Back in 2014, finding quality graphics for blog articles was time-consuming.
Graphics programs like Photoshop were difficult to use. Talented graphics designers were in high demand and short supply. And even if you had the privilege of working with a designer, their resources were better spent on other high-value tasks.
Chris Gimmer was pumping out articles for BootstrapBay, a startup for Bootstrap website themes.
While on Reddit, Gimmer came across a popular post listing a bunch of stock photo resources. He knew he could do way better. So Gimmer got to work on creating an article via the Skyscraper Technique to would outperform the Reddit post.
Once the article was live, Gimmer posted it on Reddit and a few other sites, then went about his business.
But while Gimmer kept working, his article quietly spread like wildfire.
“I collected free image resources for my personal use,”
“And when I wrote a blog post about where to find free stock photos using Backlinko’s Skyscraper Technique, it went viral.”
Startups like Freshdesk, GetResponse, and Referral Candy cited the article in their posts.
John Hopkins University, Fordham University, and the University of Florida shared it on their website too.
Famous marketing sites like Social Media Today, Content Marketing Institute, and PostPlanner referenced the article.
“Believe it or not, it went viral on StumbleUpon. Because it got so much traffic, people started linking to it as a resource.”
Gimmer saw another problem in the market soon after releasing this viral article. He still spent precious time finding quality images he needed for every article he wrote.
“At the time, all the photosites were releasing 7-to-10 photos a day. None of them were easy to search.”
And the traffic kept pouring in, showing signs bloggers craved a stock photo site.
“When the post went viral, I thought it would be a temporary thing. 2-3 months later, traffic kept increasing.”
Finally, Gimmer had enough. Rather than ignoring the problem, he scratched his own itch and set out to build Snappa with his co-founder Marc Chouinard. Snappa would become a quick-and-easy graphic design tool for marketers like him.
Before building Snappa, Gimmer and Chouinard decided to create StockSnap.
“The idea was curating the best of the best photos, tagging them, and making the photos searchable. We had 2,000 photos when we launched StockSnap with search functionality.”
StockSnap brought in new leads. But Gimmer still had his eyes on the prize.
“StockSnap was doing well, but we never had the aspiration to be a big free stock photo site. We just weren’t excited about it. But it did help us build an engaged audience.”
The viral article kept bringing in quality traffic. StockSnap continued to funnel in new leads. Now was the perfect moment for Gimmer to build Snappa.
Gimmer’s next step was to get out of the building and talk to customers to learn more about their specific pain points. He did this by reaching out to people using StockSnap.
“First, I asked how they were using StockSnap. Many were using the software for social media and blog content. I then asked them if I could do a 15-20 minute audio call with them. I wanted to find out if they have the same pain points as I did without asking leading questions.”
At Growth Ramp, we do this by asking customers questions about their past behavior. People cannot accurately predict the future. But they can tell you about their past. Gimmer took a similar approach.
“I asked them, ‘How do you go about content creation? What tools do you use?’ Many said they were using Photoshop, but it was a pain. A few had a designer in-house, but the turnaround time was really slow. We did about 20 interviews and heard quite a lot of the same stuff. So we built an alpha, put it in front of users, then got feedback around the product.”
By talking to their customers, Gimmer learned these people were either:
Gimmer wasn’t yet ready to do a beta launch. He needed more feedback on his first tool.
“I didn’t ask them many questions about the product. Instead, I gave them a login and asked questions. ‘What do you like? Don’t like? What features are missing?’ This allowed us to find out what was necessary to launch the product.”
It isn’t easy to know what to include in your next product version relying on qualitative feedback. So I pressed Gimmer for more details on how he decided what should go into his beta release.
“You don’t have enough data for quantitative feedback. If 19 out of 20 said it needs to do “this,” we probably needed to build that feature. A big thing people wanted was templates, which was not in the alpha. For a designer without templates, a blank screen is intimidating.”
Figuring out what to charge isn’t easy. But there were competitors with pricing structures he could borrow ideas from.
“A lot of our users crank out a lot of [blog] content, so charging by the individual project could get pricey. Some of our competitors were doing microtransactions. If you want to use a premium element, like a photo or template, you pay $1 for each. We decided to make it super easy with a low-cost subscription like Netflix or Spotify. [With Snappa], users pay one flat fee and don’t have to worry about microtransactions adding up to big costs.”
Once Gimmer knew how to charge his customers, he needed to figure out what to charge.
“We went back to our customers and did a pricing survey. Our users told us they’d be happy in the same price range some of our competitors charge, $10 to $20 per month.”
Gimmer used the same method I share in my article on how to find a customer’s willingness to pay. In short, you ask customers four questions using the Van Westendorp method:
You can then create a line graph to figure out the acceptable price range. Your graph should look something like this:
You should then test the price at the four points where the lines cross.
Marketing a new product is difficult.
In Nielsen’s 2018 report, Setting The Record Straight On Innovation Failure, they found an astonishing 80% failure rate for new products.
This is like other sources. 72% of new products introduced in 2009 to 2014 failed to meet their revenue goals or failed entirely (Simon-Kucher & Partners). Roughly 75% of venture capital startups from 2004 to 2010 failed (Harvard Business School).
To reduce your odds of failure, Nielsen recommends you do four tasks:
Gimmer established there was a broad customer need with StockSnap and his viral article.
Based on customer feedback, Chouinard developed a stripped-down version of Snappa. Then they began testing it with alpha users. This allowed them to focus on the missing features most customers asked for.
All that remained was to launch the product and market it.
As Gimmer and Chouinard built Snappa, the viral stock photo article and StockSnap continued to grow. With an official launch date of November 23, 2015, Snappa had 5,000 people signed up for the beta launch.
“To encourage upgrades right out of the gate, we offered a 33% lifetime discount for anyone that upgraded within the first week. After the initial launch week was over, we were generating $2,000 in MRR. By the end of December, we broke $4,000 in MRR (monthly recurring revenue).”
Sometimes after a successful launch, the wisest thing to do is to survive.
“In the beginning, 80-90% of our customers were from the stock photo site (StockSnap). Year one, we mainly focused on surviving by improving the product.”
To keep their sanity, Gimmer and Chouinard sold BootstrapBay to focus on Snappa.
“When we launched Snappa, BootstrapBay wasn't worth supporting. Snappa was making way more money. A friend in the space asked to buy it, and we were happy not to support it anymore.”
Seven months later, Snappa launched on Product Hunt, a website of curated products.
“We launched on Product Hunt and gained quite a bit of exposure, but it didn’t change anything. Product Hunt is great if you don’t have a ton of acquisition channels. People can get a bunch of upvotes, which they get from friends. But it wasn’t Snappa’s target audience.”
A launch is great. But it rarely is enough to create a successful business.
Gimmer knew content marketing and SEO would be a major success after his viral article. So he began by doubling down on these marketing channels.
“We did a lot of content marketing and SEO. That worked for previous products we created, so we knew it would work again. We had plenty of word of mouth referrals, and we published visual content based on targeted keywords that aligned with our product. This is still a huge part of our plan.”
Gimmer also tested pay-per-click ads to see how this channel would perform.
“We dabbled with paid ads, but this didn’t show much promise. The unit economics need to be good to improve our ad efficiency. Focusing just on content marketing and SEO worked well, so we chose to double down on this channel rather than trying to force ads to work well.”
Many entrepreneurs fail to remember that the easiest path to more growth is doing more of what’s already working.
Another successful marketing channel Snappa used was partnerships. They teamed up with other startups who shared their audience and co-promoted their products.
“Leadpages ran a promotion where customers could upgrade to an annual plan and get a free year of Snappa included. Snappa’s annual plan was $120 a year. Leadpages paid us 50%, or $60, for each customer who signed up. "
“The partnership worked out great. It generated direct sales and gave Snappa exposure to the right audience. Some even signed up directly with us. This exposure helped snowball our growth.”
Sounds like Gimmer hit Nielsen’s point #4 right out of the park with market support.
Gimmer told me that his secret to success was simple: Build an audience before you need one.
“It may not be practical for every startup, but having an audience beforehand helps. Ask yourself, what’s something super small you can launch in a month tops? "
“StockSnap came together really fast and helped us establish our user base. Snappa took eight months to build from the first line of code to launch, which was a long time. If we had built it without validating with an audience, we might not have succeeded.”
For Snappa, this began with a viral article. Once this article became a hit sensation, they launched a free tool to generate leads. Finally, it became a paid product that became their startup.
“Start as small as you can with a basic product, and engage your audience every step of the way. You not only get advice and guidance (from your users), you build a mailing list. This becomes a ready customer base, eagerly awaiting your finished product.”
For more articles like this, click here to check out our 1,000 True Fans series.