Experiment: Japanese candy subscription service

Instead of a single up-front fee many services are now based on subscriptions, since the web makes it easier to offer services on a monthly basis. A somewhat predictable monthly source of revenue does sound appealing, so I wanted to get in on the action too with some service of my own. But what can I offer? The brainstorming began.

White board scribbles

While completing my computer science degree I spent 2 years as an exchange student in Tokyo, Japanese being my minor subject. After my exchange period was over and I was back to my home country of Finland, I was constantly thinking about going back to Japan. In 2010 I finally fulfilled that dream and moved back to Japan, this time to a small city called Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, about 500km / 300 miles from Tokyo. Somehow I wanted to take advantage of my location, so I started brainstorming what kind of monthly subscription service I could start from here.

When you are in a foreign culture, even simple things can be very interesting. Take grocery shopping. When I go to the supermarket here, many things are not at all familiar to me, and old familiar things are not available. I miss rye bread for example. But the things that are available more than make up for the missing things. Many strange fruits and vegetables, spices and sea creatures up for sale. I liked Kaiware sprouts so much that I even started growing them on my balcony.

One fun thing is the huge variety of different sweets.  Some really strange, such as pieces of wasabi-flavored seaweed or DIY kits for making sushi-shaped sweets yourself. I figured everyone likes sweets and snacks, so it seemed like a good place to start experimenting with a subscription service. And so the idea for Candy Japan was born. 

I have some experience of running a small online shop before, so this time I wanted to selfishly forget about inventory control and just offer a single product for sale. Maintaining some inventory is not that difficult, but can add to costs and be a bit of a mental burden when you occasionally happen to stock something that never sells. To combat this, this time the product will not be any specific candy, but rather a random changing bi-monthly candy that the subscribers would receive. I thought this might be interesting for the subscribers too, since each package they receive would be a surprise. Subscribers might even tell their friends about the candy they happen to get or perhaps even taste it together.

To get the project underway, the first thing I wanted to be sure about was that this is something some people might actually want. As a small test, I calculated a price at which the service would make a modest profit and e-mailed my opt-in list of people from my previous online shop to see if there would be interest in subscribing at that price. I wanted to be sure that people would be actually willing to whip out their credit cards for this, so I immediately started charging for the club, even before I had a home page for it.

Did I get anyone to pay for this? I'll write about it the next time!