We got called in on the day Hustle hit a roadblock with Trends. They’d started with this idea of amping up their revenue with a paid newsletter. They wanted to create more in-depth stories catered to an exclusive bunch. And they had what it takes, but their tech stack couldn’t keep up. They had different custom platforms for CMS, payment, and emailing, and none of them integrated properly. Things didn’t scale, and editors couldn’t get their complicated platform to work like it should. Somebody had to swoop in and save the day. That’s where we came in.
“There was our custom CMS and then there was our payment platform. Neither one we’re working very well together. And so even individually, they’re very challenging to manage.”
Deadline Impossible: “We Have to Launch in 2 Weeks!”
Back then, Hustle had a million-plus free subscribers. They decided that if they could convert even 1% of their readers, they’d get the sort of extra revenue they wanted. So, Trends got started, but then, just as suddenly, it looked like it would have to stop. The MVP was jumping with bugs, and error messages kept piling up.
The most pressing problem was their CMS and payment platforms. Their editors had a hard time getting the custom CMS to work, and on top of that, it didn’t integrate with the payment platform. With a lean in-house engineering team and the launch date getting closer and closer, Trends decided to look for a digital partner.
The stakeholders spoke to five different agencies, but one problem kept showing up: over-complicated solution. Every agency wanted to add more layers to the project and make it even more customized. That would put the launch off by another two to three months. They had one month at best.
That’s when Refact stepped in. What set us apart? We listened, understood their need for a streamlined and fast solution, and promised delivery in just two weeks.
“I didn’t believe [Refact] when they first said we were going to be able to ship it in two weeks, but they did!”
For us, the essential step was understanding the vision that was driving Trends. In our talks, we understood that they had short-term goals, like migrating to a better platform and getting their subscription process up and running. That became our first priority. Then there were long-term goals, like increasing their conversion rates and enhancing their user experience. We took their vision as our own. We broke it down into manageable tasks and went to work.
A Simple but Scalable Solution
In record time, we redesigned and rebuilt Trends’ entire publishing platform. We took a simple-is-best approach here. Instead of adding more complexity by going for yet another custom platform, we decided to use WordPress.
We tailored and customized WordPress into a scalable publishing and subscription platform that did exactly what Trends wanted it to do. Ergo, an easy-to-use platform for editors as well as users, which could integrate well with their payment platform and ESP.
Our developers worked around the clock, and with input from Trends’ stakeholders, the entire website and subscription platform was live within just two weeks.
Migration and Setting Up the Native Payment Platform
Within the first few weeks, Refact also had to handle the migration from the custom publishing platform. But that was not all. We also had to help migrate data from their third-party payment platform and combine that with the subscribers’ data.
“We lost a lot of information when [users] would go to check out. We weren’t able to pass on a lot of data and information that helped us understand where did this customer come from?”
Once we set up their new WordPress platform, however, they did not lose any data since we used native WooCommerce to handle subscriptions and payments. Optimizing the data on incoming subscribers worked as a gateway to the long-term aspects of the project.
Student Campaigns and A/B Testing
Trends was using different marketing and advertising channels to promote its launch. The client wanted to customize their funnels and that included creating unique landing pages for each campaign.
At one point, they were working with over 100 YouTube influencers, along with other marketing channels. So, creating customized landing pages manually was out of the question. We created landing page templates that could be easily multiplied and customized for different campaigns as well as A/B testing. That helped Trends make data-driven decisions that made their subscriber numbers skyrocket.
Another unique challenge we faced with Trends involved their plan for a discount for students. They wanted to attract college students with this discount, but they also needed a way to verify the ones using the promo were actual students. We helped set up a solution that would match the subscribers’ emails against their coupons to make sure only students were signing up with that discount.
Product Manager as an Add-on
The integrations we did were not limited to development, however. Our teams had to work closely together to get the results that we were expecting. As the project advanced beyond its early stages, we noticed an expertise gap in Trends’ team: they needed a product manager. We also provided them with an expert product manager to take things in the right direction. This played a critical role in finally leading to their success.
Acquisition by Hubspot
Less than two years later, HubSpot acquired Trends, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe we should say “story” instead – a classic success story. Refact was a part of writing that story and making that success possible. We believe it shows just how much impact a well-designed publishing platform can have on a newsletter’s growth.