Derek McKee Author:

Tipalink offers a new way for people to get paid online.

Tipalink helps our users make money online by accepting tips on web pages - not just on their own websites, but on any web page that contains their Tipalink Profile ID.

But where did this idea come from? I get this question a lot. There's no short answer. It was an idea born from a confluence of events and experiences of mine:

  •   learning to code
  •   starting an online art gallery
  •   marrying an artist
  •   discussing the online business model of newspapers
  •   having an aversion to subscriptions
  •   waiting tables in restaurants
  •   wanting to help people get paid for their work online

TL;DR: a self-taught web developer starts out trying to help his artist wife and friends sell their work online and ends up creating a new monetization option for the Internet.


Learn to Code

The idea for Tipalink came about in May of 2019. But the origin of this story began many years before.

It starts in 2011 with me learning how to code. My background was in data analysis. I had some experience coding, but not much. The websites I had built in high school and college were simple (HTML and CSS). Then "Web 2.0" happened. The Internet was changing software development. Applications were moving online. A single person could create in months what once took an entire department years. The allure was strong. The idea popped into my brain that I should try and get ahead of the curve.

So, before "Learn to Code" became the mantra of an entire generation of post-Great Recession opportunity seekers, I set off to teach myself web development.

Building a Website to Help Artists

I cut my teeth as a freelance web developer by building custom websites for individuals and small businesses.

One of my first clients was my then-girlfriend, the very talented artist Rebecca Hinson. We had other friends who were artists, including painters, photographers, illustrators, screen printers, potters, and more. Like most artists, many preferred to create what they liked and try to sell it, rather than work on commissions. But true to the artist stereotype, they had little interest in marketing themeselves and not all of them could afford even a modest website.

My solution was to build a web application for local artists to showcase and sell their artwork online. I ran it for two years.

Social Media Helps with Marketing, Not Monetizing

Fast forward to 2019. Rebecca and I were now married. With social media, marketing as an artist online had become as easy as ever. But monetizing a sufficient portion of one's fans and followers still proved to be a challenge.

The biggest problem is that there simply aren't that many people willing to fork over $500 to $5,000 or more for a piece of art. Some can only afford a $50 print or maybe a $25 t-shirt. There are many more follow and subscribe to artists and creators of all types on social media. But, all those likes and page views don't help pay the bills.

Ads and Subscriptions Aren't Enough for Newspapers

Then, one day a discussion started on my local tech forum about the online business model of our local newspaper. Just like creatives, publishers were also struggling to monetize a sufficient portion of their followers (readers) online. At that moment, a light bulb started to go off in my head...

People on the forum were saying that they'd be willing to give a quarter or even a dollar after reading an article, but they 100% were never ever going to sign up for another subscription. Many of them said they were using ad-blockers to hide annoying ads, retain their privacy, and protect their computers from malware. And they felt bad that they were cutting off the only other revenue stream for the company. I thought and felt the exact same way!

Some readers want to give something back, but they don't like the options they've been presented. Along the same vein, fans of artists want to give their support, but their options for doing so are limited. From a business perspective, in both cases, a significant portion of the market is being left unmonetized.

A Lesson Taken from Waiting Tables

The challenge of accepting small payments, or "micropayments", is that payment processors eat up a large portion of each transaction, especially as the transactions get smaller. A $1.00 transaction can have a fee of over 40%.

A way around this is to group multiple payments into a single transaction. One way to do this is by charging supporters a fixed monthly subscription and then splitting that amount up amongst multiple creators of the supporter's choice.

But what if, just like with newspapers, a supporter doesn't want to sign up for another subscription? What if they just want to give $5 one time? What if they want to give $10 one month and $50 the next?

An alternative solution came to me from my past experience working as a server in restaurants. Waiters and waitresses get paid $2.13 an hour in most states. The rest of their income comes from tips.

Rather than requiring a subscription, I decided to queue donations in a tab. Just like a bar or restaurant tab, supporters can add donations to their tab and then can pay it off in parts. Payments can be made for a group of donations earmarked for a particular creator in a single transaction.

It only followed naturally that I call these donations "tips".

Our users offer their fans and followers another way to help support them and their work online by accepting tips on the web address, or "link", of web pages.

By accepting tips on links, our users learn what content and other work their supporters like the most. We help turn page views and likes into tips. Learn more about how it works by reading the FAQ.

The mission of Tipalink is simple: to help people get paid online. Artists, content creators, publishers, and others are sharing their hard work with the world online. Let's help them get paid by bringing tipping from the service economy to the digital economy.

- Derek
Creator & Founder of Tipalink