New Publishing Tech
4 mins read

Q&A: Pico, building publishers’ audience relationships

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Pico is a Brooklyn-based startup founded in 2016. It empowers publishers to manage registrations and email signups for newsletters, build audience funnels, and charge readers for content, memberships, and newsletters. WNIP caught up with Co-founder and President Jason Bade to find out more…

Can you give us some background about your company?

Pico was founded in 2016 by myself and Nick Chen. In May of this year, Stripe and Precursor Ventures led a $4.5 million investment round in the company, with participation by Bloomberg Beta and Axel Springer Digital Ventures.

What business problem is your company addressing?

With Google and Facebook now taking up most of the ad revenue on the internet, the media industry has begun to shift toward reader revenue. Yet publishers are missing the key customer software tools that have long helped e-commerce companies serve their audience of shoppers.

Publishers need analogous solutions that work off the shelf, are optimized for conversion, and that help them build funnels to properly segment and market to their audience and ultimately get them to convert into paying customers frictionlessly and delightfully.

What is your core product addressing this problem?

We saw the need to build an audience CRM, or as we like to call it, an ARM (audience relationship management) platform: it’s one system that vertically integrates email signups, on-site analytics, and payments. We focus on two conversion points: turning anonymous users into email signups (the beginning of your audience ‘sales funnel’) and getting readers to pay. Everything we do is dedicated to product design that optimizes for these moments and makes life as easy and resource-inexpensive as possible for publishers transitioning to a ‘reader revenue’ business model.

We’re relentless about three things: (1) designing a user experience for readers that reduces churn and increases signup and payment conversion; (2) giving publishers powerful tools that don’t require a developer to set up or a full-time staff member to manage; and (3) surfacing actionable data that publishers can use to run targeted marketing campaigns to move readers down the sales funnel to a payment.

Can you give some examples of publishers successfully using your solutions?

While I can’t give any single publisher’s numbers at the moment, I can share that we’ve seen some fantastic conversion examples using all or some of Pico’s integrated tools – one publisher, using Pico’s hard registration wall, now has almost 50% more email addresses in its audience funnel than monthly unique visitors!

Meanwhile, we consistently see 23-27% of registered emails in a publisher’s audience funnel convert to paying readers regardless of content type or pricing. This has a lot to do with content quality of course, but a large part of it is due to the massively reduced login and checkout friction Pico offers.

I also think it’s pretty cool that we’ve had some publishers launch their whole publication or paid newsletter on a Pico landing page months before they even had a live website. It’s a great way to test concepts (like a paid newsletter, let’s say) without investing in full site rollouts.


Pico’s audience funnel is free to use at start and gets incrementally more expensive as you grow. We charge between 2 and 5 per cent for all payments we process.

What are other people doing in the space and why?

There are individual point solutions that may solve each of Pico’s features from payments to email address collection, but none with a focus on conversion and retention. For example, Mailchimp does a great job managing newsletter lists and integrating with e-commerce infrastructure, but it’s not the right CRM for media businesses. Meanwhile, paywall plugins have largely focused on payment processing and not on providing growth-oriented tools like a sales funnel. Salesforce meanwhile requires far too many resources to customize for an audience business.

We built Pico to serve not just as another payment processing tool, but rather, as an all-in-one solution for the next generation of publishers and their products. Connecting email signups, engagement data, and payment conversion into one unified system drastically reduces the overhead of launching and growing new revenue lines or publications altogether – even for the smallest teams.

How you do view the future?

The shift toward reader revenue has been in progress for a number of years now, as the economics of advertising have increasingly favored search and social platforms. But this shift away from advertising has accelerated recently with additional pressure from governments and browsers cracking down on third-party tracking.

This means that you now really need your audience to log in with first-party tools if you want to know what’s going on. It’s also the most ethical way to understand your audience, as it’s a relationship built on consent. It’s no surprise that some of our biggest customers use Pico just for our email signups and engagement data, and I think that’s going to be a big trend going forward. 

Thank you.