In the heart of Brooklyn lies a media-tech startup making waves with some of the U.S.’ most progressive publishers – VentureBeat, Digiday, Skift, TheWrap, and others. The startup in question is Wallkit which describes itself as ‘the complete subscription solution’.
For a company that has only been in existence a few short years, Wallkit’s ability to sign up publishers amidst fierce competition from more established rivals makes it one to watch. At the recent Web Summit in Lisbon, we made a point of sitting down with the two co-founders, Piers Fawkes and Tim Roho, to find more about Wallkit’s journey and to learn why existing subscription tech platforms are falling short.
We started by asking Piers to give us the background of Wallkit and to find out what challenges led him to co-found the subscription platform. As with many startups, it was borne out of necessity rather than planning, as Piers explains, “We built Wallkit originally as a paywall for the retail research publisher PSFK.com. We looked at the key providers on the market and we couldn’t find a solution that offered the mix of solutions we needed.”
We subsequently developed Wallkit and then launched it as a product for other publishers in 2017 – Rafat Ali of Skift and Airline Weekly quickly started using it, as did the trading publisher Benzinga.Piers Fawkes, Co-Founder, Wallkit
The importance of ticket bundling with subscriptions
However, it was only when Wallkit sat down with its early users that it started to see clear gaps not only in its own solution but the wider subscription tech ecosystem at large – this coincided with an approach from VentureBeat in 2020.
By listening to feedback from Ben Ilfeld at VentureBeat and other clients, it became apparent that paid-content through paywalls was not going to be a significant revenue earner for the majority of publishers.Tim Roho, Co-Founder, Wallkit
“We had to evolve the platform, especially in terms of broadening it out – subscriptions platforms tend to be linear and narrow yet publishers really need a suite of add-ons to make them truly effective.”
We created Tikit, a ticket sales platform that keeps audience data all in one place but crucially it allows publishers to bundle subscription offers with tickets, which is unique in the market.Tim Roho, Co-Founder, Wallkit
VentureBeat was one of the first users of Tikit, launching a single-click, free member registration platform on VentureBeat.com and GamesBeat, as well as a paywall and membership product which helped VentureBeat drive subscriptions as well as ticket sales for events such as VentureBeat Transform 2021, one of the world’s leading AI events.
At VentureBeat and GamesBeat we were looking to transform our audience into a community of business and technical decision makers. Step one, we needed to grow known users. And then we needed to progressively increase our first party data about our users.
Wallkit’s solution was a perfect fit. At the same time, we needed to unify access to content, subscriptions to newsletters, and event ticketing — to unify both the data on our end and the user experience. Wallkit stepped up again. We have a long road ahead building our community. And we have an excellent partner to continue the journey.Ben Ilfeld, Head of Product, VentureBeat
By bundling add-ons to existing subscription offerings, Wallkit’s client publishers soon saw immediate revenue uplifts in tandem with stronger subscription offers. However, other challenges started to raise their head, especially in terms of log-ins, sign-ups and identifying customers and readers.
As Piers outlines, whether a subscription proposition is bundled or not, the need for simplified processes is critical, “While building paywall and ticketing solutions for Brooklyn Magazine, Retail Innovation Week and Retail Detail, we started to work on simple, single-sign-on systems that helped publishers identify readers, manage readers’ newsletter sign-ups and begin to help publishers understand who their readers are. This work is important especially as publishers face issues around data use and third-party cookies.”
The birth of ReaderID
To tackle the issue of identity head-on, Wallkit subsequently developed Reader.id, a first-party data and user-privacy solution which the founders hope will help publishers and advertisers monetize audiences through user identification and content access management.
Reader.id has a single-sign-on functionality which allows users to have simple control of their data. It also allows the seamless streaming of cohort data to all major adservers, as well as data enrichment.Piers Fawkes, Co-Founder, Wallkit & Reader.id
Crucially, the solution syncs with Wallkit which allows one-off payments and paid-subscription bundling plans for access to content and events.
Beta versions of Reader.id are already being used by the US publishers Brooklyn Magazine, Digiday, TheWrap, Venturebeat – and by event organizers at Retail Innovation Week. We’re happy with the progress and we steadfastly adhere to the IAB set of guidelines.Piers Fawkes, Co-Founder, Wallkit & Reader.id
As for the future, Fawkes says that subscription and identity solutions must be flexible enough for the myriad ways publishers monetize and engage with their audiences, “Each publisher is unique, with a specific business model, and it’s our task to adapt to them and their requirements, and not for publishers to have to adapt to us.”