My name is Jordan Mackler and I am a co-founder of ScribeUp, heading our product, business development, and finance efforts (a lot, I know, welcome to Entrepreneurship). I’m a current MBA candidate at MIT Sloan, where I came looking to jump into the world of entrepreneurship.
I previously worked as a private equity investor at Endeavour Capital, where I focused on middle-market consumer/retail investments, and as an investment banker at Citi, where I focused on financial sponsor M&A transactions. I’ve jumped around geographically, living in New Jersey, Michigan, New York, California, and Massachusetts over the past 9 years.
Outside of my career, I’m a sports data nerd, world traveler (having been to 6 continents), an overly ambitious skier, and a Tik Tok addict.
Along with my co-founders from MIT Sloan, we have built ScribeUp, a B2C digital tool that automates the management of free trials and keeps a ledger of personal subscriptions, powered by a browser plug-in. Through a system of virtual cards and automated funding levels, we have built a product that allows consumers to freely explore digital services (e.g. Hulu, Spotify, Evernote), without the fear of an unwanted bill.
We are helping millennials who frequently sign up for and use digital services for entertainment, productivity, and personal purposes. One big pain point we encountered is the fear of forgetting a free trial. We discovered that people shy away from signing up for new services because they are already tired from all of the hassle of subscription management. Recent research shows that people waste on average $348 per year on subscriptions they aren’t using. As a result of this, more than two-thirds of people say the inconvenience of managing free trials and subscriptions has stopped them from signing up for new ones.
ScribeUp takes this pain away. We solve this issue of forgetting free trials and subscriptions with a Chrome extension. By generating virtual cards via Stripe, ScribeUp manages your free trials and gives you some peace of mind. At the end of the trial, you get a reminder, so you can decide to keep or cancel your free trial. Even if you forget to take action, you still won’t get charged. Your credit card stays safe. Finally, it’s all free.
We have hundreds of people on the waitlist. Our product is currently in beta, where we are working with our user champions. Moreover, we are currently in MassChallenge Accelerator’s 2021 cohort. We have been getting financial support from MIT’s Sandbox Innovation Fund. Finally, we are pre-revenue, aiming to make money in the future by helping service providers find their ideal users.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
All three of us come from different backgrounds before our MBA studies. I come from a finance background, having worked in Investment Banking at Citi in New York and Private Equity on the West Coast. Yohei comes from a software development background, having worked at Big Tech (Amazon), as well as at a couple of startups, after getting his Comp. Sci. degree from Harvard. Cinar comes from a management consulting background, having worked in several geographies at McKinsey.
During the first weeks of our MBA, we realized how hard it was to sign up for new subscription services. We were transitioning from working life to student life. Therefore, we needed to cancel a bunch of subscriptions (WSJ, HBOMax etc.), as well as sign up for new ones (Evernote, BlueBikes etc.).
Yohei, in particular, joined a school fantasy football league. So, he wanted to sign up for football news, a fantasy advice tool, and Live TV to watch the games. New to fantasy football, he tried out several services to test the right product but ended up getting stuck with a laundry list of unwanted subscriptions. He vowed to Cinar and me to “never sign-up for a subscription-free trial again.” However, the idea of shutting off the powerful world of digital services didn’t sit right with us all, so we started brainstorming...
We were all obsessed with entrepreneurship. We enrolled in the E & I Track (Entrepreneurship and Innovation) at MIT Sloan, started taking entrepreneurship courses, attended pitching events & competitions, and conducted primary market research (basically talked to people). We came up with product ideas, so we formed hypotheses around those ideas. We failed to prove our hypotheses several times by running experiments. Through this trial and error, we landed on the idea of building a Chrome extension that facilitates signing up for subscription service free trials.
Do you have an idea? Start talking to people of whom you think your idea will solve the problems.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We realized millennials, well, in general, everybody, hate getting caught with unwanted subscription bills. Yes, everyone is interested in saving money, naturally. But forgetting to cancel a subscription and getting caught or getting stuck is such a powerful motivator that people claim they hate subscriptions. The subscription business model is a healthy dynamic, who would not prefer being able to cancel a service at any given time in the future?
So, we had to fix this particular problem. We asked ourselves, how do we ensure that a user wouldn’t get caught with a subscription bill, even if they forget to cancel their subscription? The answer was a subscription management system that does exactly this. We wanted to build a product that would help sign up for subscriptions and provide safety to the user even if they forget to cancel. We pulled this off by using virtual cards and building a Chrome extension. This only limits us to desktop, however, we plan to be on mobile later.
Yohei, our CTO, quickly coded a basic Chrome extension that detects if a user is on a subscription service’s website (we built a database of services) and our extension pops up. We prompt the user to “activate a free trial” of that service and generate a virtual card via Stripe. This way, our user doesn’t have to use their credit card. At the end of the free trial, we block the payment charge to the user’s account. When the user clicks on “Keep”, our backend system dynamically changes the charging limits on the virtual card so the payment goes through. This was our very first MVP. We have designed all user interfaces and the UX ourselves, based on our experiences as a user of other services.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We tried a bunch of different things. First, we reached out to our networks from previous jobs and MIT. This was the cheapest option to get feedback from people outside of us three.
We tried paid to advertise, too. This was not necessarily to grow, but actually to get a sense of what works in terms of our messaging, landing page, and the product. We actively participated in discussions on Reddit, Discord, Slack to attract our first users. We shared a few posts on our blog and social media, just to have a foundation of our messaging out there when someone did their research.
Posting on Reddit has been very helpful to find early adopters. Those are people who always seek new and exciting tools and are eager to give feedback.
Email marketing has been very effective to engage an online community. We send regular emails to our waitlist users sharing our progress and asking for feedback. The positive responses that we received from them have been very helpful. We have a referral program in place that has been very effective, too. This creates a win-win situation for everyone. Our users get benefits for every friend they bring in, their friends get to use ScribeUp earlier than others and we get to save our marketing dollars.
One post on the r/chrome subreddit:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are extremely excited about the future of ScribeUp. Our MBA studies continue, meanwhile we want to focus on ScribeUp as much as school work and my co-founders’ visa situations permit.
As mentioned above, we are in closed beta. We iterate on our product every few weeks based on the feedback we receive from our users.
We have several hundred people on our waitlist and this number keeps growing at a reasonable rate. Our goal is to keep building the waitlist for several weeks more and launch the product to the public once we reach a certain satisfaction level.
Early metrics from the closed beta are promising. Our users are signing up for more free trials than they did before. In return, they are converting to paid plans at a higher rate than we were expecting. This will allow us in the upcoming weeks to start generating revenue. Initially, we will get in contact with affiliate networks. Our estimations are breaking even on a user in several months.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
It has been immensely helpful to think about “what problem are we solving?” at any activity we are performing. The idea of entrepreneurship is glorified on social media with all the glamour around raising money and exiting. But, the essence of it is rarely mentioned, which is solving an existing problem.
We have succumbed to several pitfalls along the way. We developed software without validating the idea behind it. Classic! That was a costly experiment when we first started. A couple of months later, we realized that we are not talking to our users enough. When we started talking with them again, we noticed how some of our assumptions were baseless. We had talked over some user problems a hundred times, so they became oft-told stories within the company. You don’t want that. You need new data (in this case user sentiment or feedback) funneling in the company and the product at all times.
No matter how cool your product is, it has to be at the right place just when someone needs it. So entrepreneurship is problem-solving.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- AWSservers for database management and our backend.
- Hubspot Marketing to perform marketing activities (email, social media, ads).
- Stripe to issue virtual cards and manage payments.
- Airtable to showcase our supported services on our website.
- Fiverr to find freelancers.
- Handshake to hire interns from MIT.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
We spent significant time reading and executing the framework in Bill Aulet’s book called Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup. It is a very precious resource for first-time entrepreneurs.
A couple of podcasts we loved:
- Guy Raz: How I Built This(particularly the episodes with Stitch Fix’s Katrina
- The Founder Hour: with Ryan Hudson, an episode called “Creating Honey Overnight to Save Money on Pizza”
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Have a bias for action! We could have spent months discussing ideas. It’s so easy to lose yourself in that stage. Once you start talking to people and testing some of your hypotheses, you quickly realize what you don’t know.
Do you have an idea? Start talking to people of whom you think your idea will solve the problems. If it’s relevant, maybe even offer your time replicating the product to give people value. You will find what works and what’s missing from the market faster than listening to a million podcasts.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for full-stack engineers, UX designers, and marketers (could be full-time or part-time). They would be working directly with the co-founders to build an amazing product. Previous experience in browser extensions or consumer-facing software would be great.
Where can we go to learn more?
The best place to start is our website!
You can also always reach out to us by sending an email to [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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