough that it might pay for itself. So I started looking into possibilities to “monetize” with the goal of me going part-time at my regular job. Below I’ve listed the things I’ve tried or consciously decided not to try.
tl;dr: In a cruel twist of fate every monetization attempt paid about for as much time as it took me to implement it. But not for more. If I had taken the “monetization time” to create new content I’d probably have been happier. Creating is what makes me happy. Selling… not so much. Well, no use crying over spilt milk. Maybe someone can learn from my fails. If you’re not interested in the details, scroll past the boxes.
How have I tried to monetize? Let me count the ways:
Actually this one doesn’t really count: I’ve created the print edition before Retromat became popular. I wasn’t even sure I’d break even. I did. The Print Retromats are the only thing on this list that made serious money.
Upside: That pays for a nice holiday.
Downside: After a round of selling I really need that holiday! It’s largely manual labor. Each and every Print Retromat is hand-cut.
But Corinna, can’t you produce them pre-cut? Yes, but that completely changes the game for me. Right now I fall under a very nice VAT tax exemption for small businesses. For pre-cut Print Retromats I need to order much larger numbers and pay VAT, making them more expensive. Also lots more bureaucracy for me. And the risk of not knowing how big the market actually is. Could I sell 5000 Print Retromats without being able to give huge discounts to bulk orders? It’s complicated.
This one was the least effort to implement but also the lowest return. Donations were typically 5-10 dollars. A one-time-donation of 10 bucks every 2 weeks is not sustainable. Still, thank you donors! Especially to Steve who donated 50 bucks 🙂
To be fair, I never really pushed donations. AFAIR I’ve never even mentioned them on my newsletter. I was too ashamed. Donations feel like begging, not like being compensated for valuable work.
Next I thought I’d go big: Instead of asking lots of people for donations I’d ask a few companies for bigger amounts. Companies usually have more money than individuals. And on Retromat the audience is a very desirable niche. I know how much it costs to find a new employee via a head hunter -> a sponsorship on Retromat to find a new Scrum Master is a great bargain.
Sponsoring would be close to viable if we had a sponsor every month. Alas, we’ve had 1 per year. At least they’re both cool, worthy organizations! Thank you Emendare & Teammood.
This one is still around and does earn money. Unfortunately, I started selling the eBook around the time I exposed the newsletter more and subscribers skyrocketed. In most months the eBook pays for the Mailchimp account. So no extra time to work on projects either…
That’s all the monetization efforts I’ve tried so far. For completeness sake I’ll also list the options I rejected:
Considered and rejected
I don’t like ads. I use ad blockers. I’d prefer not to put them on one of my sites. And AFAIK the earning potential is very limited so not a big loss either.
Lots of people suggested Patreon. I perceive Patreon as a platform for individuals to support content creators. In contrast, I view Retromat as something that companies should pay for, since we use Retromat for our work.
Plus, Patreon is based on extra content for Patrons. I’m trying to carve out some time to create at all. When would I create that extra content?
A NATIVE APP
Lots of extra work and risk for very little expected pay-off: App prices are low and the potential audience is not big enough to off-set that. Plus, I don’t really know what an app could offer that the website couldn’t.
Many of the people who put out valuable content are freelance consultants. Sometimes I get the impression that this is the only viable way: Freelancers (in IT) usually get paid very good day rates. The difficult bit is getting hired. That’s why it makes perfect business / marketing sense to put content out there, have a newsletter, etc.
For me, as a full-time employee, it would be the other way around. I would go freelance to subsidize the time to create content under the risky assumption that it would be relatively easy for me to get jobs.
I’ve actually tried that route. I never advertised workshops or facilitation but when someone asked for one, I’d usually say yes. I like preparing for the engagement and the actual job. Judging from repeat bookings by customers, I’m good at it. But consulting is a very different lifestyle, including traveling, etc.
It doesn’t seem like a good trade-off to completely change my life just to make my side projects viable and “sensible marketing”. And most importantly I really, really like my job. It’s where most of my content ideas come from – grounded in long-term experience at the same (awesome!) place. This long-term perspective seems valuable to me. I like what I’m doing. I love my colleagues. I don’t want to stop working there. I’d just like to work fewer hours.
I always tried to monetize something “extra” although I think the most valuable thing Retromat has to offer is … Retromat itself! Think about it: What would you do without Retromat? How much time does it save you? How much better are your retros because you can find activities that fit to your team’s situation?
I’ve narrowly avoided burn-out earlier this year. Without my doctor I’d be burned-out right now. Something has to change. Either I stop having projects or I find a way for them to be sustainable, i.e. earn enough money. I’ll give it one last shot:
Does Retromat create enough value for you to support it on a regular basis? Take the poll:
[Update: As of October 2020 you can become a Retro Mate \o/]
If enough people pledge their support, I will implement payment and billing. There are lots of providers in the US, not so many in Germany. I’ll have to look around. The bill will look like a regular bill for a SaaS.
If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry, Retromat will stay free and online. My projects will freeze in the state they are right now. The amazing agile coach Timon Fiddike will continue to take care of the Retromat backend. Retromat translators can still work and we would add new translators, but that’s about it. Requests regarding new activities, photos, features, questions etc. get a polite “This project is not maintained anymore”-email. I just don’t have it in me anymore after a day’s work and family time with 2 children.
How can we help?
A number of people have offered their time to help. Thank you, I appreciate it! Unfortunately I can’t think of anything that I could easily hand over to someone else. And if I could, the handing over, keeping track of it, reminding people, … Managing other contributors is work, too and not the fun kind. So right now it’s down to money. If that ever changes, I’ll publish it here.
Money will help me tackle my huge backlogs: At least 30 activities for Retromat; features for Retromat (comments, anyone?); 50 ideas for Wall-Skills summaries; 40 topics for blog posts;
2 3 book outlines; projects like Lift-off-O-Mat, Planning-O-Mat; physical products like the Scrum Master Emergency Kit; …
My ideas are endless. Obviously I won’t be able to realize all of them. But looking at my track record, a lot of my ideas turn into realities given some time and space to breathe.
Thank you for reading and considering to support Retromat!
How much money has been pledged?
Update: As of October 2020 you can become a Retro Mate \o/
Update: As of Feb 5th, 2020, 40 people have pledged about 500 Euros. After deducting income tax and a realistic no-show-rate, this is not enough to take significant time off. At least, on its own.
But maybe the “time-off”-money doesn’t have to come from a single source: I’ve partnered with German consultancy it-agile for distributing Print Retromats. So part of the “time-off”-money will come from this source \o/
And I’m working on setting up a subscription / member system. Thank you and stay tuned.