The Business Of Unsubscribing

Quick — name every online subscription service to which you’ve ever belonged.

Too complicated? OK. Just name the ones to which you no longer subscribe.

Still a long list, isn’t it? That’s all right. What matters is that you are fully confident that you have cancelled the automatically recurring payments to every single one of those services. You are, aren’t you?


Yeah, probably not.

A basic reality of the subscription retail industry is that some portion of the revenue going to those businesses is coming from people who have plumb forgotten that they were members of a given service yet never got around to canceling their automatic payments; the money keeps getting pulled from their credit cards or bank accounts, month after month, without the consumer ever being the wiser.

In the case of consumers that are aware (perhaps to a vague degree) that they maintain memberships to subscription services that they no longer use, the process of canceling them — including trying to figure out what payment accounts are linked to which memberships or tracking down the original email containing the necessary contact information to cut ties with the service directly — is often so tedious that they just let it slide, month after month … while the money keeps getting spent.

Whether it’s the result of forgetfulness or negligence, the fact is that automatically recurring payments to unwanted subscription services can amount to a hefty sum overall. In the U.K., for example, a recent study showed that consumers in that country spend £338 million — or close to $486 million — on unused subscriptions every month.

What’s the average consumer, busy with things in his daily life more pressing than traveling down Subscription Membership Memory Lane, to do about his money regularly being spent on, for all intents and purposes, nothing?

Yahya Mokhtarzada was compelled to reflect on this conundrum when a $40 charge on his credit card for Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi led to the discovery that he had unwittingly enrolled in an ongoing subscription for the service months earlier and had been unknowingly paying for it ever since.

That experience eventually led Mokhtarzada, shares VentureBeat, to found (along with his brother, Idris), Truebill, a service that — similar to the startup Trim — helps consumers track down and cancel their unwanted subscriptions.

“It seemed like half the people we knew had this situation where they had forgotten about subscriptions,” Mokhtarzada, CEO of the startup, told the outlet. “We got to work building an algorithm that could scan your credit card to find them.”

As the VentureBeat story explains, Truebill works by having its users link their credit card and bank accounts to the service; it subsequently monitors those accounts for recurring monthly charges, which it reports to the user. For any subscriptions that a person wishes to cancel, he or she lets Truebill know that with a single click, and the service takes care of the rest.

Beyond saving them money, services like Truebill also save consumers the trouble, Mokhtarzada told TechCrunch, of having to “remember 15 different logins for 15 different [subscription] services.”

In the case of subscription services that aren’t entirely digital, such as gym memberships, Truebill can also generate a certified letter informing the business in question of a member’s cancellation when an online breakup won’t suffice.

The CEO also shared with VentureBeat that his startup — which launched publicly in February and, earlier this month, adds TechCrunch, raised seed funding in the amount of $350,000 — has, to date, saved its users an average of $512 in cancelled subscriptions.

Where does a subscription-cancelling business go next? According to Mokhtarzada, in a direction that does not go unnoticed by Fortune as being somewhat ironic: subscriptions, of course.

Specifically, subscription discovery. As Mokhtarzada tells the outlet, the long-term business plan for Truebill is to earn referral fees from new subscription services — not the ones that users relied on Truebill to cancel, one presumes — that it presents to users.

“We’re not interested in blasting offers,” the Truebill CEO expressed to Fortune. “If a user identifies a service they want, [we’re interested in] letting them get that and personalize it in a way it fits their life in as easy and usable way as possible.”

And should a person eventually forget that he’s a member?

Well — we know how that goes.


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