I think teachers like Brush Ninja for two main reasons.
- It’s easy to use.
- It’s free.
Also it’s very privacy friendly, the only tracking is through Fathom Analytics (affiliate link) which I use for all my sites.
Being free is obviously great for teachers since they are on a budget, and it’s great for making something popular. It’s less great for making a sustainable business that can run for the long term.
I’ve tried various things to earn money from Brush Ninja; Amazon affiliates (made maybe $20), custom TShirts (made ~$50), and Patreon (the most successful of the bunch, but still only earns ~$30 a month). None of these have earned enough for me to live on.
Through careful design I have managed to run Brush Ninja almost for free. Ignoring my time the biggest expense is Fathom Analytics. I use Firebase for free static hosting, a free Cloudflare account as a CDN, and open source dev tools. I pay for software, but no subscriptions, everything I use is one time payments.
So my expenses are low, but it still doesn’t cover my time, and I’d like to makes Brush Ninja (and things like it) full time.
In May I posted about my conundrum on Reddit. I thought maybe there would be some suggestions from other business owners – and there were. The most common suggestion was to create a premium version. I had always avoided this partly because I didn’t want to place a barrier on my app, and partly because I don’t have the technical knowhow. How do I create accounts, and payments, and what do I offer subscribers? Also, the biggest question of all, how do I avoid alienating my existing audience.
Around the same time I had been thinking about what to add next and finally, after years of consideration, worked out how to add an image library to Brush Ninja. Users have been requesting it for a long time, but I hadn’t been able to work out how to manage images, and how it would work from a users perspective.
As with all things, the solution ended up being reasonably straightforward, the hard bit was finding that solution. But I got there, and I thought that perhaps this new feature, would be the ideal thing to paywall. The rest of the site would function exactly as it always has, but this feature would be unlocked for paying members.
Besides being a lot less work and maintenance using a no-code accounts system means I can still have a static site. No databases, no servers to manage. I love keeping things simple.
Initially I chose Memberstack, and had everything ready to release, but I wasn’t entirely happy with it. It had a lot of popups for logging in and out, and it didn’t integrate as nicely as I wanted. At the last minute I switched to Userbase. There was a lot more manual work adding Userbase support to my site, I had to create all of the login/ signup/ profile forms etc, but it was integrated so much better that it was worth the effort .
I released the new user subscriptions last month and within hours I had my first paid member. It was a great feeling. I’ve been doing the self employed thing for a while now, selling video games, apps, and WordPress themes, but getting the first customer is still very exciting; especially when you’re not even sure if customers want the product.
Now, a month on, I have 17 active subscribers which is considerably more than I had expected for the initial release. With any luck I’ll continue to get new subscribers and some of them will renew their subscriptions.
Since the release I have already added a couple of extra features for paid customers, in particular I have added pre-defined colour palettes (free users get 4 palettes, and paid members get more), and a bunch of premium content on my photo collage app.
Members also get a collection of downloadable animations, extra stickers, access to the roadmap, and priority email support. With the other new features I have planned I hope that some members will stick around over the long term and then maybe I’ll be able to make these creative tools indefinitely.