A mother of seven children, Vanessa Quigley knows what it means to be busy. One day she discovered her 5-year old blissfully pouring over old family pictures, and in one powerful moment, Vanessa realized how much collecting family memories through scrapbooks really meant to her. But how could a busy mom like herself (or anyone with hundreds or thousands of precious photos) keep up with the task of documenting all those special moments? With the help of her husband, Vanessa developed a tool for creating high-quality photo books quickly and easily. Chatbooks was born. The company has raised millions of dollars in venture funding and now employs more than 100 people. Vanessa’s story provides inspiration for other aspiring entrepreneurs on the path to startup success. Here she shares some of the lessons she learned along the way:
Q: How did you get the initial capital to start your business?
A: We took early investments from friends and family and a few angels. We also raised a Series A led by Signal Peak Capital and a Series B led by Aries Capital.
Q: What are some of the challenges or roadblocks (financial or otherwise) you have run into so far?
A: Social media was a big part of how we acquired new customers and reached our existing customers. As the landscape of social media has changed in the past couple of years, we’ve had to change our strategies too. We continue to creatively test new marketing strategies.
Q: What have you sacrificed (personal or otherwise) to build your business?
A: I’ve sacrificed so much to grow this business! It took us a few years and lots of our own money to get product market fit before the official launch of Chatbooks. I’m relieved and grateful for the money we’ve raised to date and that I finally get a salary, but I miss having time to pursue my other interests. Before Chatbooks, I was a part-time professional singer and actress, but I haven’t done any performing since the business has started taking off and I miss it!
Q: What kinds of success has your business seen (any important metrics or milestones to help us understand your position in your industry)?
A: Eighteen months after selling our first Chatbook we celebrated the sale of our millionth book by surprising that customer “Publisher’s Clearing House” style. We showed up at her door with balloons and a giant ChatCheck and lots of Chatbucks credit. Now we have a million customers and have enjoyed a few surprises of our own, like being named Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year last year.
Q: What keeps you going in business, especially when times get tough?
A: I have the best business partner (my husband) who is my biggest cheerleader. He also has lots of experience building businesses and understands the challenges and the grit required to be an entrepreneur. He keeps me going when I start to feel frustrated or deflated as things don’t go perfectly according to plan. I also feel very motivated to keep going because 125 employees rely on us to help support their families, and I don’t take that lightly.
Q: What are you most confident about as a business owner?
A: I’m confident that I understand exactly what our customers want. I had a problem with my family’s photos and built Chatbooks to solve it. Our automatic and affordable photo books were the answer and our “Real Mom” video is what helped us really get the word out. The video represents my real life and resonated with so many other moms that it has over 80M views on Facebook and YouTube.
Q: What are your biggest worries as a business owner?
A: I am so grateful for the 5-star rating we have in the AppStore with over 46K reviews. But when I read the occasional less-than-stellar review, I take it hard. I want everyone to have a perfect Chatbooks experience but the truth is you cannot please everyone and that is OK. I have to remember to be open to constructive feedback but not get too depressed when we can’t make everyone happy.
Q: What general business advice do you have for other small business owners?
A: The advice I give all entrepreneurs is read The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. He gives such brilliant advice to prove your idea and find market fit with a MVP (minimum viable product) before spending lots of cash. I wish I had read it years ago!
Q: What are you passionate about and what is your life motto?
A: I’m passionate about my relationships. I’m the oldest of 12 children and have 7 of my own; I consider them my best friends. And I have wonderful friends from all over the country in the different places we’ve lived. I’m blessed with the most amazing team at work and colleagues. Our family motto is “Count on the Quigleys,” and I hope they all know that they can count on me!
Q: What are some of the ways you give back (in your family, community, business)?
A: I believe strongly in empowering women, especially in our local tech and startup community, so I co-founded the “Breakfast of Champions” breakfast series as a way for women to connect with like-minded people. We meet and eat and network and share ideas and all leave feeling invigorated and supported.
If you are interested in learning more about Vanessa and Chatbooks, please check out the company’s website.