Be More Dog: Learning to Live in the Now is basically a memoir of our travels with Jerry. But we also tell the story of how Tripawds came to be. We dedicate chapter 16 to describing our freemium business model, and how we turned our passion into a full-time labor of love. We start by describing how Jerry’s blog really started to take off once we installed discussion forums. That is when the community truly began to take shape.
The plan was working. Tripawds was helping people. Jim and Rene were passionate about what they were doing, but they still had a problem. They weren’t making any money.
– Be More Dog, Chapter 16: Following Their Passion
To illustrate the logistics of growing our business I set the stage of driving a long stretch of lonesome highway across the southwest. I ponder our future while Rene sleeps in the passenger seat.
…somewhere between Odessa and El Paso, it hit him: the growing fanbase for their website was their biggest asset. But could sharing pet amputation recovery and care advice help them pay some bills?
We never wanted to “sell” to our audience. We understand that everyone visiting the Tripawds website is likely in distress about their situation. And we know they’re already likely faced with unexpected expenses. We would never take advantage of that.
…The Internet could help them share their passion for educating people about the great quality of life three-legged pets can enjoy. But…this time they couldn’t – no, wouldn’t – do any sort of hard sell or aggressive marketing to people in emotional and financial distress. By the time they crossed the New Mexico border, growing Tripawds.com seemed like a logical move.
What Business Plan?
Jerry had helped us find our purpose, to help people with the Tripawds resources we were developing. But turning the site into a business never felt quite right. Before we even realized it, our freemium business model was already evolving.
They could see that Tripawds had the makings of a so-called real business, but Rene and Jim never saw it that way. “Forget a business plan!” Rene half-joked, knowing that any smart entrepreneur would have one by now. Their lack of one didn’t matter. Offering compassion and support was more important than profiting off people in distress.
How we discovered that freemium business model is a funny story. It was a few years after we said goodbye to Jerry. We had adopted Wyatt Ray, and were attending the 2012 BlogPaws conference. I was presenting a Facebook seminar and we were there to learn ways we might respectfully monetize Tripawds.
Our Freemium Business Model Epiphany
I’ll never forget the day we first met our now long time mentor and friend, Lena West. We were at a social mixer, keeping a close eye on Wyatt as we navigated the crowd of pet bloggers. Many had dogs with them, some had cats. One was silly enough to try and introduce her ferret to our large German Shepherd, by holding it up close to his snout. We quickly stopped that from turning ugly when Wyatt mistook the offer as a treat. Talking with the well dressed woman we saw sitting alone seemed perfect after that close call.
She had questions about their three-legged dog blog and held herself the way powerful women do, with a calm yet strong presence and a warm, engaging smile that made them feel comfortable discussing their unique blogging niche and how it all began.
Then, she asked the question…
“So, what’s your business model?” She was direct and straightforward.
A blank stare fell upon Rene’s face as she turned to Jim. Every other blogger they had met only wanted to talk about dogs and cats. Or ferrets. This woman was strictly business.
Time stood still for a moment. As a speaker, I was doing my best to come off as an authority with everyone we spoke to. I was inviting them all to my seminar the next day. Something told me this woman was doing something more than blogging about her pets.
Thinking fast, Jim replied, “We operate on the Freemium business model.” He had learned about the term long before, but it was that very moment when he was put on the spot to answer such a fundamental business question that the term came to mind. “Freemium” was precisely what they were doing.
The freemium business model made perfect sense. And nearly fifteen years later, it continues to sustain our nomadic lifestyle, while making us proud of what we do for a living.
“We offer a bunch of free content and services and charge a premium for extra features and benefits.” He went on to describe their Tripawds Supporter Blogs platform…Without realizing it at the time, their business plan was taking shape, right as Jim described it.
“Smart!” Lena nodded with a look of acceptance.
I think I was so caught up in contemplating our freemium business model, that I never asked Lena what she was doing at the conference.
It wasn’t until the next day during the big luncheon that Jim and Rene realized this was The Lena West – a social media and marketing guru, business growth expert, and keynote speaker for the conference. They hadn’t just made a new friend; they had met their new mentor. This straight-talking, self-made entrepreneur who knew all the right questions to ask would prove instrumental to Rene and Jim over the years for helping them grow Tripawds as a business while staying true to their philanthropic aspirations.
The Evolution of Tripawds
We went on to attend multiple BlogPaws conferences over the next few years. In 2015, I was featured on this Who Let the Dogs Out episode about the event and our website.
Our “pet blogging” endeavors evolved into the popular niche community and nonprofit Tripawds Foundation we now maintain. And we still do it all from our mobile headquarters.
The freemium business model is at the core of what we do, but managing Tripawds is not all we “do” to pay the bills. We wish…but Rene also writes for various publications. And I build websites and provide technical support for a diverse group of clients. We provide complete details about it all in the first e-book we ever published, Income Anywhere!