Top 10 Subscription Business Ideas for 2021

💥every great business starts with an idea
January 22, 2021 ● By Brian Thomas
Let's talk real business ideas. Not those unicorn, epic, nobody thought of before ideas. Actual ideas that are solving real world problems and produce revenue.

This is where real, sustainable business come from.

I run an agency full-time, square nine studios, focusing in the e-commerce and subscription space. Specifically Shopify/ReCharge, ChargeBee and custom development.

These ideas stem from problems my clients face or are spin-offs of problems we've solved for them.

I break down each idea into a backstory, deep dive (analysis), validation and monetization strategy. Additionally I provide you with the steps I would take to launch.

Drop me a line here if you end up starting one of these ideas!

10. Done for you Gardening

Backstory: Date night and couple experiences are becoming more popular. There are few subscription style games out there as well as Date Night in a Box. Most of these cater to the $30-$40 recurring space. There's definitely room for a premium box that is not recurring.

The Idea: Premium Couples Date Box.

Business Analysis:

Similar to the man crate, you would build a premium experience ($100+) for couples to enjoy for a date night. You should focus into a niche like TV trivia. This will help narrow your content as well as your audience for advertisement. Additionally, this lends itself for partnering with specific TV brands to cobrand boxes, similar to loot crate.

Validation: Date Night in a Box exists in the $30-$40 space.

date night in box

Monetization: A straight ecommerce play, watch your margins!

Steps to Launch: With this one, I would come up with an initial concept, build a really slick landing page and presell the box. If you're able to get enough orders to make the unit economics work, build and ship the box. If not enough people buy based on your concept and landing page, you can refund everyone that died and try another niche or move onto another idea.


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9. House Shoes

Backstory: I wear house shoes (slippers) inside and they typically only last 6-8months. I normally buy Toms but they keep changing styles, it becomes a hassle to rebuy and it's not really a fun experience.

The Idea:  Subscription Service for Slippers

Deep Dive: MeUndies does such a great job of execution on this idea but for underwear. They started with a core product and made it great, they release new "versions" of it every month by swapping out fabric. Same great product, seems different and new every month.

Following this framework, you can perfect the product and keep it fresh by swapping out the fabric. By changing up the fabric you can target different niches, camo, cartoons, plaid, etc.

Validation: MeUndies is dominating in the underwear space.

Monetization: You can sell both one-off purchases and a subscription at a discount.

Steps to Launch: I’d start by launching a Shopify store, and selling this as a subscription service via ReCharge.

Prove out demand for your slipper first via Shopify, one-time purchases before venturing into subscription. I'd dive into this space with a specific angle, fun patterns, sustainable manufacturing, premium materials... something to stand out.

8. Custom Printed Blinds

Backstory: Those crazy printed dog socks are everywhere. That got me thinking about something in the home that is relatively plain and can use some pop... blinds!

The Idea: Custom printed blinds.

Business Analysis: You would build a platform for users to upload a design, preview and order their design on blinds. You would have to walk through the process with your first customers before you can fully automate this.

Some customers may want a repeated pattern, others may want their image really huge. You could have fun with the brand and print a bunch of wild designs and try to get it to viral on social media.

Validation: Those dog socks are everywhere, people are loving personalization.

Monetization: You can charge a premium for this type of product and upsell different ink types and color options.

7. Travel Box

Backstory: This past weekend I traveled to San Diego for work. It's been a few months since I've travel and I've forgotten a key items that I normally purchase every trip such as dramamine and a recent copy of Inc or another recent magazine for the flight.

The Idea: A website where you can pick select items to get auto shipped to you a few days before your flight.

Business Analysis: You would build a simple "wish list" for someone to have sent to them before any flight. You would tap into their gmail and/or calendar to determine when their next trip is scheduled. Based on their location and shipping times, you would ship the box out so they would receive it a few days before their flight.

You could include items such as medicine, snacks and reading materials.

Validation: I made a bunch of expensive impulse purchases at the airport because I didn't plan ahead of time and purchase items that I normally take.

Monetization: Airport items are already overpriced, you would be able to have a higher margin on items to guarantee their delivery before the flight.

7. PaperVids

Backstory: I've always been fascinated with flipbooks. As a child, I remember flipping a Disney scene of Mickey. Fast forward a few years... I decided to turn that passion into reality.

If you want to preserve a photo, you get it printed. How do you preserve a video? Have it printed as a flipbook.

The Idea: A website where you can upload a 8-30 second video and convert it into a flipbook.

Business Analysis
: This is more of a long story but bear with me :)

Turning a video into a set a frames is the easy part but cutting each one perfectly is another story. I used ffmpeg to convert a video into a set of frames. I then set out to find a way to consistently cut paper frames into the same size. I started with 4x6 photos but that proved to be very expensive. I then found business cards cutters (slitter), I purchased this Martin Yale unit. It proved to not cut accurately.

I sold the martin Yale and then purchased another, MBM BC 12up. Slightly more expensive... this was a huge investment on a random idea (I did find one used on ebay for $2300). This allowed me to turn 5 printed pages of 8.5x11" into a 60 frame flipbook.

I purchase the PaperVids domain from someone for $500. I developed a simple php website to upload the video and queue it for background processing.


I built backend software to print the frames in the correct order to come out perfectly when fed into the MBM business card slitter. I built a custom jig to bind the flipbook, I was set. I also purchased a fairly expensive personal photo printer.

All in, I was around $3200. This was more than just a hobby at this point. I showed off the flipbook to friends, mentors and anyone that would listen. Everyone was impressed and was interested in buying one of their own. One common statement from everyone was "patent this."

I now know more about patents than I ever thought possible.

I did a bunch of research and found someone has a patent on a very similar method I used to create my own flipbook, here. Mine was slightly different but not knowing if it was different enough, I proceeded to hire a patent lawyer.

$2000 later, my patent lawyer recommended I contact the patent owner and "chat." He said my method was different enough but proving it in court would cost $40k+ so chatting with the patent owner seemed like a good choice.

After a bit of digging, I contacted the patent owner and explained my idea. He was in the video booth space (similar to photo booths for weddings) and had no interest in online video to flipbooks. He did have a patent and rather than fight it out in court I was willing to give a very small percentage of flipbook sales to validate this idea.

A week later when the contract arrived, he wanted 7% of my entire business. Far from the "small percentage" of flipbooks we mentioned on the phone. I didn't even have a business and he wanted 7% of everything, even if I sold shoelaces. We were unable to reach a reasonable agreement. I was young too, nearly 10 years ago. I gave up :(

Validation: and both exist currently.

Monetization: This is actually the hardest part. Buying everything in bulk, I estimated I would be $1.22 per book all in minus shipping. Shipping is around $2.05. The labor involved in printing, cutting and binding adds up quick. To make a decent margin, charging $7+ for a single book is a hard sell. The target market would be weddings or events where the flipbooks are ordered in bulk.

4. Fun Colored Tents

Backstory: Festivals are all about expression. Firefly, burning man, Coachella, etc have all attracted large amounts of people that camp out multiple days. Festival goers dress up in crazy outfits and carry around outrageous signs to find their friends but they still sleep in the same boring, single colored tents.

The Idea: Multi colored and patterned tents.

Deep Dive: An e-commerce store that sells unique colors for tents including patterns and artistic designs. You could even allow users to upload their original artwork to be printed on tents. This could possibly branch into a woot shirt ( ) type of community where users upload their own artwork, the community votes and the winning designs are sold (the artist receives a small cut).

Validation: Patterns are appearing everywhere. Yoga pants quickly jumped from solid colors to crazy designs from stores like Lululemon and Athleta. Tents are another space filled with solid colors ripe to be changed.

Monetization: As a physical product, it's all about margins. You would have to run numbers on how much it would cost to print custom designs on the fabric and see if there's a market for it. You could probably attend a festival and presell a bunch of them before you invest any money.

2. Sustainable Office Supply Subscription

Backstory: There's a trend going on across all markets where manufacturers are swapping out raw materials for more environmentally friendly and sustainable raw goods.

The Idea: Sustainable tissue paper.

Business Analysis: You would source and market tissue paper from sustainable raw materials. This is the main differentiator across all the competitors. Bamboo is a popular raw material to start investigating.

Another factor I would explore is bright colors. Either on the box or tissue itself. This helps with branding and customer's excitement to share on social media.

Checkout this $90 box of tissue paper

Validation: Colgate just purchased Hello toothpaste: The bigger players are noticing this trend and buying up smaller companies.

Monetization: This is another ecommerce play, watch your margins. I like this one in particular because people use tissue paper on a regular cadence, you could have a subscription portion to stabilize revenue.

Steps to Launch: I would jump on shopify and ReCharge (for subscription billing) to get this out the door quickly. If you don't have a good audience to try this on, think about partnering with an influencer in the space to jump start the business.

Try to be cheeky with your marketing, this is a bland space that can get spiced up with some fun word play.


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1. Ecommerce Audit as a Service

Backstory: My full time job is consulting for ecommerce companies. Most of these companies are under 50M/yr and all of them are suffering from the same problems: cash flow, user acquisition and scaling. At the root of these issues is the fact that they don't truly understand their numbers: revenue, customer acquisition cost (CAC), margins and lifetime value (LTV). My first engagement with every client involves some sort of audit, I find myself doing the same thing over and over again.

The Idea: Ecommerce audit as a service.

Business Analysis: You would build a simple app that would tap into a customers shopify and processor (stripe or braintree) account. Using their sales data and specific company data (margins and customer acquisition cost) you would compute their time to break even or profitability. Using this information you can create informed decisions on where there are issues within the company.

This business idea can be used twofold, lead generation and monetization. If you're running an agency dealing with ecommerce clients, you'll probably want to have a lead generation mechanism that can scale. By charging a small fee for this service, you can put paid advertisement behind this and be out a ton of money to gather new clients.

Validation: Currently I manually do this with all my clients. Additionally, almost everyone I meet at smaller ecommerce conferences doesn't know their numbers.

Monetization: You could use this as a tool to help land new clients or you could white label this and license it to other ecommerce agencies to help them land new clients.

Steps to Launch: I would manually create a report that you send to clients and then move slowly into automation as it provides more value and saves you time.

January 19, 2021 ● social image provided by icons8

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