How Moderately Okay Cosplay Went From Losing Money on Patreon to $5,000/mo+

I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, how do you LOSE money on Patreon?”

John Cerabino of Moderately Okay Cosplay can tell you exactly how. In 2012, John made his first cosplay: a Draven costume (a character from online game League of Legends). It was his first introduction to cosplay, in which fans dress up as characters from games, anime, movies, TV shows, books, or whatever else they enjoy. He was hooked.

To avoid spamming his friends with costume photos, he made a Facebook page that attracted attention from other cosplayers and game fans. Three years later, in 2015, he created a Patreon account. At the time, he had about 10k followers on Instagram and 5k on Facebook. But when his pledges plateaued at $88/month, he shut it down. The money barely covered the cost of the rewards he offered (things like hi-res pictures, fansigns, prints, and handwritten thank you notes), and didn’t cover any of his costume costs (read: losing money). In his words, it “failed spectacularly.”

So, he went to work as an assistant human resources manager (to put that college degree to use) and kept making cosplays in his spare time. For the next two years, he shared his adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

Then, he was laid off. At the advice of a friend, he gave Patreon another try, launching the page in January 2017. The results came as a shock: “I got to to the first $1,000 in two or three months. It was mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled.

Less than a year and a half later, Moderately Okay Cosplay is earning over $5,000/mo and still growing.

In this article, we’ll look at the changes which made John’s second attempt at Patreon successful (although he describes himself as “succtressedful”), along with the recent strategies he implemented to skyrocket his page from under $3,000/mo to over $5,000/mo in just three months.

From Losing Money to $1,000+: What Changed?

John believes there were two main factors in his second-time’s-the-charm success:

  1. Attitude
  2. Audience

Certainly, raw numbers helped. In the two years since his first attempt, John’s audience on Instagram and Facebook had grown to 30k and 10k followers, respectively, with some overlap. He grew that audience by posting consistently over time and by interacting with engaged fans. That meant there were more people to notice and join his Patreon. But even more important was how his attitude towards both his audience and his Patreon page changed.

“As a person, I had grown a lot personally from the first time I had a Patreon vs. the second time I had it. I was interacting with people more and I had gotten over myself,” he explained. “I think that interactivity is a huge part of being successful, with Patreon especially.”

Patreon Cosplay: John cosplays Ignis, a character from Final Fantasy XV. Photo credit TEoSB.

John cosplays Ignis, a character from Final Fantasy XV. Photo credit TEoSB.

It’s an attitude that’s reflected throughout his profile, from the humble name (“Moderately Okay Cosplay,” an alliteration he quite enjoyed producing) to the ‘Why Patreon’ pitch he placed on his page.

Patreon Cosplay: John Cerabino explains why he chose to utilize Patreon.

In his pitch, he kills the stereotype that Patreon is just a way for fans to fund his costumes**.** Instead, it’s a way for him to do more things they enjoy through their continued support. And that attitude is born out in the way he structures rewards (more on that in a bit). It was enough of a change to reverse his earlier failure, and for him to keep pushing the boundaries of his Patreon.

A silly video John shared with fans (a result of his full-time creator status). “When you just wanna text the Avengers but Dormammu won’t stop trying to bargain,” he wrote in the caption.

From $3,000 to $5,000+: How a Twitterstorm Jumpstarted Moderately Okay Cosplay’s Explosive Growth

After John’s initial success, he continued to share his cosplay photos throughout social media, focusing mostly on Instagram but also building his presence on Facebook and Twitter. As of May 2018, he has 96k followers on Instagram, over 40k followers on Facebook, and over 11k followers on Twitter. (In other words: he tripled his Instagram audience and quadrupled his Facebook audience, so that has to count for something). His Patreon grew slowly but surely, and by February 2018, he was earning nearly $3,000/mo.

Patreon Cosplay: John’s cuphead cosplay, as captured by @theendofsomethingbeautiful!

John’s cuphead cosplay, as captured by @theendofsomethingbeautiful!

That’s when the MOPs stepped in. They’re the self-described Moderately Okay Peeps, and they believed that John wasn’t doing enough to market his Patreon page. He explained:

“I never promote Patreon. I am so bad about it because I don’t ever want people to feel like I’m doing this for me or that I’m doing it for the money. So the MOPs are always hounding me, saying ‘You need to promote it more, you need to promote it more.’

And in February, I promoted it more. I made around three posts that month that were like, ‘Hey, come join my Patreon.’ And people started joining and people started tweeting about how I have a really good Patreon, so I’d retweet that. And then the MOPs would retweet it and they would tell their friends, so more people joined. I went from under $3,000 — it was a crazy month — to just at the cusp of $4,000, and then it just kept going.”

A photo of a retweet by John on his Twitter account from Minha. It reads: "A year ago today I started pledging to @ModeratelyOKCos on Patreon. As fun as the monthly rewards have been, what I've gotten over the past year far exceeds anything I could ever pay for with money. I've gained a new family and a year's worth of laughter, love, and memories."

A MOP tweet that John retweeted on his Twitter account. Mihna is one of the moderators for the Moderately Okay Discord channel.

A large factor in the ‘Twitterstorm’ was John’s Discord channel. He opened it in April 2017 and “it become an actual community, a place for people that didn’t feel like they fit in anywhere else. But they fit in here; we love them. So they would come, and then they would tell their friends about the Discord, and their friends would join, and it snowballed from there.”

That sense of community explains why the MOPs were so eager to help John promote his page: they’ve found something even more valuable than the physical merch John offers, and they’re happy to share.

Spending the time to nurture that community has been an integral part of John’s success. He estimates that anywhere from 20-50% of his patronage is driven purely by the fact that he regularly interacts with his fans. He knows about 80% of his patrons by name just because they come up on his Snapchat and Discord so often.

“These people look up to you, you know?” he mused. “And interacting with them can show them that not only are you also human, you’re a person. Always take time to be interactive, to be available to them.”

The Specific Reward Strategies That Made John’s Page So Attractive to Patrons

The relationship that John cultivated with his fans was the primary driver of his success. But that’s only part of the story: his fans wouldn’t be so excited about his Patreon if it weren’t for his awesome rewards. And he has quite a number of those. Just a few of those include…

  • Behind the scenes updates & snapshots
  • Access to the exclusive Discord server
  • Tutorials for every costume he creates
  • A monthly Dungeons & Dragons game for supporters
  • Voting on his cosplays
  • Metallic & regular prints
  • Pieces of his costumes (to $100/mo supporters only)

Here’s his advice for successfully managing your rewards on Patreon.

1. Actually Fulfill Your Rewards

It sounds obvious, but… many creators don’t fulfill rewards in a timely manner, and some fail to do so altogether. If you do have to delay or cancel a reward, it’s not the end of the world (but only if you communicate with your fans about it). John strongly advises against leaving your fans in the dark. Instead, take the time to communicate (a) why your rewards are late/can’t be fulfilled, and (b) what you’re planning to do about it.

Here’s the message he sent to fans in December 2017 when he couldn’t keep up with reward fulfillment, followed by a few of their (many) supportive replies.

Patreon Cosplay: Keeping your patrons updated is not only crucial, but respectful and appreciated. Patrons will support you, especially when you explain to them why there is a delay in the process of a reward.

“You’d be surprised by how many pledges you’ll retain if you send them out in a timely manner versus how many you’ll lose if you don’t,” he added.

2. Keep Rewards Exciting (Refresh as Needed)

“You always want to think of something cool that no one else is doing,” John explained, “because if everyone else is doing it, why would they subscribe to you?” Part of the current flurry of signups is likely attributable to a new reward John is offering: metallic prints with a holographic component.

A metallic print of John’s cosplay as Dr. Strange from the Marvel Comics universe. The spell effects are holographic. Photo credit @zexenknight.

A metallic print of John’s cosplay as Dr. Strange from the Marvel Comics universe. The spell effects are holographic. Photo credit @zexenknight.

“They’re like the old pokemon cards that were holographic, but they’re cosplay prints. I did a Dr. Strange one and the glyphs and the spell effects appear holographic when you move the picture back and forth,” he said. When he announced their release, his fans were in a “positive uproar,” he laughed. Everyone wanted to have them!

Admittedly, the metallic prints cost three times as much to produce than regular prints — but that’s a sacrifice he’s happy to make. And it differentiates him from many of the other cosplayers on Patreon.

“If you are giving the same rewards at $5,000/month that you were giving when you were making $500/month, you are not giving back. You are not giving back to the people that made you. When I hit $4,000, I basically doubled all of my rewards. That’s what I mean by giving back. I can give cooler stuff and get excited about it.”

That gratitude and willingness to keep his rewards updated are why fans rave about his Patreon.

3. Need Reward Ideas? Talk to Patrons

Keeping rewards fresh and exciting is all well and nice… until you try to come up with an idea for it. For that, John takes a ‘darts at the dartboard’ approach: collect all your ideas (even if you think they’re dumb), take a random one, and investigate. It may be more viable than you realize.

If you’re wondering whether an idea is good or not, all it takes is talking to your existing patrons. They’re more than happy to voice their opinions and say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to something you propose. John regularly drops suggestions in his Discord channel to see what kind of response they elicit. For illustration, he shared the following in Discord and sent a screenshot of the results (all within less than one minute, mind):

A sample of John asking his Moderately Okay Peeps a question on Discord. The question reads: "What if we did anime character cooking videos every month as a new reward?"

“If you don’t do one as guy fieri I’m gonna fite u,” responded one fan to John’s anime cooking video pitch in Discord.

Patrons are a great way to know if an idea is good or not, because they’re already putting up money to support you. Learning what they want and enjoy can help you be more successful at planning and producing rewards.

And if you need more inspiration, support other creators in your field. Even if you don’t learn from their rewards, you might learn a thing or two from their techniques and tutorials (John certainly does).

Be Proud of Your Work (And Do Your Own Thing)

No matter what approach you take, maintaining a Patreon isn’t easy. “I think that people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into it,” John said. Not only does he have to completely design and build a new costume every month, he also has to keep up with conventions, photo shoots, and reward fulfillment. “The physical rewards alone take three to four entire workdays of office work,” he shared.

John cosplays as Gambit, one of the X-men. Photo credit @zexenknight.

John cosplays as Gambit, one of the X-men. Photo credit @zexenknight.

And even when you’re doing well, there are still haters. He laughed as he recounted an interesting interaction from earlier in the month: “I got called a ‘cosplay model’ the other day. It was great. There are people who are trying to divide the community and say, we’re not cosplayers, we’re makers because we make everything and it’s spun from lamb’s wool on the tallest peak of Mount Olympus,” he joked. The criticism didn’t phase him. “If you’re not cheering me on, why would I care what you think? I’ve got no time for that. I’ve got 95,000 people who do care about what I’m doing, so why am I going to care about a few people that are are being mean? I’m open to criticism, but there’s a difference between criticism and being just plain rude.”

In addition, he had one further thing to say to those reading this article:

“I would like to give a shout out to the Moderately Okay Peeps, because this wouldn’t be possible without them. They are my second family and they’re the most supportive people that I’ve ever encountered in my life and they’re the reason I’m still doing it.

Also, shout out to my mom. She probably won’t read this, but I made sure not to swear a single time in case she does. But shout out to Mom for being supportive. She hounds me to go back to school a lot, but thank you, Mom.”