UV50 Startups To Watch: No. 1 Chatbooks

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PLANETS ALIGN Nate and Vanessa Quigley never planned to go into business together, but now they wouldn’t have it any other way. “This Mars and Venus thing is why it’s working,” says Vanessa, who is the Chatbooker in Chief. “It wasn’t working when it was all Mars, and it wouldn’t work if it was all Venus.” Nate couldn’t agree more. “I’m having way more fun now that she’s here,” he says.

PLANETS ALIGN Nate and Vanessa Quigley never planned to go into business together, but now they wouldn’t have it any other way. “This Mars and Venus thing is why it’s working,” says Vanessa, who is the Chatbooker in Chief. “It wasn’t working when it was all Mars, and it wouldn’t work if it was all Venus.” Nate couldn’t agree more. “I’m having way more fun now that she’s here,” he says.

Social media lovers everywhere are booking it to Chatbooks. The subscription-based app that prints people’s Instagram feeds (and automatically delivers them to their door) has sold more than 500,000 books since its launch last year. The Provo company has 143,000-plus followers on Instagram, but the real magic started when founders Nate and Vanessa Quigley got their heads out of the cloud. Here’s their choice chatter.

{NATE} It was 2005. After business school in Boston, I started a software company. It was right in the middle of having seven children. So Vanessa is at home with our zillion kids and singing in local operas on the side. And I was running the most boring software company there ever was.

My grandpa passed away, and I flew out to Utah for the funeral. My grandpa was a forest ranger who sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was raised an orphan and was a convert to the LDS Church. Coolest history ever. He used to sing “Home on the Range” to us as kids, and there was a recording of it played at his funeral. I immediately wanted to go home and play it for my children. We ended up losing the recording for a time. We later found it, but it got me thinking of a business idea where we safeguard and organize our memories electronically.

I sold my boring software company, and then we moved to Florida to start a different tech company. We would funnel money on the side to the memory business by sending checks to India every once in a while. After I sold my second company, we decided to bring the pet project out of the shadows.

And … nobody cared. The concept was a shared journal that extended family could all contribute to. It was all about remembering who we are. The folk stories! The journal entries! The photos! And no one on earth used it. It was me, my mom and my cousin. We loved it.

[pullquote]PRINT POWER Chatbooks is feeling the love — and this printing warehouse is proof. Thousands upon thousands of books are made and mailed from here to customers all over the country. The company will soon foray into international markets like Brazil and Australia. #lovechatbooks[/pullquote]

We continued to pour a lot of money and time into it, but it just wasn’t working. So we shifted our focus to pictures since everyone’s photos are a mess. We wrote thousands of lines of code, spent millions of dollars and did a ton of work. And … like four more people cared.

{VANESSA} It was time for a focus group. I got all my friends together around our dining room table. And all they wanted to know was, “Can we get a book?” From day one, Nate had said no books. And he told them, “It’s online! It’s in the cloud! Just enjoy it in the cloud!” And my friends were like, “That’s great and all, but … can we get a book?”

{NATE} I know, I know. I’m an idiot. But then we made a smart move. Florida was no place to build a tech startup. There just isn’t the ecosystem there for the talent and energy we needed. So we picked up our family and moved to Utah. We took our product for families right to the heart of the scrapbooking world, blogging world, and storage world. We came to the Riverwoods and plopped ourselves right down across the street from Ancestry.com.

{VANESSA} After we moved, I went to put my youngest to bed one night, and he was crying while he clutched this pathetic little scrapbook his teacher had made. “Mom, I never want to grow up!” he cried. And I felt so much mom guilt, because that little book was all the printed pictures he had to show for his life. I went downstairs and told Nate we were officially done with the cloud. We were all about the photo books.

{NATE} Long story short, we made this big beautiful software — and everybody was over there using Instagram. So we stopped fighting it. We embraced the Instagram world and allowed people to print their feeds and have their books automatically show up in the mailbox. Give the people what they want, right? Chatbooks was born.

{VANESSA} People went crazy for the books. But the kicker was making it painless. These days, people don’t want to do any extra work. They’re already going to the work of posting on Instagram, and that’s the book they want. And they want to get it by pressing three buttons.

{NATE} We launched in June of last year and sold our first book. Since then we’ve sold more than 500,000. We’re an overnight success that involved three years of pouring money down the drain. But you know what? It’s just money. And now we have people telling us Chatbooks is like subscribing to the magazine of their life.

Moving to Utah saved us. Connecting with bloggers on social media launched us. And our #momforce is carrying us to victory.

{VANESSA} Stay-at-home moms are grossly underutilized. They are smart, capable women who want to contribute. We have a #momforce of 20-plus women all over the world, on the clock at all different times of the day, and answering customer service emails like a boss. They’re our target customers. They use and love the product. And they know the ins and outs of Chatbooks maybe even better than we do.

{NATE} We’re going to sell over a million books this year. We went from absolute crickets to frantically trying to keep up with the demand. And now we’re finally able to push on the gas without worrying that the wheels are going to fall off. We’re on track to do $6 million next year, but do you know what the best part is? People are printing their memories. They are literally holding on to what matters. There ain’t nothing boring about that.

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