Challenge Accepted’s Financial Health & Wellness

Hey all! D#2 here to talk a little bit about a thrilling subject: Challenge Accepted’s finances! (I planned to have this post finished around our first birthday back in early December, but then… the holidays happened. /o/ SORRY.) My goal with this post is to be transparent about a) what it costs to run a site like Challenge Accepted and b) exactly what we do with the money (donations + ad revenue) we take in. It’s gonna be THRILLING, so BUCKLE UP.

(Note: this got long. Sorry.)

First, let’s get some basics out of the way. Challenge Accepted is a project that was conceived and built entirely by myself and D#1, in our own free time, for fun. We recently added an “intern” to the team, but she’s actually just a friend who was interested in helping out. (We love you, Sarah!) We invested hundreds of hours into its creation, and devote quite a lot of our free time (which is limited, because both of us have “real” jobs and also lives and also D&D campaigns) to continuing to develop it. But while we love CA, and would love it if someday we reached a point where we could quit our day jobs and work work on it all the time, Challenge Accepted isn’t actually making your Dev Team any money.

And we’re okay with this! Really, we are. While making some money for ourselves off of CA is our pipe dream, our actual goal for the site is for it to be financially self-sustaining—to make enough money per year to cover its own costs, namely web hosting and all related expenses. As long as we can keep the site up without having to pay out of our own pockets, Daisy (D#1) and I consider CA to be financially stable.

With that in mind, let’s talk costs. Again, we’re not accounting for the “cost” of the time we spend on the site, because we’re not paying ourselves.

Costs

Challenge Accepted has one major cost, which is web hosting. When we first started working on the site, we had a very basic $60/year hosting plan. The day we launched, we were AMAZED by how many people signed up right away… and we quickly realized that this hosting provider wasn’t going to be able to handle that level of activity, so we pulled an emergency switch to a more robust hosting service and paid another $92. (Note: this is SUPER cheap in terms of web hosting; it’s basically the bare minimum you can pay and still host a site like CA.) We paid the original hosting costs out of our own pockets, hoping that we might eventually be able to make that money back with ad revenue or donations.

In December of 2013, we switched hosts again, because we were frankly unimpressed by the way that Hosting Provider #2 had run things. Now we are renting server space from Linode for $233.17/year. Again, this is a fairly basic hosting plan, though this one gives us a lot more resources and control than the previous ones did. On top of the web hosting itself, there’s paying for a domain name—$15/year including anonymizing services. Other than those things, the one other expense we’ve specifically used CA money to buy was some snazzy business cards from VistaPrint ($22).

In summary, the cost of operating Challenge Accepted to date has been roughly $425. Looking forward, we’re currently sitting on about $250/year of web hosting expenses, assuming that we never grow to require any more resources than we are currently use. (Spoiler alert: considering we went from zero users to OVER SIX-THOUSAND USERS in a year? We anticipate that our hosting expenses will continue to increase as our user base increases.)

This means that, right now in order to be financially stable, Challenge Accepted needs to continue to make at least $250/year in revenue, allowing us to cover our costs without having to pay out of our own pockets. It doesn’t really seem like that big a number, but bear in mind: our current web host provides us with a certain amount of resources for the amount we pay. If we exceed those resources and have to buy more, we will need to potentially double, or even triple, the amount we’re paying. This is something that Daisy and I always have to keep in the back of our heads when we think about how the site is doing. This is why we still have a signup cap, and why we haven’t enabled things like user-uploaded avatars—we’re mindful of how many resources the site uses, because we’re afraid to end up in a situation where we can’t keep the site running and have to shut it down. That is LITERALLY the opposite of what we want.

All of which brings us to the next topic: revenue! Big money! Thrilling stuff!

Revenue

Now, Challenge Accepted has two major revenue streams: advertising, and donations. Ads are the most obvious—I mean, they’re RIGHT THERE on the site (unless you’ve donated at least $10, in which case we’ve switched them off as a thank-you; but more on that later)—so we’ll start there.

Our ads are hosted by Project Wonderful, because we like how they do things. We have control over what ads appear on our site, which means we can veto ads for things we don’t support, like scam diets or online poker sites. As an aside, if YOU want your ad to appear on our site, that’s a thing that can happen! Click here for details..

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Advertising is big business! I’ve seen Mad Men. Surely you must be rolling in the dough!” …you weren’t thinking that? Oh. Never mind. Regardless, it makes sense to assume that we derive a the majority of our income from the advertisements we have on the site.

Well, hold onto your hat, adventurer: I’m about to drop some numbers on you. From December of 2012 to January 4th, 2014, (our first year of beta), Challenge Accepted made a whopping $32.71 from advertisements.

Yeah.

Now, don’t get me wrong; for a lot of types of websites—for example, blogs, news sites, and webcomics—ads are a super legit stream of revenue. But they’re clearly not ideal for us right now, for a few reasons. The vast majority of the income we’ve made from advertisements over the past year has actually gone right back into Project Wonderful; we pay to have our own ads run on other websites. While we’re going to continue to have adspace on the site, we’re definitely not counting on it being a major source of revenue for Challenge Accepted any time soon.

But all is not lost! Because thankfully, we have a second revenue stream: donations from you guys. And you guys—you guys are AWESOME.

Between December of 2012 and December of 2013, Challenge Accepted made $1,101.01 in donations. Like, actually. That is the ACTUAL NUMBER. Now, Paypal does take a small percentage of each donation, so actual the number is a little smaller than that. But that’s still over a thousand dollars. Over! A thousand! Dollars!

Most people’s donations have been between $10 and $20, though we’ve had people donate as much as $75 (!!!!!!!!). You don’t even UNDERSTAND how much it means to us that so many of you have liked Challenge Accepted enough to donate your hard-earned gold towards helping us keep it running. As a thank-you, we turn off advertisements for anybody who’s donated over $10. Eventually, we’d like to have some kind of a “subscriber” system in place, where people who donate to the site get fun perks, but that’s a ways in the future. For now, donations are just donations. And, as you can no doubt tell by comparing the numbers, they are literally what keeps the site running.

Thanks to user donations, Daisy and I made back the money we’d initially invested in web hosting within the first month. And while both of us had dreams about buying ourselves lavish presents using the money that was coming in ($125 in the first three weeks! Over $300 in the first two months! we quickly realized that we had NO IDEA what to expect from Challenge Accepted in terms of growth. I’d anticipated that we’d have have maybe one hundred users in the first month. We actually achieved that number in FOUR DAYS, and the numbers just kept getting bigger. At one point I discovered a tumblr post about us that had over ten-thousand notes. We were giddy, but also terrified, because our new host seemed to be holding fast, but what would happen if we continued to grow at the same pace?

After that, we set basically all donations aside for the worst-case scenario of needing to make an emergency upgrade our hosting plan. And although our growth did eventually slow to a more manageable, less dizzying level, we remained vigilant, and the money stayed where it was. I did make a $50 withdrawal when I needed my laptop repaired, because we talked about it and agreed that this was a mission-critical expense. (No laptop = no D#2 = CHAOS FOR EVERYONE.) Other than that, the donations we’ve received have all either gone back into the site or are set aside as emergency funds.

That meant that when it came time to decide to switch to a new, more expensive hoisting provider, we were able to completely cover the cost. And if Felicia Day tweets about us tomorrow and we’re suddenly flooded with thousands of new adventurers, it will probably still be pretty hairy, but we’ll be able to absorb the expense. As of right now, Challenge Accepted is financially self-sustaining. The trick now is to keep it that way for the foreseeable future.

The Future

As we enter our second year of beta, our plans for Challenge Accepted are pretty simple: keep the site running, keep adding useful features to help adventurers like you go to battle against the forces of procrastination and anti-productivity. While we can’t spend as much time developing Challenge Accepted as we would like, due to the aforementioned “real jobs” situation, we still love this site, and we’re really excited about continuing to build it. It’s going to be slow, but hopefully steady, and we’ve done everything we can to ensure that Challenge Accepted is going to continue to grow within our ability to sustain it.

That said, we have some financial goals for the coming year.

  • Take in enough revenue to completely cover all hosting costs for 2015. Obviously, this is the biggest and most important one—everything else is gravy. Delicious, delicious gravy.
  • GRAVY #1: Cover the possibility of needing to upgrade our hosting to the next step up on the ladder, which would take us up to $432/year: double what we are currently paying. If we experience a MAJOR spike in users, this should cover us, at which point we will take steps to limit our resource use so that a move to the next tier up does not become necessary.
  • GRAVY #2: If both previous goals are met, the Dev Team is FINALLY going to consider taking a portion of whatever extra funds we have and actually using them to buy ourselves coffee. Or, like, board games. Or vodka.

Furthermore, there are a few projects in Challenge Accepted’s future (its FAR future, we should note) that are going to require extra funds. The biggest one is the development of a mobile app. This is just not something the Dev Team is able to do without outside help, and that means being able to pay somebody who knows what they’re doing. When this does eventually happen (again, this is in the FAR FUTURE), we will very likely be running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the app’s creation. Probably don’t hold your breath for this happening in the coming year, though. Sorry. :(

Anyway. YOU CAN HELP US MEET THESE GOALS. How? Well, by donating to the site! If you have made it this far and read this whole thing, then you know that donations are literally what keep Challenge Accepted alive. It means THE WORLD to us that y’all care enough about the site to donate to it and help us keep it going. (As an aside, we also love it when we get nice notes from adventurers about how much they love the site. Keep those coming! They give us the strength to go on! <3)

TL;DR

Money is a thing that is necessary for websites to run! And Challenge Accepted is supported ALMOST ENTIRELY by the generous donations of viewers adventurers like you. While it isn’t going to make your Dev Team any money anytime soon, we are financially stable (aka, our operating costs are covered) for the coming year thanks to your donations. We have allocated basically all of our extra money into an emergency fund in case of web hosting disasters, and we are confident that Challenge Accepted is not going to go dark on our watch.

As ever, if Challenge Accepted has helped you to be more productive, it would be AWESOME if you considered making a donation to help keep us going.

  • We will continue to do away with ads on the site for any adventurer who donates over $10.
  • Want to make a donation for somebody else, as a gift? Just let us know their username in the “note” area on the donation screen.
  • Can only donate $5 now and $5 next month? We’ll keep track, and disable your ads once you’ve reached a total of $10.
  • If you donated to CA last year, please consider donating again!

I know we say this a lot, but adventurers? You are LITERALLY the wind beneath our wings. You keep us going financially (as this post has, hopefully, demonstrated) but also emotionally. Together, let us face the forces of anti-productivity with our swords and axes raised! VIVA LA CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. LONG LIVE GETYEDONE!