The Rise and Fall of Pay-to-Surf Model: Lessons for Startups



Sep 13, 2023 • 3 min read


The Rise and Fall of Pay-to-Surf Model: Lessons for Startups

In the late 1990s, a new online business model called Pay to Surf (PTS) gained popularity. Companies implementing this model promised users a share of the advertising revenue in exchange for watching promotional content over the web. However, this model experienced a significant decline following the dot-com crash. Let's explore the reasons behind this decline and draw insights that can be valuable for startups today.

One of the main advantages touted by PTS companies was the opportunity for users to earn rewards by simply surfing the web. This concept appealed to many, as it seemed like an easy way to make money online. However, this also attracted people who tried to defraud the companies for monetary gain. Spammers became a significant problem, forcing many companies to terminate user accounts. This issue highlights the importance of implementing robust security measures and ensuring the integrity of user interactions. Startups must be prepared to tackle potential fraudulent activities and protect their user base.

Additionally, the surviving PTS companies shifted their approach to a rewards-based structure. Users were incentivized to perform tasks such as answering marketing emails and shopping at specific stores to earn reward points. This evolution in the PTS model reflects the need for startups to adapt and pivot their strategies based on market demands. What works initially may not be sustainable in the long run, and being flexible is crucial for survival.

One notable example in the realm of pay-to-surf models is Brave, a web browser that proposes an alternative compensation method for browsing. Instead of sharing advertising revenue directly, Brave rewards users with tokens that can eventually be exchanged for dollars. This approach incorporates elements of cryptocurrency and offers users more control over their online experiences. Brave's implementation of the pay-to-surf model demonstrates the importance of innovation and finding unique ways to engage users.

Looking beyond the pay-to-surf model, we can draw inspiration from LayerX CEO, Yoshinori Fukushima, and his insights on startup success. Fukushima emphasizes the importance of the "mysterious passion" and "sense of urgency" that emerge when individuals stake their lives on a venture. Startups often face resource limitations compared to established companies, but this can drive them to create superior products. The intense focus and determination that startups possess can be a significant advantage in developing innovative solutions.

Fukushima also highlights the need for startups to accelerate their progress during the imperfect stages of product development. Instead of waiting for perfection, startups should create prototypes and have users test them. This early feedback can uncover previously unknown user challenges and validate the logic behind the product. Identifying moments when the prototype successfully addresses user pain points is crucial for startups to gain momentum and attract a larger user base.

To increase their chances of success, startups should also streamline their efforts within the first three to six months of launch. By prioritizing and focusing on a specific set of tasks, startups can avoid spreading themselves too thin and mitigate potential risks. This time frame allows startups to refine their strategies based on initial user feedback and make necessary adjustments to their products or services.

Furthermore, Fukushima highlights the importance of customer-centricity and the need to eliminate distractions. Startups should prioritize understanding their customers' needs and tailor their offerings accordingly. By cutting out unnecessary noise and focusing on solving specific customer challenges, startups can differentiate themselves and build a loyal user base.

In conclusion, the rise and fall of the pay-to-surf model offer valuable lessons for startups. The importance of security, adaptability, innovation, passion, and customer-centricity cannot be overstated. Startups must be prepared to address potential fraudulent activities, pivot their strategies based on market demands, and find unique ways to engage and reward users. Additionally, they should embrace imperfection, accelerate progress during the early stages, streamline efforts, and prioritize customer needs. By incorporating these insights into their operations, startups can increase their chances of success in a highly competitive landscape.


  1. "Pay to surf - Wikipedia", (Glasp)
  2. "【LayerX CEO福島良典】2度の起業から見えた「スタートアップが勝つための鉄則」 - エンジニアtype | 転職type", (Glasp)

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