Interview: TipJoy CEO, Abby Kirigin

tipjoy TipJoy is a new startup coming out of Y Combinator that aims to help bloggers earn tips from grateful readers and at the same uses the tip data to rank popular sites and articles. I really like the idea and the execution and hope to see these guys succeed, in fact I liked the idea so much that I have put together the TipJoy TipThis plugin for WordPress. This is a company that respects its users and is very responsive to feedback. To give you a better idea of how TipJoy works, I’ve hijacked their flowchart comic (with permission of course, you may need to click on it for a clearer view):TipJoy Flowchart

Even with all the craziness surrounding the recent launch, CEO and Co-Founder Abby Kirigin took the time to answer a few questions:

  • What’s your background(s) and what led you to strike out on your own with TipJoy?

Ivan and I both went to NYU as undergraduates where we studied computer science. We then both went to Carnegie Mellon for graduate school, where I got a Masters in Human Computer Interaction and Ivan got a Masters in Robotics. Before we started Tipjoy, I was an Interaction Designer at Nokia and Ivan was a Software Engineer at iRobot.

A true hacker, Ivan is constantly thinking of ways to improve upon things, and coming up with new ideas and solutions whenever he finds something lacking. He spends a lot of time reading and commenting on all sorts of stuff on the internet, and originally started talking about the idea for Tipjoy about a year ago. We both saw the trend for free content and collaborative culture growing online, and the current ways to monetize content through either gating it or advertising seemed antiquated and a bad fit with the new emerging culture. We wanted to make a way to help people make some money which fit in well with free culture, something which supported and strengthened its communities. So we started working on Tipjoy.

From the start, Tipjoy had this amazing life of its own. Ideas evolved through constant discussions, and became sketches then prototypes. I was excited to work on a project which was entirely my own – its success or failure would be entirely my responsibility and that challenge was hard to resist. At first it was very scary to decide to quit our jobs and work on it full time. It sounds sort of trite, but we were having a great time working together and making something on our own, and then there was this moment where we just realized that time is precious and you should only spend it doing things you really love. We’ve been working insanely hard for the last few months, but it’s been amazing.

  • You’re entering a market where there are already some big players (Paypal and Amazon), what gap did you see that TipJoy will fill?

Tipjoy is different than the other donation offerings out there because it is dead simple. The other options don’t work well for people because they have to decide how much to give, then go through an annoying checkout process to actually give the donation. By then, most people have given up. I think these sites suffer from some of the classic problems with micropayment services in the past – too much cognitive load. So Tipjoy makes donations really really easy. The amount is very small and it only takes one click to leave a tip – you aren’t taken away from the page you’re on.

  • You’ll be collecting some interesting data. You’re allowing people to reward their favorite sites, but also to vote with their tips in a social bookmarking / popularity contest, do you plan on expanding this aspect of the site?

Absolutely. We have a lot of ideas! Here are a few: expanding the visualizations for tipped content, displaying more information about who’s tipping what, recommendations based on what people like you are tipping, interesting representations of user’s tipping karma. We’ll also be gathering interesting data about the rates which people pay tips they leave, what sites (and types of sites) earn higher tip-to-pay ratios, and what makes content ‘valuable.’ We’ll definitely open up access to the data via an API so people can make their own interesting mash-ups & visualizations.

  • Is there anything else that you would like to add / promote that I didn’t ask about?

We’ll have plenty of new features over the coming weeks, but the next major addition to the site will be Platform support. By ‘platform’, we mean a site which manages several smaller contributors. We’ll allow the platform to share the profit from tips earned by its contributors, and track their earnings in aggregate as well as individually. This will be an interesting new business model for platform sites. We think this is one way huge sites like YouTube can give back to their most popular content. Profit sharing offerings have been pretty unfair to date.

I’d like to thank Abby for taking the time to answer these questions (and the multiple feedback requests I’ve sent), and thank Abby and Ivan for putting together such a great service. I’ve already made more in tips in the past few days than I ever received from PayPal, if you are creating content and putting it out on the web you should certainly look into TipJoy.

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