Vanessa Quigley Show Transcript
Bart: [00:00:00] Hey builders. I think a lot of people put off starting a business because they feel the timing isn’t right. When Vanessa quickly got the idea to start Chatbooks, a consumer tech startup that turns your Instagram feed into scrapbooks, she was a busy mother of seven, but Vanessa and her husband Nate took the leap and have built chatbox into a multimillion dollar company over the past six years.
[00:00:20] We’re excited to hear Vanessa’s founder story. Hey, Vanessa, thanks for joining us today.
[00:00:24] Vanessa: [00:00:24] Hi. It’s my pleasure.
[00:00:26] Bart: [00:00:26] So you and your husband Nate, started Chatbooks six years ago. Yes. Tell us, where did the original idea come from? Did it actually start out like the same idea as you now have kind of executed on?
[00:00:37] Vanessa: [00:00:37] No, not at all. And actually, as I said, yes, it was six years ago, I’m remembering that the seed that was planted that eventually blossomed into chapbooks was, let’s see. My daughter Claire is 16. It was right when she was . Born, so it’s about 16 years ago, we had an experience in our family with piece of, like family memory.
[00:00:55] It was my husband’s grandfather singing home on the range. Someone had a recording of that, and that happened to be the song that my husband’s saying to my children. At his funerals. They played that audio clip and it was magic and we wanted to have that to bring home and share with our kids. But in the hustle and bustle of the funeral, we lost track of who owned the tape or where, however they played it, and it was had just disappeared.
[00:01:20] And that’s when my husband had this great idea that while he was building this other software company, he was going to start building a way to safeguard. Organize and enjoy our family memories, photos, videos, audio clips. That’s what initially spurred the idea. And so we just kind of started funneling funds towards this little passion project while I was still having babies and raising kids, and while he was building his other businesses, this little passion project started percolating, so
[00:01:48] Bart: [00:01:48] 16 years ago,
[00:01:49] Vanessa: [00:01:49] 16 I know
[00:01:51] Bart: [00:01:51] it took 10 years to kind of get the funds and the momentum and the plan in place to get moving.
[00:01:57] Vanessa: [00:01:57] Yeah. Well, it actually took, I’m selling out of one of his businesses to give his a hundred percent attention. I mean, it’s hard to really make progress on something that you’re just doing on the side. so when he finally was ready to go forward 100%, it took about two years until we had the light bulb moment.
[00:02:13] I’ll say I had the light bulb moment that eventually turned into Chatbooks, but it was an idea wanting to safeguard, organize, enjoy family memories has been something that we’ve been passionate about. Really forever.
[00:02:24] Bart: [00:02:24] Okay, so were you staying home full time with the kids during that 10 years? Is that what you’re saying?
[00:02:29] Vanessa: [00:02:29] Full time ish. I am a trained singer, opera singer, and so in between babies, I would go out and audition for a show or take on a gig and do a little singing on the side. That kind of just refueled my, my engine and. Was. That was my passion project.
[00:02:45] Bart: [00:02:45] So cool. And did you do that in college? Yes. Okay, that’s awesome.
[00:02:49] And your husband, entrepreneurial before he actually had
[00:02:52] Vanessa: [00:02:52] studied accounting at BYU and really wanted to go into professional services consulting, but I think it was at business school. He went to Harvard business school. That’s when he caught the entrepreneurial bug. And it’s all I could think about. And in fact, in school, he started a couple of different businesses and instead of taking the nice package from the consulting firm that he had worked for previously, which would have paid off all of our business school debt, which was not small, it wasn’t that hard for him because he knew what he wanted to do.
[00:03:23] He wanted to build businesses. And so we started off very, very poor out of business school at paying off that debt. And. Jumped into the startup life.
[00:03:33] Bart: [00:03:33] How did you feel about that?
[00:03:35] Vanessa: [00:03:35] You know, I was equally scared and excited. I’m a natural risk taker and I had a ton of faith in him. He’s the smartest guy I know, and so I just put all my eggs in that basket and did the best I could to keep.
[00:03:47] Things move in at home and kind of worked out. Yeah. Except he was a little surprised. And right now it’s to add his graduation from MBA school that I found out that day I was pregnant with number four. I know I wasn’t really making it easier on him and back in that regard, but family’s always been really important to us, and so I’m so excited that we finally get to work together on something that we’re both equally passionate about.
[00:04:08] Bart: [00:04:08] Yeah. Okay. So it’s been six years since you’ve been doing that. Yep. Well, let’s, before we dive into like how it is now and all of that, I want to hear a little bit more about Chatbooks. You know, you had this idea that spark 16 years ago, you kind of did some things on the side. Is that what you’re saying for those 10 years, but what happened six years ago that you were ready and how did you get started?
[00:04:29] Vanessa: [00:04:29] He finally decided to do 100% on trying to make this. Business work. It was called folk story. Then it was called just family. So we hadn’t had a salary in a couple of years, and we even moved our family from Florida, where I’m from and where I thought we’d be forever. We moved to Utah. That was scary. we’d heard this is a great place to start a business, and we knew we were building a business in, had to do with family memories and family history.
[00:04:51] And Utah is kind of the Mecca for that. So. Yeah. We came to Utah and six months later still hadn’t made much progress and I had an experience with my youngest son who is 12 now, but he was just a little kindergartener and he was looking through a photo album his preschool teacher had made for him with little photos of field trips and parties, and it was emotional.
[00:05:12] He was actually crying looking at this photo albums. He never wanted to grow up, and it was adorable, but it also left me with this like heavy weight of mom guilt. That I was failing. And one of the jobs that I knew was super important, and that was to help my family hold onto the story of our life together.
[00:05:29] I was a die hard scrapbooker as a young mom in the 90s that was like the thing to do. Yeah. But as I had more kids, and as you know, photography change to digital photography, it wasn’t printing my. Photos at Costco anymore and having that physical photo to put in a book. I hadn’t done anything, and this poor kid had nothing, not even one printed photo of himself other than the annual Christmas card.
[00:05:50] Wow. And so in that moment of mom guilt and desperation to build something that people really want, I had this idea that if I could just print my Instagram, he would have more to hold onto. Basically had Instagram his whole life and had posted the highlights of our family. For friends and family to see.
[00:06:07] We’ve moved around a lot. So that was a great way for me to keep in touch. And I had this vision of me sitting in bed scrolling my Instagram and enjoying all those memories, but he’s never going to do that. I’m not going to give him my cell phone to do that. So I suggested to my husband that maybe we shift a little bit instead of building enterprise software for family memories.
[00:06:23] Yeah, just make a way for me to print my Instagram, a simple utility. And so he took his little team at that point, and they had a hack week and they had a prototype, and as soon as we started showing to people, people were instead of saying, Oh yeah, that’s something I totally should do. They were saying, shut up and take my money.
[00:06:39] I want that. And that was kind of a game changer.
[00:06:43] Bart: [00:06:43] That’s a better feeling for people to actually just say, Hey, I want to buy this. Yeah. Just give you good feedback.
[00:06:48] Vanessa: [00:06:48] And again, hindsight, all of the focus groups we did where people said, yeah, Oh, this is great. I should totally do this. We should do this. should is like the kiss of death.
[00:06:56] Bart: [00:06:56] And it’s less like, how do I do this right now?
[00:06:59] Vanessa: [00:06:59] Yes. Sign me up. Take my credit card.
[00:07:02] Bart: [00:07:02] Yeah. Interesting. I remember those days. So this was like 2014 2013
[00:07:08] Vanessa: [00:07:08] somewhere in there. 14 yeah, 14
[00:07:11] Bart: [00:07:11] and I remember Chatbooks coming onto the scene. My wife is, you know, she’s been doing Instagram for a long time. I remember thinking that’s a very simple, smart thing, like to just print those.
[00:07:22] And was it hard technologically to, to create a solution to just print those? Nope. Was it more a manufacturer? Like how do you get the printing costs down? Or
[00:07:33] Vanessa: [00:07:33] that’s where we had, you know, to really dig in and figure out is that operations aspect of it. Building the software. We have an amazing CTO that we actually worked with, my husband worked with in Florida that we kept on our team and he’s a genius.
[00:07:48] And so he was able to write the software and create the app integration. But the ops was a little tricky and we didn’t know anything about. Printing, but one of Nate’s friends from business school, J D Gardner, he happened to own a print shop in South Provo and so called him up and he helped us get things going.
[00:08:05] And it was really exciting to actually have a physical product to show for all of that work. And you know, we had such great response from customers. Everyone was loving it and posting about it. And we were growing without spending anything on marketing. And then the holidays came around and we were slammed.
[00:08:21] And. Print capacity was crazy. And you know, it was scary but exciting. And now we have print partners all over the United States, and it’s just, it’s like a pinch me moment to think about where we started and where we are now.
[00:08:36] Bart: [00:08:36] Right. So what were some of the challenges in those early days? Like there’s. The capacity, obviously, but you’ve took off quickly in terms of growth on Instagram and were there other social media platforms that you really leveraged as
[00:08:49] Vanessa: [00:08:49] a term just with Instagram, and that was back in the days where people were following you and you posted something.
[00:08:54] They saw it and it was a new thing. And people, when they would order their books, they were so excited and being, a lot of people had never seen their photos in real life other than on their phones.
[00:09:05] Bart: [00:09:05] That’s weird to think about, isn’t it?
[00:09:07] Vanessa: [00:09:07] No. And a lot of moms were carrying around the same type of guilt that I was carrying around, and especially these younger moms where their whole family’s story was on Instagram.
[00:09:15] So it was like magic to be able to have that safe on the bookshelf, but then also for their kids to look at and enjoy. And so just by word of mouth, we grew like majorly. And, and then we, we gave books to people who had a big audience on Instagram, our photographer, Heather Milton Stein. She was actually the whole, you know, creator of the brand.
[00:09:37] She started our Instagram page. She did all photography. She’s so talented. And she also had some really amazing, talented friends, and so she connected us and we gave books to her friend Alison Faulkner, who posted about how much she loved her books, and then she actually melted down our servers. At that point.
[00:09:54] It went crazy. But yeah, in the early days it was actually really easy to get. The word out, and we were growing really fast, but algorithms start kicking in and we, we eventually did start doing stuff on Facebook and ever since then it’s kind of just been a game trying to figure out how to get the message out to the people that are following us.
[00:10:11] But influencer marketing was huge in the beginning for us. And a real turning point was a video that we did on Facebook and partnership with the Harmon brothers. I don’t know if you’ve seen any
[00:10:21] Bart: [00:10:21] videos.
[00:10:22] Vanessa: [00:10:22] Yeah. So they had done one for Poopourri and Squatty potty and purple and they were amazing. And, we were lucky enough that they took us on as clients.
[00:10:31] Bart: [00:10:31] I’m trying to think if I’ve seen yours. What is it?
[00:10:33] Vanessa: [00:10:33] It’s a woman in the bathtub.
[00:10:36] Bart: [00:10:36] All right. Cause it’s
[00:10:36] Vanessa: [00:10:36] got millions and millions of views and we still get people tweeting and commenting about. How much they love the video and it really did connect with our customer.
[00:10:46] Bart: [00:10:46] Yeah, it was a funny video.
[00:10:48] Vanessa: [00:10:48] You know what, there was magic in that moment because the Facebook algorithm was favoring long form video at that time. And so I think that was part of how and why that did so well. Everyone fell in love with the character. And so we thought, well, let’s follow up and this time dad is going to play a bigger role and we need more funny.
[00:11:06] And you know, we invested in another video, like a. Part two of that one. And I actually think it was better than the first one, but the Facebook algorithm had completely changed and it, Oh man, that was a bummer. That was a big bummer.
[00:11:19] Bart: [00:11:19] Cause they’re big investments when you create a video like that. Yeah. So how many employees, like how quickly did you have to hire quickly?
[00:11:27] You had Heather Mills inside, by the way. . Her husband and I went to school together, so
[00:11:33] Vanessa: [00:11:33] I’m Matt and we love Matt. In fact, Matt was on our team for a while. Yeah, he was our creative director. I think we grew pretty slowly. I mean, just as needed. As we had money, we made the hires that we needed to.
[00:11:45] Bart: [00:11:45] How big is your team today?
[00:11:47] Vanessa: [00:11:47] It’s about 120 okay. Yeah,
[00:11:50] Bart: [00:11:50] but you were starting with seven it started with four.
[00:11:54] Vanessa: [00:11:54] Yeah. And then we realized that like, Oh, we know what we need help with customer support and
[00:11:59] Bart: [00:11:59] add as needed.
[00:12:00] Vanessa: [00:12:00] As my husband went to subway, do you get his sandwich? She, the guy making a sandwich. They started chatting and he’s like, Nate said, we’re actually looking for someone to help us with our customer support.
[00:12:09] Would you be interested? And that guy literally took off his apron. It was done with subway and hired subway Josh to help us with our support. You know? But that’s another story in itself, the customer support piece of it. That’s where we have so many people working in our customer support team. That’s one of the pillars of our brand.
[00:12:24] That’s where we really differentiate. One of the ways we differentiate from competitors, and I think we’ve got 80 women. On our customer support team. It’s fully remote, most of them part time, kind of our secret superpower.
[00:12:36] Bart: [00:12:36] Yeah, and I’ve heard you speak about that. I saw you at a conference. Talk about that.
[00:12:41] And this is an area that my wife and I have talked a lot about, and she has a few remote, you know, virtual assistants, and there are a ton of people. Who want to work remotely. Yes. Not all women, but a lot of, you know, stay at home moms or stay at home dads or just people who like that flex environment.
[00:13:00] Tell me more about like your thoughts about that.
[00:13:03] Vanessa: [00:13:03] Well, as my husband and I were laying in bed and to the wee hours a night answering support tickets, I realize this is not scalable and I personally have a hard time with support because this company is like my baby. Yeah. Don’t you tell me it’s not working.
[00:13:17] So I get a little emotional, so it’s better for me to be a little removed from it. But the business that my husband ran before he came to this full time was owned by jet blue. And I don’t know if you are familiar with the jet blue customer support model, but
[00:13:30] Bart: [00:13:30] a friends who have worked remotely, it’s
[00:13:33] Vanessa: [00:13:33] a fully remote position.
[00:13:34] And. I know a few people that had worked for them and they really love the flexibility and it was awesome for them to be able to contribute to their family in a meaningful way and use their talents and develop their skills. And so that idea sparked in our mind, and we’re like, let’s just, I know somebody who used to work in customer support.
[00:13:51] Let’s see if she wants to come work. For us and kind of built our team from there. We would get a lot of inbound from customers saying, I love what you’re doing. How can I be a part of it? I would love to join your team. And, we started building out this amazing team and it’s been really satisfying for us because there were a lot of smart, talented, energetic people who aren’t in a position to come to the office full time.
[00:14:13] Yeah. And with technology, they can work remotely whenever and wherever is convenient for them. And since our customers are primarily women and mothers, it makes sense that our support team reflects that. They get each other, they’re very compassionate and empathetic. And we also give our customer support team a lot of leeway to make the customer.
[00:14:38] Happy. Yeah. We lived in France for a couple of years and there are, the customer’s always wrong. Yeah. That’s a really irritated and so we’ve swung all the way to the other side and where the customer is always right. And we’ll do anything to make it a good experience.
[00:14:53] Bart: [00:14:53] Yeah, that makes lot of sense. So what would you say are the top three challenges.
[00:14:59] And then the top three, like kind of pros of, of having kind of a remote customer support workforce.
[00:15:05] Vanessa: [00:15:05] Top three challenges. the first thing that comes to my mind is I have a hard time keeping all of the names and faces mashed up.
[00:15:11] Bart: [00:15:11] You don’t see them on a daily basis
[00:15:13] Vanessa: [00:15:13] and they’re such an important part of the business.
[00:15:15] In fact, we just did a town hall this week about it where I, you know, reiterated the fact that everything we’re doing in. The office is great, but without this tent pole, you know, holding us up, the customer support team, we fall flat. So it’s challenging to keep that integration really, you know, fresh and alive.
[00:15:35] And so once a year we have a, what we call chat Fest. It’s celebrating the birthday of the start of the company, but we fly everyone in. Everyone who works remote comes in, we give them a stipend to cover costs and childcare, and we have team meetings and this thing we call tour demand force. Mom force is kind of a nickname we have for our customer support team as they’re mostly moms.
[00:15:58] And of course, do you reckon with
[00:16:00] Bart: [00:16:00] men in the, there have been.
[00:16:02] Vanessa: [00:16:02] There have been, but it’s a pretty strong and distinct culture. So the challenges are not really, you just don’t get that face to face interaction. So we try to bring them in for that summer event, and then also in the holidays as we can
[00:16:15] Bart: [00:16:15] do a lot of zoom calls and
[00:16:19] Vanessa: [00:16:19] continues to be a challenge.
[00:16:20] Gosh, I’m going to be, it’s amazing. It allows us to. Have three different offices. We have an office in Sugarhouse. We have one in kiln Lehigh. Our main HQ is in Provo. We try to keep people off the freeways as much as possible, so we only have everyone in the main office twice a week, and we rely heavily on zoom.
[00:16:38] It can be glitchy. I don’t know. Do you guys use it? A lot this morning we were having such a hard time. We were trying to call into the marketing conference room and it was calling into the board room.
[00:16:46] Bart: [00:16:46] I think we’re like a lot of companies who, we use a lot of different solutions and it just kind of depends on what we have set up on this in this video conference room.
[00:16:55] We’re on our
[00:16:56] Vanessa: [00:16:56] laptops, I’m all ears. If you do
[00:16:59] Bart: [00:16:59] not really. Okay. Is pretty good.
[00:17:02] Vanessa: [00:17:02] Yeah. Well, we use it a lot. That is, that is one of the ways that we, we make
[00:17:06] Bart: [00:17:06] that actually like FaceTime the best.
[00:17:08] Vanessa: [00:17:08] Okay. Yeah. We actually bought a couple of Facebook portals thinking that that would be an answer. We still use those.
[00:17:14] Bart: [00:17:14] I work in an office setting.
[00:17:15] Vanessa: [00:17:15] You have to make like a, like a fake user or not, it’s probably not allowed, but
[00:17:19] Bart: [00:17:19] yeah. Yeah. FaceTime seems like the one that is actually the least glitchy, like Google Hangouts, glitchy zoom better FaceTime has never failed me.
[00:17:31] Vanessa: [00:17:31] All right. We’re going to start using more of that,
[00:17:34] Bart: [00:17:34] but I don’t generally use it for business because it’s like you have to have an iPhone, right?
[00:17:38] Yeah. I don’t think you can do it on an Android.
[00:17:40] Vanessa: [00:17:40] You do it from our laptop or we, Oh, no, you’re not using a Mac
[00:17:42] Bart: [00:17:42] book. You just outed me. Okay. So the top thing was, you know, just getting to know people is harder remotely. And you’d do some things to bring people together. Are there other big challenges? I just had top three.
[00:17:59] Vanessa: [00:17:59] I’d say cultural li, like we have a really distinct culture at Chatbooks and we work really hard to communicate that and reinforce that. But I mean different teams have their own little subculture and the mod force, the, customer support troop, I guess we’ve gotta come up with a good name. We’re trying not to use mom force, cause that’s the name of our big community initiative now.
[00:18:18] But, they, they also have a distinct culture. And. That’s great, and that’s awesome. But I think just making everyone feel like one integrated whole, we have our town halls once a week where everyone zooms in, but again, since our customer support team works remotely around their kids’ schedules, it doesn’t always coincide with when it’s convenient for them.
[00:18:38] We record it so they can watch it later, and I just wish that we could all be together. Like, yeah. Working together, yoke to the same thing all the time. But that’s just not possible. And actually there are benefits to having a remote team. It, it allows you to have a more diverse team, you know, and we’re really committed to that diversity in our company.
[00:18:57] I mean. When a woman me finally spoke up, that’s when things started happening,
[00:19:02] Bart: [00:19:02] right?
[00:19:04] Vanessa: [00:19:04] We brought on Heather Milda sine who also was like the spark of genius. so we aim for 50, 50 parody, and our team that we’re at that on our leadership team. There are other ways that we would like to have more diversity in our team, but I think that’s a challenge for men and
[00:19:19] Bart: [00:19:19] women.
[00:19:19] 50 50 yeah. Okay. Yep. Cool. So men and women, 50 50 on the executive team, but is that throughout the company or is that mainly like leadership?
[00:19:28] Vanessa: [00:19:28] Leadership? I mean, if you include the customer support. True. We get closer, but excluding them, like on our dev team and product team, we’re, we’re not there yet, but we actively are working on it and talking about it as a leadership team, it’s a huge priority for us and diversity of all kinds.
[00:19:43] Bart: [00:19:43] Now do you, and I don’t mean to necessarily just focus on this remote work the whole time, but it’s a really interesting topic and I think a lot of our builders might be interested in thinking about, you know, how they can, if they’re not already. Used contractors or or full time remote workers for specific roles.
[00:20:01] And I’m wondering, your customer support team largely remote. Do you do that with developers and other business functions, finance or HR or other things as well?
[00:20:12] Vanessa: [00:20:12] We have, you know, if we find the right candidate, we want superstars. Yeah, we’ll make it work. We’ll
[00:20:16] Bart: [00:20:16] make it work.
[00:20:17] Vanessa: [00:20:17] I think, you know, some teams, they just like working in person together more.
[00:20:21] And so, I don’t know. I mean, we’ve had mixed experiences on that, but we’re open to it. We’ve tried it. I mean, who knows what’s gonna happen with this? Coronavirus we’re all going to be working remote at some point, you know,
[00:20:33] Bart: [00:20:33] the doesn’t quite come to that, but.
[00:20:36] Vanessa: [00:20:36] The thought crossed my mind is we were trying to get zoom to work this morning, like,
[00:20:40] Bart: [00:20:40] we need to get these working.
[00:20:42] We can do this. I
[00:20:43] Vanessa: [00:20:43] know my husband’s been home with the flu this week and he’s been calling in to everything. I mean, it’s totally doable. It’s doable. And I think as maybe as more of our team is remote, we’ll see that there are more challenges right now. We’re really lucky to have everyone else in the office every Monday and Thursday.
[00:20:59] Bart: [00:20:59] That’s great. So have you taken on funding for Chatbooks to grow? Oh yeah. Yeah. Several rounds. Yes. Friends and family,
[00:21:07] Vanessa: [00:21:07] friends and family round. Yes. And then we add a seed series a and a series B. yeah. And you know, we spent all of our own money on those years leading up to this. So finally, when we had the idea that was working, yeah, we needed a little capital.
[00:21:23] Bart: [00:21:23] and six years in, do you still have this vision of a ton of growth from here? You do?
[00:21:29] Vanessa: [00:21:29] Yeah. Proving to be a little slower than it was right out of the gate. The algorithm, the algorithm, and I would say that’s like one of our challenges right now is just continuing. I’m like, we got addicted to that quick growth and it’s just not easy.
[00:21:43] Bart: [00:21:43] Did that ever become a problem where you were growing really quickly and then it slowed, but you were still kind of doing things to prepare for additional growth at the same pace?
[00:21:52] Vanessa: [00:21:52] Yeah. Yeah. In fact, going back to our customer support troop, we like doubled the people on that to an anticipate as a patient.
[00:21:59] Yes. And holidays always big for us. I mean, we’re really lucky with the subscription business that we’ve got a good year round business, but holiday gifting, you know that that’s huge. And so we hired an NTC patient for that and the, you know, the continued business after that, but we ended up having to let quite a few people go.
[00:22:16] We were a little overstaffed. Yes. And I think when that viral video came out, it was great. We sold tons of books. We got lots of new customers through Facebook, but the quality of those customers wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping for. That lifetime value wasn’t up to par with our early adopters or early customers.
[00:22:35] A little more
[00:22:36] Bart: [00:22:36] transactional. They saw something they want to, they came and bought it and then they were done. Yeah, that’s tough. And so how have you kind of adjusted for all of that now? Like to keep everything kind of in par with your growth.
[00:22:48] Vanessa: [00:22:48] Exploring new channels. I mean, we were just all in on Facebook for a long time.
[00:22:52] And, you know, exploring other marketing channels and customer acquisition. Right now we’re leaning into community and content, which, you know, we hadn’t really done with a real. Focus before, but looking at other direct consumer brands who have really worked hard in developing distinct and active community, they’ve got some pretty good valuations.
[00:23:12] So we would like to have a little bit of that magic too. So I started a podcast for moms called the mom force podcast. It’s one of the ways we’re doing it. You know, like I said before, most of our customers are moms. And the mission of Chatbooks is not just to get your photos out of your phone. That is important, but we want to strengthen families and we know that looking at family photos together is one way to strengthen families.
[00:23:35] We actually did a research project in conjunction with HP and a professor at university of Utah and BYU. That proves we have data now that proves that looking at photos together as a family creates stronger family bonds, less anxiety, a sense that you’re doing a better job as parents. So that’s what we’re leaning into.
[00:23:52] And I’m doing that with the podcast content. We’ve got another show. It’s actually pretty. It’s, it tells you what to watch on TV, which doesn’t seem like something that was strengthened families, but I loved watching a good TV show with my kids. Yeah. Yeah. Just looking for other ways to build community, to get brand awareness out there.
[00:24:09] You know, open up the funnel to try to drive more customer.
[00:24:13] Bart: [00:24:13] And it sounds like what you’re doing is you’re building your vision and your. Product strategy potentially around an audience, around a customer set around families really, and how to strengthen families. So it’s not just all about printing photos or photo books, it’s more you’re, you’re providing value through your podcast and you’re looking at a lot of other ways to potentially strengthen families.
[00:24:37] Is that right?
[00:24:38] Vanessa: [00:24:38] Yes. And you know, we make money on the books, right. And not everyone who listens to the podcast or is in our Facebook group is buying the books yet. But there are other products that we’ve started selling. We sell wall tiles, photos that you can hang on your wall or have on your desk or table.
[00:24:54] Bart: [00:24:54] Okay. So
[00:24:55] Vanessa: [00:24:55] it’s like a square 10 by 10 canvas of a wall picture, and it has a re stickable thing on the back of it. So you hang them up on your wall and then you can move them around. And it’s just another way to get our
[00:25:06] Bart: [00:25:06] photos picture frame that you have to do a little like kid friendly
[00:25:11] Vanessa: [00:25:11] kids can handle them and they’re washable.
[00:25:13] So we started selling those last year and. We are really committed to coming up with a video solution because a picture’s worth a thousand words or whatever that is, but a video, right? You’ve got kids.
[00:25:24] Bart: [00:25:24] My kids love watching videos and there’s
[00:25:27] Vanessa: [00:25:27] nothing like a video to capture those sounds and faces little, Oh, and our family loves watching home videos.
[00:25:33] I stopped taking video because I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Right? Yeah. And are they clogs up your phone? I’ll say, you have no storage. You’re like, Oh, I know how to get some storage. I’m just gonna delete that
[00:25:42] Bart: [00:25:42] video.
[00:25:43] Vanessa: [00:25:43] So yeah, we’re really actively trying to figure out how can we help families organize and enjoy their videos.
[00:25:50] Bart: [00:25:50] So that’s interesting because I think there might be some existing services that I’ve heard about, but never used. Where you can send in your raw video files and then they cut them up, they put together a little video for you, send it back with music and everything, or you can just do it yourself, but a lot of people, or maybe they don’t want to take the time or can’t take the time or like it takes some time and energy and it’s also, you have to be a little bit skilled to do it right.
[00:26:14] You have to figure out how to do it.
[00:26:16] Vanessa: [00:26:16] Well, part of the magic of Chatbooks in the beginning was that it was so easy. It was beyond easy. That’s what we would say. You just. Open up the app, connect your Instagram, and we did all the magic in the background and delivered these books,
[00:26:28] Bart: [00:26:28] like edit photos and things.
[00:26:30] Right. People already did that for Instagram.
[00:26:32] Vanessa: [00:26:32] Yes. And that what was so genius about it, and that is why we are shouting from the rooftops like we’ve never before that Instagram is the best, easiest way to get your Chatbooks. You know, we kind of pulled back on that messaging. At first because as we realized that like, wow, our entire business is dependent upon Instagram.
[00:26:49] That was kind of scary, right? And so we worked really hard to build another way to make your books,
[00:26:54] Bart: [00:26:54] upload your photos,
[00:26:56] Vanessa: [00:26:56] the standard photo book, and we, we still is the easiest way and the best app to do that, but the mix of our customers was. We were selling more of those books when we were Instagram books, but then we were able to be part of new partnership with Instagram where we’re now, we get better file sizes.
[00:27:13] They just revamped their whole API, and so it’s a better product than it’s ever been before. And now we’re in partnership with them. And so. We’re leaning hard back into the Instagram series. But yeah, back to what you were saying about video. Video requires a little bit of work. So that’s what we’re working on.
[00:27:27] Creating that magic that can automatically, that’s like one of our keywords. It has to be automatic help you curate your video and be able to enjoy it. And another thing is, when we first started, we felt like something that differentiated us was this material aspect, right? Cause people, there are other ways to enjoy your photos.
[00:27:45] But chapbooks was different because it was. Something material you could hold onto it. And so that was actually our like motto for a while. Hold onto what matters. Yeah. As we’ve been thinking about video, I’ve actually been thinking about that for years, and I did a lot of customer research and a lot of people were still using DVDs and were saying, I want my video on DVD.
[00:28:03] Well, we just did another round of user interviews and no one’s using DVDs. I’m so glad we didn’t lean into that solution. So I see something like chatbox TV. It’s like an app on your Apple TV or Roku where you can watch sleds, shows if your books and you can watch your home videos, maybe enjoy some of your friends and family content.
[00:28:22] I don’t know. I might be saying too much. I don’t want to divulge all of my ideas and secrets, but what about
[00:28:27] Bart: [00:28:27] tick-tock?
[00:28:28] Vanessa: [00:28:28] Oh. What about it?
[00:28:31] Bart: [00:28:31] put a lot of time into those little different
[00:28:35] Vanessa: [00:28:35] are, I mean, those should be kept to, you got to keep those to show your grandkids or kids. But yeah, that’s a whole nother piece.
[00:28:43] And that’s another thing, like all of these, photo sources and, you know, sources for content. They change and new ones pop up. And we just gotta be nimble and dig in and learn all we can. And. Figure out how to use them.
[00:28:55] Bart: [00:28:55] So one of the things we think about on, on this podcast, you know, built to stay. The idea being that you are really trying to build something for long lasting success.
[00:29:05]and sometimes that requires sacrificing something now, right? Sacrificing in order to create some more value in the longterm. And. I’m wondering if you have any examples of things that, like how you’ve really built Chatbooks to say and how you’re continuing to do that. I think we’ve all heard in this story some of those things, but as you think about it, like what are the things that you think, Oh man, that was the sacrifice, or this is a sacrifice that we’re making for the longterm good of this business and the families that we’re trying to support?
[00:29:35] Vanessa: [00:29:35] Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is me personally. I never intended to be part of a startup to be building a business. My husband always wanted to, and he’d always want to talk about building a business together, but I had no interest. I wanted to be on the stage. Right. And when we had the idea for Chatbooks, my youngest was finally going to be in school all day long, and that was a day I had been waiting for.
[00:29:58] Bart: [00:29:58] When you had more free time, free time.
[00:30:02] Vanessa: [00:30:02] And actually I was either going to go get my masters or become a Yoda yoga instructor or who knows what, but it was like for the first time I was going to get to do what I wanted to do. And so I’ve put all of that on the back burner for the last six years, and I’m a singer of singing is what makes me the happiest.
[00:30:19] I have hardly sung at all in six years because I’ve been so focused on building the business, which again, I’m . Super passionate about, but it does feel like a sacrifice for me personally. It’s also a bit of a sacrifice for my family. My kids, they don’t have the same access to mom as they used to. I mean, I try really tried to get home when they get home from school, but
[00:30:38] Bart: [00:30:38] they have pictures of you,
[00:30:40] Vanessa: [00:30:40] pictures of me, but I don’t cook as much as I used to.
[00:30:43] I mean, your home life has definitely changed a little bit. So like personal sacrifices have been made. But thinking about how to create a business that will last, off of the high of that viral video where, you know, we just, we grew so quickly and it was so exciting. We had an idea about building some AI that would help people curate their camera roll.
[00:31:03] Of why Instagram is such a great photo sources. You’re already curating as you’re choosing what to post. Right. And people were starting to use Instagram less and less in that way. More people are posting on stories and Instagram doesn’t give us access to the content that is put on stories.
[00:31:17] Bart: [00:31:17] That’s too bad because that is a good,
[00:31:20] Vanessa: [00:31:20] we are hopeful that one day that will change.
[00:31:22] And then also I think people just using social media a little differently than they were when we first started. Less people are putting their whole life out there on it. Yeah. So we built, we did, we invested in this AI that would help people auto curate their camera roll, and we basically decided, based on all the data we had from people’s.
[00:31:39] Included and excluded photos of millions and millions of books, what they would want to print and turns out people don’t want a robot going through their camera roll to, to decide what should go on their books. And I think I should have thought of that, you know, as we were heading down that road. But I was just so excited about continuing that growth and with that automatic idea in mind.
[00:32:00] And it eventually became clear that that was not going to work. And then we had just invested in the wrong thing. And so we had to make some hard decisions. As an executive team and pull back in some areas and let go some people and shift our strategy. Instead of growing, we decided to focus on becoming cash flow break even.
[00:32:18] And you know, luckily we had a real, we have a really, really great supportive board who supported us in that. And that was kind of a tough year, but now going forward, that was the best thing we could have done and we’re so grateful for those growing pains and we feel like we have a good, solid foundation to continue to go from there.
[00:32:36] Bart: [00:32:36] Yeah. That puts you in a real position of power and decision making when you own your own destiny and don’t have to rely on additional investors over and over again. If you bring in investment at that point, then it’s because you want to grow faster or you see an opportunity or,
[00:32:51] Vanessa: [00:32:51] exactly. And that is a way better feeling than thinking, Oh, we’ve got to raise more money.
[00:32:55] We’ve got to raise more money. Yeah. You know, we’ve got a great business that’s working and we’ve got an amazing team, and. I’m not going to lie. There’s part of me that would really love to see some of that hot, white hot growth again, and I think we’ll get there, but it’s nice to be able to do it on our terms.
[00:33:09] Bart: [00:33:09] Yeah, definitely. Okay, so when it comes to Chatbooks future, you’ve already given us some glimpses of some exciting things coming. What about your future? Do you see yourself kind of leading the charge for many years to come, or do you want to go back to the stage or what’s next for trying to figure out how to
[00:33:26] Vanessa: [00:33:26] just have this propel me onto the stage?
[00:33:29] Maybe we’ll create a chapbooks real mom TV show or a musical. Maybe I’ll write a Broadway musical and we’ll, I don’t know. Can I, can I do both? Can I do Chatbooks stage? Maybe thinking about writing a jingle. For my podcast intro. Honestly, I don’t know. This has been such a growing experience for me, and in a way it kind of does feel like performance art.
[00:33:50] I have no experience in business. I started marketing this company without having any marketing experience, but I’m a storyteller. actually my first job was at Walt Disney world. I was in the entertainment department and our job there was to sell the story of Disney and you know, I was good at it. So.
[00:34:08] So this has been a real personally challenging, growing and fulfilling experience for me, and I’m so grateful for all the opportunities that I never personally would have had without this. And it’s so fun to do it with my husband to be business partners. I seen him in a whole new light and have a new appreciation for him and admiration for him.
[00:34:25] Bart: [00:34:25] How did you get roped into it in the beginning, by the way?
[00:34:27] Vanessa: [00:34:27] Well, at first they said, here’s the idea, go make it work. And he was doing that. But then like the first iteration of the books had green. Covers on them and green spines. And I’m like, Ooh, okay. I don’t know. I wouldn’t want those on my books. And he’s like, okay, but you can’t be telling me what to do if you’re not working here.
[00:34:44] And I’m like, okay, Oh wait, why are you doing that? You’re putting those numbers, the volume numbers, I don’t think. And finally I just realized,
[00:34:50] Bart: [00:34:50] I need to step in. You
[00:34:51] Vanessa: [00:34:51] know what? I have a lot to say, and I’m the primary customer. Target. Right? So they should be listening to me. So I remember the day I called him and I said, all right, babe, it’s happening.
[00:35:02] I’m going to come. I’m going to join the team. He was so happy.
[00:35:05] Bart: [00:35:05] So he actually wanted you to kind of see him
[00:35:07] Vanessa: [00:35:07] begging, but I just didn’t know. I mean, also like I’ve always been the boss of my world and he’s always been the boss of his world. I’m like, how is that going to work? But it’s actually been really good.
[00:35:18] Yeah. I would say we’re closer than ever because of this whole. Experience
[00:35:21] Bart: [00:35:21] when you have lots to talk about all the time. Yes. Sometimes probably too much chatbox.
[00:35:27] Vanessa: [00:35:27] Okay. Enough of that. No more talk about work. But you know, we’ve been married for 25 years and a lot with seven kids, and that was, that laid a good foundation for our working relationship.
[00:35:37] Bart: [00:35:37] how old is your youngest kid?
[00:35:39] Vanessa: [00:35:39] This is 12 now. Oldest is 24
[00:35:42] Bart: [00:35:42] so yeah, you still have kids at home. You’ve got a family business, but it’s a big business. Yeah, that’s exciting.
[00:35:48] Vanessa: [00:35:48] It’s something that we all care about and are passionate about. So I hope we get to do it for a really long time.
[00:35:52] Bart: [00:35:52] Tell us, Vanessa, where we can go, where all of our builders can go to kind of find Chatbooks, learn more about it if they want to surprise somebody for a birthday or do it for their family and their family.
[00:36:04] Vanessa: [00:36:04] Best gifts. We have an app for Apple and Android. also you can find us on the web and chatbooks.com. We’re on all social platforms, Instagram, and you can check out our podcasts, the mom force podcast. I co-host with my sisters, and we have guests come on to answer all the tough questions in a motherhood and for parents.
[00:36:25] Bart: [00:36:25] You talk about remote work on that? Oh, not as much, but mostly just.
[00:36:30] Vanessa: [00:36:30] Yeah. It’s not really about work-related, but we call it the mom force because come on, moms are the force making the world go round. Right. And together we’re stronger. And so my sister, between my sisters and I, we all have 30 kids and we come from a family of 12 so we’ve got a lot of experience on a variety of parenting styles and topics.
[00:36:49] And so we bring our experience with some expertise and yeah, it’s been really fun.
[00:36:54] Bart: [00:36:54] Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you.