Earlier today, our CEO and Founder, Josh Payne, officially announced the launch of Skillwise Pro, the first online course bundle subscription service.
“Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Skillwise Pro, the first build-your-own bundle online course subscription platform. Skillwise Pro offers students a selection of nine exclusive, curated courses each month and allows them to choose the three that best suit their personal and career goals. The concept of the bundle, or a collection of courses sold for one discounted price, is certainly not new to our customers. We’ve sold over 1.5 million course bundles to students worldwide, delivering courses on skills ranging from coding to design to marketing to poker.”
Not only are we excited to offer this unique subscription service to students worldwide, but we’re thrilled to deliver an additional revenue stream to our community of online instructors. Now including over 400 instructors in a diverse array of specialties from coding to drawing to business, our community of course creators inspired us to pursue course bundles as a subscription service.
“We’ve paid our instructors over $15 million in earnings and counting, and look forward to watching that number soar with the addition of Skillwise Pro,” noted Payne.
Read more on the launch here and browse the new app here.
StackCommerce Named to Built in LA’s 100 Best Places To Work In Los Angeles
At StackCommerce, we take great pride in the work environment and team we’ve built, which is why we’re thrilled to be included in Built In LA’s impressive list of Angelino companies for 2018! Released earlier this month, Built In LA’s list of the 100 Best Places To Work In Los Angeles is created based on a combination of compensation and benefits — from medical, dental, and vision coverage to our packed calendar of culture events. The complete rankings will be released in January.
This award is a testament to our commitment to building a passionate team of individuals that’s always ready to work hard and play hard. And since we’re on the subject, here’s a taste of what the HR and culture team’s been up to this summer:
Team Dodger Game
The team braved the 10 freeway for a night of Dodger dogs, micheladas, and LA’s favorite boys in blue. The Dodgers pulled off a victory, making the Stack team undefeated in appearances at Chavez Ravine!
Our annual all-day offsite led us up PCH for a sunny day in Topanga Canyon! This year, we spent time sharing individual department accomplishments and goals with the larger group, with an overarching theme of #oneteam. As always, we walked away well-fed, exhausted, and inspired to tackle Q4!
Perhaps most importantly, we’re excited to announce that Stack HQ has expanded! We love our prime location right next to the Venice boardwalk, but space was at a premium as our team continues to grow. Luckily, we were able to take over the adjacent space and are happily moved into our expanded office.
Case Story: How VPN Unlimited Sold Over 237k VPN Subscriptions
Marketing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is no cakewalk in 2018 — but imagine the task at hand four years ago when VPNs were a foreign concept to most. A secret server that takes your invisible data and does what exactly? Where would you find the right audience? How would you even begin to explain such a complex subject within the confines of a simple ad unit?
This dilemma is what sparked the partnership between KeepSolid (and their product, VPN Unlimited) and StackCommerce. Four years later, the two have sold over 237k subscriptions to VPN Unlimited and KeepSolid has expanded its offering to six products. But let’s pause there and start at the very beginning, shall we?
Designing a Content Marketing Plan
In August of 2014, KeepSolid, a productivity and privacy protection software company, was looking to expand its product portfolio into digital information security. Long before Equifax, Target, and the daily data breach news reel, there was still a demand, albeit more niche, for an online consumer security solution. In other words, people were seriously skeptical about using the internet, especially in public places.
Vasyl Ivanov, CEO of KeepSolid, noted “existing VPNs were complicated and expensive, so we decided to create a user-friendly, easy-to-use — and at the same time affordable — solution.” The idea was there, but the lean team had no dedicated marketing resources for the service, and enlisted StackCommerce to help get it off the ground.
Reaching New Audiences
Turns out that StackCommerce’s publisher partners provided the perfect ecosystem of engaged readers, starting with tech sites like Engadget, Cult of Mac, and Macworld, to grow the VPN’s user base. Through the distribution of advertorial content ranging from 200-1,000 words, each personalized to individual publisher audiences, KeepSolid was able to fully explain the value of a VPN as a solution to a very serious, growing problem.
Not only did they connect with targeted groups of iOS enthusiasts from Stack’s Apple-centric publishers, but they quickly realized an interest in the Android, Windows, and Linux communities, as well — allowing them to prioritize building alternative client apps without significant risk. Later, they started connecting with men’s lifestyle publications. News outlets. Women’s lifestyle blogs. People recognized they weren’t safe from hackers and everyone is ultimately interested in protecting themselves.
Finding a Content Angle
KeepSolid elevated its success even further by curating a “lifetime” deal to be offered exclusively on StackCommerce’s network. That’s when they struck gold. Lifetime access?! You’ll never have to worry about hackers again?! There’s the story — and publisher audiences were ready and willing to get onboard. This deal alone accounted for over half of the overall sales (164k units), thanks to the unique, newsworthy angle.
But we don’t just love this story because of the numbers. We partner with new-to-market brands every day in hopes that they will see the same success as KeepSolid. “The partnership with StackCommerce gave us the chance to make a leap to the next level of quality and performance as well as invest in new projects. We had big expectations from StackCommerce. They surpassed them,” said Ivanov. Music to our ears. Are you ready to become the next KeepSolid? Contact our Sales Department today firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Introducing Our New Vice President Of Sales: Natalie Tarpinian
We’re pleased to announce the newest member of the StackCommerce executive team: Natalie Tarpinian. Natalie is a key addition at a timely moment here at StackCommerce, and a reflection of our success in Q1 and Q2 of 2018. Most notably, she will be spearheading our recently-launched media division, StackMedia, which provides brands yet another tool to reach highly-engaged audiences directly on the sites they visit most.
Natalie brings over 15 years of experience serving in leadership positions at a wide range of media and ad tech companies, including SitePoint and BuySellAds. Her proven track record in building and scaling sales organizations is the perfect recipe for taking Stack to the next level.
I sat down with Natalie to pick her brain on adtech, her very first job, and the future of StackMedia.
Katy: What inspired you to join StackCommerce?
Natalie: I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with StackCommerce over the years, and it’s been incredibly impressive to watch their offering evolve into a diverse portfolio of solutions for advertisers and publishers. When I was given the opportunity to join the team and build out the new media division, StackMedia, I jumped at the chance!
Katy: You have an impressive array of experience in the ad industry. What excites you most about our offering in particular?
Natalie: StackCommerce’s core strength is creating compelling content that moves readers to purchase products and services on their favorite websites. Extending that solution to include media is a natural progression.
It’s no secret that the shifting media landscape has created challenges for stakeholders on both sides of the business. Publishers must consistently create entirely new sources of revenue, and advertisers must find creative ways to reach their target audience. StackCommerce is able to provide a well-rounded solution that speaks to both sides.
Katy: What do you think is the “next big thing” for the industry?
Natalie: We’ve moved beyond surface metrics into an era of content marketing. Marketers will become laser-focused on reaching the right people, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. More specifically, they will be looking for relevant content that is custom-created for their target audience. This makes distribution and engagement strategies essential.
Katy: What was your first job, and what lessons do you still use in your day-to-day?
Natalie: My first job was actually in radio sales. When selling radio advertising, knowing your audience, the station, and your client’s needs is vital.
Katy: What keeps you up at night?
Natalie: Easy: the ever-changing media landscape. I’m excited to join a like-minded organization that isn’t afraid to evolve with the times.
The State of Native Commerce: Publishers Are Opening for Business
The times are a’changing in the world of commerce for publishers. Just this May, Digiday held a Hot Topic Conference in New York City devoted to the subject of commerce alone. It’s clear that publishers are hungry to replicate the success of their peers like Gizmodo Media Group and Business Insider, and to fill the growing revenue gap caused by a shifting digital landscape ruled primarily by Facebook and Google. Commerce for publishers is no longer a foreign concept as it was only a few years ago when we first launched our white-labeled shop product. But let’s skip the nostalgia, and move right to the state of publishers and commerce today in 2018.
Affiliate Rules, But Proceed with Caution
As part of the above-mentioned Hot Topic conference, Digiday surveyed 53 publisher executives on commerce initiatives. Of those publishers, just over half reported that at least 75% of commerce revenue came from affiliate programs.
And for good reason. When it comes to harvesting a new commerce strategy, affiliate commerce is the most straightforward path to revenue. More and more brands are offering direct affiliate links, which leaves publishers tasked with a familiar role: producing content and linking to products that will interest their readers. Simple, right?
Not so fast. Affiliate revenue streams, while relatively easy to implement, can amount to pennies and dimes when you subtract the cost of an expanded editorial team. Affiliate margins are notoriously small; Digiday reports that Dotdash’s affiliate commissions were as low as 2 or 3 percent. In addition, there are well-documented issues with purchase attribution on mobile that further depresses effective commissions for publishers. And while producing a higher volume of content may appear to be the solution, publishers are then left with the cost of growing full editorial teams devoted to writing commerce articles. Buzzfeed reported a full-time commerce team consisting of 19 writers last November. Scaling commerce content in an efficient, revenue positive way — while remaining faithful and authentic to the core mission and voice of the brand — is the needle publishers are attempting to thread.
Amazon Is Risky
Where does Amazon, the king of all e-commerce, fit into all this? While Amazon may be the most obvious choice for quickly scaling a commerce program, publishers are beginning to grow weary of depending on digital behemoths for consistent revenue. Just consider how much a single Facebook newsfeed algorithm change rocked the online publisher landscape this past January.
Instead, publishers are looking to lean into their strength: the readers, i.e. the fans. As Christopher Vollmer put it, “Fans watch more, listen more, participate more, share more, advocate more, and create more. Most important, fans spend more.“
This is where owned stores and proprietary merchandise come out to play.
Developing Publisher-Owned Stores
Increasingly, publishers are opening their own online stores in hopes of forging an even tighter bond between themselves and their readers. Of the publishers surveyed, Digiday reported that 40% have an online store.
Proprietary shops not only allow publishers to sell products in line with their site ethos, but to engage their readers in a complementary manner. POPSUGAR recently announced a branded makeup line, doubling down on their time-earned reputation as a beauty expert amongst its readers. theCHIVE has owned the t-shirt game since 2011.
But not all publisher shops have been Cinderella stories. A significant handful of publishers have tried and failed at the e-commerce game due to the high-cost and logistical nightmare of running an e-commerce shop. Merchandising, operations, customer service, shipping — opening a shop means essentially opening a new business, and new businesses can fail.
Where Does StackCommerce Fit In?
The above challenge is exactly what drives our team to do what we do. We fill the gap. We offer publishers of all sizes the branded shop — and even the content — so they can scale their commerce efforts while focusing on their actual core business of creating great content. With seven years of experience in e-commerce, and extensive data, we’re able to provide a custom shop experience (site design, merchandising, operations, customer service, etc.) for our publisher partners with virtually no risk. And best yet, we’re able to offer much more attractive economics compared to typical affiliate, which can make a significant net impact on their monetization portfolio.
We’ve been riding the eb and flow of the commerce wave since the beginning, and are incredibly inspired to see the success publishers are having within the past year. There’s no place we’d rather be than helping publishers succeed financially so they can continue to provide valuable content to their readers every day. With all the rapid change, the question is: what will 2019 have in store for us?
StackCommerce’s Own Josh Payne Named Semifinalist for EY 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year
Update: Josh Payne has been named a finalist in the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Greater Los Angeles Awards program! Stay tuned for more updates on Twitter @stackcommerce.
Six years ago, Stack’s CEO and Founder Josh Payne put everything on the line to launch what’s now known as StackCommerce — and from his living room nonetheless. He inspires the StackCommerce team with his infectious entrepreneurial spirit every day, which is why we’re so pleased to announce that he was selected as a semifinalist for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2018 Greater Los Angeles Region Award! Josh was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Greater Los Angeles Region Award, making this his second consecutive semi-finalist nomination.
“I’m incredibly honored to be in the company of such inspiring entrepreneurs from across Los Angeles. There’s no shortage of awards to strive for, but celebrating and encouraging entrepreneurship is something I value to no end. My name may be on the nomination, but this is truly a reflection of the hard work of the entire StackCommerce team.”
As the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs, Entrepreneur Of The Year has been at the forefront of identifying game‑changing entrepreneurs for more than three decades. The program has honored the leadership of such entrepreneurs as Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee Company, John Mackey of Whole Foods Market Inc., Pierre Omidyar of eBay, Inc., Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn Corporation and Mindy Grossman of HSN, Inc.
Learn more about the Entrepreneur Of The Year Greater Los Angeles program here and stay up-to-date on Josh’s journey on Twitter by following @StackCommerce and @jnpayne.
About Josh Payne:
Josh Payne is an entrepreneur, investor and startup advisor. He is currently the Founder & CEO of StackCommerce, the leading native commerce platform helping online publishers to monetize and engage audiences through the integration of content + commerce. Prior to founding StackCommerce, Josh managed business development for several leading technology companies including Yahoo!, Meebo (acquired by Google), and Intel. Previously, Josh was an investor in early stage technology companies as a venture capital associate at Aurora Funds. Josh earned his MBA from Duke and his bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Indiana University. He is a member of Young President’s Organization (YPO) Bel-Air Chapter and was named a 2017 Finalist for EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Greater Los Angeles. Josh is a startup mentor for venture firms Amplify.LA & 500Startups. Josh also currently serves on the board of Trubrain.com, a venture-backed biohacking startup. He is a husband, father of two daughters, triathlete, and avid-explorer having traveled to over 40 countries worldwide.