Today on the show I’m *chatting* with Vanessa Quigley of Chatbooks (and, no, I couldn’t resist the pun!). She is a mom of seven and Chatbooker-in-Chief of the photo subscription app, Chatbooks. Since its founding in 2014, Chatbooks has grown into a huge company. We are so excited for her success! Welcome to the show, Vanessa!
On The Podcast
1:02 – From Idea to Company
7:08 – Hilarity and Wild Success With A Viral Video Ad
10:37 – Working Closely on a Project
12:30 – More with Real Mom
13:04 – Organic ROI
14:26 – Start Up Business with Investors
17:45 – Working with your Husband
21:04 – Start Up Mom Hustle
23:46 – Day In The Life
24:42 – Adorable Mom Moment
From Tender Moment to Brand New Company
Until she became a mom, Vanessa didn’t take memory keeping seriously. When she had her first child, she bought her first camcorder and camera. Vanessa began using these tools to record their family story through scrapbooking – the old school way! Vanessa remembers, “I would put my baby to bed and spend hours with this creative outlet.”
She was an avid scrapbooker for years, but the last time she remembers touching a scrapbook was when she was on bedrest during her pregnancy with her 5th child. “That was the last time I did anything with printed photos,” Vanessa recalls.
Digital photography had become popular and Vanessa noticed she stopped printing hardcopy photos all together. She knew her photos were safe on her hard drive, plus she got busy with 5, then 6, then 7 kids! During that transition, Vanessa noticed she didn’t do anything by way of memory keeping. (And side note, don’t you love that phrase, ‘memory keeping’? I do!)
About four years ago Vanessa went to tuck her youngest, who was five at the time, into bed and heard him crying. Her son was holding a photo book! His preschool teacher had purchased simple, Dollar Store albums and filled them with photos from the year. She gave one to every child as a graduation gift. Vanessa thought this gift was so sweet – and she had no idea the impact it would have on her son.
Looking back on it now, Vanessa remembers this tender moment with a great deal of fondness: “My son felt like he was growing up. And it’s funny to think about a 5-year-old getting nostalgic. But he looked up to me and said ‘Mama, I don’t EVER want to grow up!’ I realized in that moment he was holding onto memories, physical memories of his life.”
Vanessa came away from that moment desiring to do a better job at keeping the memories of her children.
Her husband had been working on another project (a cloud-based solution) with the goal of helping people safeguard and organize their memories. He had been operating on the premise that print was dead and everything needed to be organized and easily accessible in the cloud.
Vanessa still thinks this goal of cloud organization is a good one, but in that sweet moment, she realized that print wasn’t dead.
As she recounts it, “I marched downstairs that night and told my husband I thought physical photos still mattered. I told him I wanted him to print my Instagram account.”
Vanessa realized she had started using Instagram to curate her camera roll, and she wanted to give those memories to her kids. She needed to do the important mom work of telling her family’s story.
Vanessa thought her crazy idea would be better than nothing. Her husband had already assembled a development team, and they were able to pivot the project they had been working on and put resources toward this venture. In a week they had a working prototype. And it went crazy from there!
The app was amazing! Within 60 seconds they were able to print anything ever posted to Instagram into organized volumes. Chatbooks continued to grow with Instagram, and eventually began to add additional photo sources. Vanessa says they’ve grown by listening to customers and developing the product based on the feedback.
Hilarity and Wild Success With A Viral Video Ad
We’re certain that one key to the success of Chatbooks is that Vanessa’s team created a product that clearly solves a major problem of so many busy moms.
And recently, Chatbooks proved they truly understand their ideal customer by producing an absolutely hilarious–and spot on–video ad.
Vanessa’s number one objective with this ad was to acquire new customers, of course. But she said an equally important goal was to help people laugh, because “to survive all that's wonderful and crazy in raising our children, you need a sense of humor.”
And if making moms laugh was Chatbooks’ #1 priority, it worked!
The ‘Real Mom’ ad was a huge financial commitment for this fledgling start-up. Last January, Chatbooks went through a huge round of financing and was able to put money in the bank to experiment with their marketing and goals, and so they did.
Chatbooks is based in Provo, Utah (which Vanessa tells us looks like a cute little snow globe in the winter), a locale full of creatives, including Harmon Brothers ad agency. Chatbooks had to pitch themselves to the agency, as they are pretty picky, and Vanessa feels super lucky to have landed them! (You may recognize the agency’s unique blend of comedy + ROI with their campaigns for Purple, The Squatty Potty, and Fiber Fix.) Vanessa and her team were thrilled to find out the owners were already happy Chatbookers. It became a match made in heaven.
Working on the ad script was a collaborative effort. It took a few writing meetings with the Harmon Brothers agency to conceptualize the ad. Vanessa was able to cast local talent; the actress who plays ‘Real Mom' is named Lisa Valentine Clark and lives just a few doors down from the Chatbooks office. (Vanessa had admired Lisa's work in the film ‘Once I Was A Beehive' and was starstruck that she got to work with a favorite!)
Working (too) Closely on a Project
Interestingly, Vanessa says by the time this ad launched she lost touch with what it really was supposed to be. She likens it to working really hard on a meal, but when it comes time to eat you've lost your appetite. Vanessa says by the end of production she wasn't sure if the ad would fly. (She also knew first-hand the scenes that didn't make the final cut, like a moment when Real Mom pushes grandpa into a pool!)
Vanessa says, “After working really closely on this project, when my husband and I saw the final cut before our launch party, we weren't even sure if it was funny!” But despite their reservations, it was time to launch. Her team took a deep breath and hit publish.
She remembers they held a little launch party with people from Chatbooks and Harmon Brothers; they “invited everyone to share the video on their personal pages and see what happened. Chatbooks obviously had money to put behind the ad, but they wanted to see how it would grow organically.”
The result was amazing.
Chatbooks earned back their investment (in app installs and new orders) through organic sharing before they put any money behind marketing spend. Vanessa says it was a very good Christmas 🙂
More with Real Mom
Vanessa assures us there are more Real Mom stories to come. She even gave us a hint! During the baseball game scene of her ad, we get a peek at Real Mom's husband. Chatbooks has discovered that dads are actually doing a lot of chatbooking, and we might also see some spin-off ads with the Chatbooks dad.
We still can't get over that in the first week alone, Chatbooks earned back their ad spend through app installs and new customers! “It’s been fun and rewarding,” Vanessa confirms.
Vanessa didn't have exact numbers for us in terms of total ROI. She and her husband are co-owners of the business, and her husband is the numbers guy, while she keeps the big picture in mind. And Vanessa says that she operates with eternal optimism, and finds she works best if she can just assume everything is going well until she's told it's not.
But suffice it to say, Vanessa says their Christmas was very good! And they felt very blessed.
Start-up Business with Investors
It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of having investors for my business. It freaks me out! But what’s Vanessa's experience with investors?
“Initially my husband had been working on another project and we funded that ourselves. We were at the point where if things don’t pickup right away, we either had to call it quits or call in support. My husband had started other venture-backed companies, and this original concept he was working on that turned into Chatbooks had some angel investors. Personally, I would loved to have started with our own bank accounts and have full ownership of the company. We had spent all of our own money and were scraping the bottom of the barrel for Nate’s original attempt. We knew we had no cash, and knew we could only grow so much without it.”
Thankfully, Vanessa's husband had experience with investors and was able to close the round of investing to produce this ad. Chatbooks knew they had an amazing product that their market would love, but they needed to get the word out. And they already had other products in mind to develop, but without a big marketing share like some other photo books companies, Chatbooks needed cash for marketing.
Vanessa totally debunks the myth that you don't get to call your own shots if you have investors.
“If you get the right investors, they're on your side. They want you to succeed. It's nice to have accountability; it’s easy as a start-up to go off the rails without those checks and balances. Our investors feel like they're on our team. It's been nothing but a blessing for our company.”
Working with your Husband
My husband, Chris, helps sometimes in my business and it’s great, but I can’t imagine us working together full-time on the same business! I asked Vanessa to tell it to me straight! What IS it like to work with your husband, and how do you make it work?
Vanessa says it’s wonderful! For years her husband had been dropping hints that he wanted to do a business together. Before her husband wanted her to follow along with his business plans, but Vanessa always thought, “I'm the boss of my world, and you’re the boss of yours!”
When she pitched him the Chatbooks idea, she watched her husband create the app and give constant feedback, but Vanessa was really hesitant about going into business together. Their marriage had worked really well for 20 years, and she was afraid of the partnership being more than she could handle.
But eventually, Vanessa says, “I took the leap of faith and jumped in. I feel like it has enriched our relationship. We had been married for 23 years and had been through a lot. We had a lot of opportunities to work through our differences. We don't always agree, but I respect him and he respects me. I don’t have business experience, but I have an intuition about what works. We've become closer.”
At this point, Vanessa can’t imagine starting a company alone.
We think that perspective is so great!
Start-up Mom Hustle
Vanessa is in the thick of it. She's got five kids still at home, and two in college. She feels really lucky that she can prioritize family first and do a job she loves.
She says she's used to juggling things. She graduated college with a degree in vocal performance – and a baby! Broadway wasn't for her, but community theater was. She did her own thing, and it worked! She would perform in shows, take a break and have a baby, and get back at it.
Vanessa already had a good rhythm of scaling up and scaling back her life as her family needed.
Like many moms, she looked forward to her youngest being in school all day. Vanessa thought she would go back to school, and pursue her talents again. She never imagined going to the office every day, but Chatbook is a company she's super passionate about – and something she's enjoyed building with her husband.
Her idea was to be home every time the kids were home, but she had great neighbors and great carpools. In those early days, her friends would take her kids home and Vanessa would get back about 5 pm. In the early phases of start-ups, that's the sort of daily grind that is necessary.
But as her team grew, she disciplined herself more and made it a habit to be home when her kids were home. This year her resolution is to only go to the office 3 days a week, to be more present with her family while they're under her roof.
Day In The Life
Her days start early.
Physical health is really important to Vanessa, and she makes it a priority to wake up early and exercise, about 6 AM. Between 7:30 and 9 AM she's getting her kids off to school. She works from 9:30 to about 2:30 or 3 PM, then she picks her kids up from school and is Mom. At night she sometimes will pull out her laptop again, but has a New Year's Resolution to not bring her computer to bed.
Adorable Mom Moment
Her 3rd child is a senior and going off to college, and her daughter Laken is a sophomore in college. Her baby just turned 9. The night before his birthday she checked on him and snuggled him as moms do, and she just needed one last kiss from her 8-year-old. And he absolutely REFUSED her! She couldn't get to him! Vanessa said she had to wipe a tear from her eye! But it worked out well 🙂 the next morning he woke up and said, “Mom I want to start year 9 off right,” and he gave her a kiss. We melted!
Stay In Touch With Vanessa
Chatbooks.com // Blog
(Chatbooks.com is also where you can log into your Chatbooks account and work on your books.)