“Great Job!”: Ko-fi, a Virtual Tip Jar

By Olivia O'Mahony 5 Min Read

At first glance, a service entitled "Ko-fi" might register as something created to make our consumption of caffeinated goodness quicker, cheaper, and more efficient – to steal phrase that’s swiftly working its way into the startup world vernacular, "Uber for" coffee. An assumption like this, however, would be incorrect. You see, Ko-fi’s involvement with coffee is merely a metaphorical one, wherein a cup of coffee is a stand-in for a token of solidarity, appreciation, and encouragement. While an inexpensive gesture, the message of coffee-giving – "Keep up the good work!" – is crystal clear.

Ko-fi is among the first services in the world to provide a fully-functional virtual tip jar for independent creators of all disciplines, though particularly those who practise their crafts in a predominantly online space and therefore have little to no chance of procuring the tips that the likes of buskers and street artists do. For creative types who struggle to share their passions with the world – and often struggle financially for their trouble – Ko-fi strives to be more than a way to scoop up a few extra dollars each week by emphasizing the value of the encouragement and validation a simple tip can give.

The thing that makes Ko-fi stand out from other services of its ilk is that very same it’s-the-thought-that-counts approach: every donation made via Ko-fi is capped at the price of a – you got it – $3 cup of coffee, making each tip received an opportunity for Ko-fi users to go out and treat themselves, warmed by the knowledge that someone out there has said "you deserve it." That said, the donations are by no means limited to going towards coffee only – plenty of artists use the funds to purchase art supplies, pay for their web domains, and more.

On the other end of things, the standardization of Ko-fi’s donation size makes tipping a no-brainer for donors who want to encourage their favorite creatives and rack up some good karma points while they’re at it – when the amount of money being donated doesn’t need to be considered, the potential for any tipping faux pas moments is completely eliminated. Ko-fi’s service is a two-way street of convenience and satisfaction, and it seems everyone is out for a stroll: since its inception earlier this year, over one million dollars have been sent from supportive fans to creators of every kind.

Ko-fi was founded by web developer Nigel Pickles, also responsible for Tigerdev, a web-to-print solution company run entirely be freelance developers and designers. "I’ve received a lot of really good feedback, and some suggestions," he says of Ko-fi on his blog, nigelpickles.com. "It’s great that people feel it’s a more personal way to ask for donations for their content, which was the original purpose of the service."

The process to get started with Ko-fi is easy, simple, and free. After signing up to get their own "Buy Me a Coffee" link and page, users simply embed the button widget on their personal site, or share the link anywhere they’d like on the web. All that’s required is that Ko-fi users have PayPal accounts ready to go to receive or send payments. While PayPal may take the occasional (very small) usage fee, Ko-fi don’t take any of the cut or involve themselves in the transaction any more than is necessary to facilitate it, understanding the importance of the interaction of giver and receiver above all. Accepted currencies are currently dollars, euro, British pounds, and Australian dollars, with more coming soon.

At just $3 dollars a pop, it doesn’t cost much to show someone out there how much you appreciate their hard work. And with Ko-fi, which event goes so far as to promote the creators that utilize their service via the website, the gift of giving couldn’t come easier.

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