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A Guide to Startup Revenue Models

There are numerous types of revenue models, and there is no one-size-fits-all. The goal is to see which models best help your business monetize creating multiple revenue streams. It is important to understand revenue models before you start your venture or invest in a startup.

1. Ad-Based Revenue Model

Ad-based revenue models entail creating ads for a specific website, service, app, or other product and placing them on strategic, high-traffic channels. If you have a platform that generates a lot of traffic, you can profit by selling advertising space. We are all familiar with digital promotions as this is a preferred marketing strategy of giants like Google and Facebook

There are four main categories of advertising strategies: display, video, mobile, and native. Data plays a critical role in measuring ads performance, and you should be able to provide advertisers with precise metrics like CTR (clickthrough rate), CPC (cost-per-click), CPM (cost-per-impression), and many others.

Advantages: Making money from ads is one of the simplest and easiest ways to implement revenue models, which is why so many companies utilize ads as a source of revenue.

Disadvantages: To generate sufficient revenue to withhold a business, you will need to attract millions of users. In addition, most people find ads annoying, which can lead to low clickthrough rates and, therefore, lower revenue.

2. Affiliate Revenue Model

Another popular web-based strategy is the affiliate revenue model, which works by promoting links to relevant products and collecting a commission on the sales of those products. It can work in conjunction with ads or separately. This method is a contract between a supplier of a product/service and a promoter where the promoter redirects buyers to the sellers, who then finalize the transaction. Popular companies that offer affiliate marketing schemes for partners are Amazon and Shopify.

Advantages: One of the most obvious benefits of employing an affiliate revenue model is that it generally makes more money than ad-based revenue models. Disadvantages: If you use an affiliate revenue model for your startup, remember that the amount of money you make is limited to the size of your industry, the types of products you sell, and your audience.

3. Transactional Revenue Model

Countless companies, both tech-oriented and otherwise, strive to rely on the transactional revenue model for a good reason. This is one of the most upright ways of generating revenue, as it simply implies a company providing a service or product and customers who pay for it.

Advantages: Consumers are more attracted to this experience because of its clarity and the wider set of options.

Disadvantages: Because of the directness of the transactional revenue model, many companies employ it themselves, which means more competition and price deterioration, and therefore, less money for everyone who uses this model.

4. Subscription Revenue Model

In the subscription revenue model, you offer your customers a product or service that they can pay for over a longer period, usually month to month or year to year. Subscription as a Service (SaaS) providers usually give users a free trial before they start charging them monthly or yearly. 

According to recent research, companies like Netflix, Spotify, and millions of others adopting the subscription-based revenue model, constitute an industry that has grown over five times in the last seven years.

Advantages: If your company is far enough along in its development, this model can generate recurring revenue and can even benefit from customers who are simply too lazy to cancel their subscription to your company (which is the dirty little secret of a subscription-based model).

Disadvantages: Because this model depends so much on having a large consumer base, it is critical to maintain a higher subscription than unsubscription rate.

5. Channel Sales Revenue Model

The channel sales model consists of agents selling your product for you and either you or the reseller delivering the product. The affiliate revenue model is a good companion to this one, especially if your offering is a virtual product.

A classic example of a channel sales revenue model is wholesale merchants supplying regional distributors. 

Advantages: The channel sales model is ideal for companies with a product that’s an incremental sale for their channel and can produce an accumulative profit.

Disadvantages: Don’t employ this model if your product requires you to evangelize your marketplace or if your product competes with your partner's, as they will push theirs and not yours.

6. Commission Marketplace Revenue Model

The commission marketplace is most often an e-commerce platform where intermediaries sell services or products and charge a commission. This is a perfect revenue match for rentals, physical products, or one-time services. 

Among the most successful startups that rely on this cash flow plan are Uber and Airbnb.

Advantages: The commission-based revenue model is lucrative because of its scalability, flexibility, and monetization potential for all parties involved. 

Disadvantages: This type of mediatory service requires plenty of software development and administration workforce for handling orders, payments, shipping, and other processes that might be relevant.

7. Licensing Revenue Model

This revenue model is widely embraced by data and technology providers. As the name suggests, the licensing income strategy is about managing the rights to use an offering. After signing a legal agreement, the copyright owner receives payments from people or organizations that want to use their products or services.

The licensing deal can be temporary or permanent; it can grant access to an unlimited number of clients, or it can be exclusive.

Advantages: This revenue model advocates for intellectual property protection. When fulfilled properly, licensing can deliver a steady income while simultaneously promoting a concept or a trademark.

Disadvantages: The downfall of this type of monetization might be hidden in the small print of the contract between the licensor and the licensee. If too many extra clauses on how to use the product are apparent, it becomes easy to breach them.

8. Retail Revenue Model

The retail revenue model demands setting up a traditional store in which you offer physical goods to your customers. Keep in mind that this brick-and-mortar style of sales requires shelf space (that you’ll have to pay for) at existing stores, and is designed for companies that have logistics and storage capabilities.

Advantages: Retail sales are a great way to offer deals and complimentary products to an existing customer base and help boost brand awareness.

Disadvantages: The retail sales route is not ideal for early-stage companies or companies that offer digital products like software or apps.

9. Donations Revenue Model

This is probably the newest revenue model on the list. It became known through the emergence of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon where users vote for a product or a service and support it financially. People who pay for the development of an MVP may even become investors and can later benefit from dividends when the project they have endorsed grows.

Advantages: This revenue model can generate fast returns and win you high visibility. It is also a smart way to get feedback, test a business idea, and examine your audience closer.

Disadvantages: You will need a large and loyal community backing you up to drive solid revenue. Users who are willing to pay for an idea or a piece of content will likely expect you to interact with them, so save some time for that as well.

10. Freemium Revenue Model

The freemium model is one in which a company’s basic services are free, yet users must pay for additional premium features, extensions, functions, etc. One of the biggest companies to use this model is LinkedIn, the most popular business social media platform.

Advantages: The freemium model offers something free to users, which is a great way to give them a taste of your product or service while simultaneously enticing them to pay for something later on.

Disadvantages: This model requires a considerable investment of time and money to reach out to your audience, and even more effort to convert free users into paying customers.


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