Kevin Wong – SLOWLY Startup Diaries, post 3

1345 free cups of coffee from around the world

For more than a year, SLOWLY had no ads other than free downloads; in other words, only expenses and no income. I see that as an early testing phase, in order to try to exclude other factors, and to focus on whether this idea is okay.

I only wanted this phase to last for three months, but in the end, due to personal limitations, this period of no income at all was “a little bit” longer than expected.

Monetizing the project?

I understand that you can't keep running without making money, so there is already a business model with a “stamp shop” as the first shot in the plan.

Going from “free” to “paid” is not something that can be done suddenly. In addition to taking care of the users feelings, there is also a lot of work behind the preparation, a lot of data collection, design of goods (that is, stamps), programming, testing and debugging and so on.

Additionally, I was the only one who did maintenance in the early days, and the problem of bug fixes, corrections and optimization of the app size were already a lot. So this time was really a bit overwhelming, and every day I was on the edge of “I want to give up”.

Slowly Stamp Shop

Let's have a cup of coffee first

That's when I stumbled upon Buymeacoffee's☕️ and my eyes immediately lit up.

First of all, the concept of BMC is simple and straightforward, and the main functions can already be understood from its website: invite me to a cup of coffee , nothing else; Secondly, it's easy to open an account, even if you don't have a Stripe account, you can get paid through PayPal first. And the service fee is low enough, as low as 5%. This small system independent of the main product is best for me: why not if it doesn't bring any extra work?

What I wanted to know most at the time was whether Slowly could evolve into an independent company, so I had to look at how many people in the existing user base were willing to pay for support, and BMC played a good role here.

A special Stamp for donors

In order to slightly increase the connection with Slowly throughout the “Donate a Coffee” process, a coffee stamp was specially designed to be distributed to each Coffee Donor, which can also generate a certain degree of real-world value for the only product in the app – the “stamp”.

Thanks for your coffee

Since its launch in August 2018, a total of 1345 cups of coffee have been received, which translates to $5 x 1345 = $6,725 US dollars. That's a lot, but realistically speaking, it's certainly not enough to make a living (over more than two years).

But once upon a time, I relied on the inspiration and message behind each cup of coffee to continue working; not to mention it or cry.

In fact, there were SLOWLY coffee cups sold

We've also launched physical products like coffee cups, T-shirts, hats, etc., which were all born through Printful, a third-party company, to try to increase revenue a little.

I still use this coffee cup every day

The service of such companies is print-on-demand, and after receiving orders, the blank purchased goods are used as canvases; to reprint the designs and sell them.

This is not new, right? But it also comes with an automated system and a full suite of logistics services, and the whole remote ring appears, which means that I only need to provide the design and point of sale.

In my case, the website that I set up; It can also be sold through social media or Marketplaces such as Etsy, etc., and the rest is carried out by them.

Sounds really attractive, is it about to see the light again? So soon I had ordered a few products from different companies offering similar services. To compare quality, if packaging and logistics are OK.

The details of this experience

Finally, I chose Printful and operated with them for a few months. After testing, I found a few points worth sharing:

  1. The style of available products is limited. (at least in my case, I would like to do the stationery category)
  2. The cost per piece is very high, and Slowly's profit is naturally not very good.
  3. In terms of logistics, it mainly relies on local postal services (there are also couriers but the cost is relatively high).
  4. Logistics costs are calculated on a piece-by-piece basis (maybe the reason being the packaging?). If you buy more, you can't share it.
  5. Customer service is still dependant on their own people. Their customer service is good, but they will not assist in contacting your own customers.
  6. The technology is perfect and easy to set up, and the most common interfaces are available, such as WooCommerce, Shopify, and so on.

The first point can still be compromised, otherwise it would not have been launched; As for the other points, although about ninety percent will be smooth orders, the remaining ten percent can also be a headache.

Some logistical problems

I tried to buy a coffee cup from a relatively remote location, and the shipping fee was already ¾ of the price of the cup, and because of the delay in postal delivery, it took a whole month to receive it.

I've also seen a package detained in transit, in South America, without notification to the customer (and without notifying me). It finally returning it to Printful's warehouse because it expired.

Since Printful will not provide warehouse space for later, after the product is sold and printed, they can only choose to destroy it or send it back for personal use. I still have a few items that were printed and returned, hanging around in the closet at home.

If there are enough orders, these occasional occurrences can still be covered.

However, there was a big misunderstanding between me and my original hope to increase my income under the premise of “not spending much time”; during this time, I was rushing to work in the crucial stamp shop.

All in all, this kind of service is still very handy to solve many problems and can also be a very convenient Market Test Tool, but in my case it was not suitable. So in order not to affect the main business, it was better to pause for a while.

However, this does not mean that dreams of having my own products are over.

I still look forward to the opportunity of launching SLOWLY's stationery series in the future.

Cover photo source: Unsplash

🔔 The original text was published in, on March 8, 2021. Sadly, this URL is now gone, redirecting to the generic site. A backup of this site is on here.

It can also appeared in the original Mandarin language on here

Translation Notes and rationale:

This translation was prepared by Yann2, a user, fan and supporter of the SLOWLY project. And it is in no way authorized or condoned by the original author. Any translation errors contained herein are my own, and subject to revisions – please send comments if necessary, thank you.

This translator's view is that the inner workings of Kevin's mind are of interest to the passionate fans of the app he has created from scratch. Hence, we bring here an English language version which can be more widely read. Thank you, Kevin!

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