In episode 4 of the Preston's Corner podcast I interview Canadian entrepreneur and Snappa.io founder Christopher Gimmer. In this episode we talk about entrepreneurship, software development, and how he built Snappa into a successful SaaS company with over paying 1,000 users!
Some of Christopher's previous ventures include
- Classmate Catch was a Canadian dating website for University students.
- Bootstrap Bay is a premium bootstrap theme & template store.
- Snappa is the graphic design tool that helps non-designers create amazing graphics.
- Stocksnap.io is a stock photo website
Read the Podcast Transcript
Preston Miller: Hey, what's going on everybody? Today I have a very special guest on the show. He is an entrepreneur from Ottawa, Canada and he has started one of the coolest online software tools. I've secretly been using it for the past few months. It's called Snappa, and it's the easiest graphic design tool you'll ever use.
Today, we're here with the founder, Chris Gimmer. Hey, Chris. How are you today?
Christopher Gimmer: Good man.
Preston Miller: Thank you so much for being on the show, Chris. I really just want to talk to you about how you got to Snappa, and what you went through as an entrepreneur, how you did all this, how you got the development done, and everything like that. Can you tell us a little bit about you and how you got into this?
Christopher Gimmer: It's been a pretty long road for me. I started life following the typical life script of going to university and getting a good job and all that good stuff. At 25 years old, I was working for the government and I had a pretty good salary and good pension. For most people it was great, but I just found myself really bored and wasn't too passionate about what I was doing.
Around that time, I had met Mark, who's my co-founder of Snappa and he was a developer. He started showing me some of the projects and stuff he was dabbling with, and I was really fascinated. Up until that point, I really knew absolutely nothing about online and the internet. Around that same time I had also traveled to Southeast Asia and it was one of the best trips of my life. When I got back, it was just like, man, I really wish that A) I had more freedom and more ability to travel, and B) being able to work on something that I was more passionate about. From that point on, the two of us really just started working on stuff. I started to read as much as I could about online marketing and that kind of stuff.
To give you the really quick version, the first thing we ever worked on was Classmate Catch, which was like a student dating website. It was a failure, but I mean, we actually got I think it was around 1,000 users in the first months. It wasn't a complete failure, but we had no business model, we had no marketing plan. I had no idea what I was doing. Going back, I would have done so many things differently but you know, it's a learning experience. The next thing we did after that was Bootstrap Bay. At that point I was like, clearly we have no idea what we're doing, so that's when I really started to read a lot of blog posts, listen to podcasts, and consume as much info as I can. I started learning about SCO and content marketing. We literally built that business entirely from content marketing and SCO.
Preston Miller: Wow, okay.
Christopher Gimmer: Yeah. We built that up to about 10K in revenue, not profit, just revenue. At that point we had basically made enough money where we could feed ourselves and put a roof over our heads. We jumped ship from our corporate jobs. While I was working on Bootstrap Bay, I experienced the pain point which lead us to build Snappa, where I was doing content marketing. I wasn't a designer. We had absolutely no money to hire one and there just wasn't a lot of good tools out there to create these graphics. That was where we had that first idea to build Snappa.
Preston Miller: Wow. Okay. I know people are going to ask me so I've got to ask. Of all the 10 listeners who listen to the show are probably wondering how you managed your job? You went to work and you worked on this at night as your side hustle? How did you make that switch?
Christopher Gimmer: Yeah, definitely. Pretty much working on it nights and weekends. Hopefully my previous boss isn't listening right now. You know, we'd sneak in a bit of work here and there where we can. Obviously some people have jobs where they're just not going to be able to, but I'd try to do some stuff at lunch hour, and it was pure hustle. At the end of the day, if you want it bad enough, you're going to do what it takes. We just busted our ass for a year plus. Eventually, fortunately, we were making some money where we can take the leap of faith. Luckily we haven't had to look back.
Preston Miller: That's exciting. I know a lot of people think this kind of just happens, but no, it sounds like you guys were grinding it out every spare second, and every time that you had when you weren't at work you were putting it into this.
Christopher Gimmer: If I look back to when we started Classmate Catch up to the point where we were making, let's say, a couple grand a month each profit, that was like a solid 2, 3 years. When we had launched Snappa, we made a lot more than that in a much shorter amount of time. Everything that we've done, we've gotten better, grew faster, made more money quicker. It's a process. For us, what I've found is it's really like a snowball. When you start the snowball, it's really small and it doesn't seem like much, but by the time it gets to the bottom of the hill, it's huge. That's how I felt it turned out for us is like the more we hustled, the more we worked at it, the more came our way.
Preston Miller: You found this pain point when you guys were doing Bootstrap Bay of designing stuff, because it sounds like you're more of the marketing side of how do we get these cool graphics going, and you had the idea for Snappa.
Christopher Gimmer: Yeah, exactly.
Preston Miller: From the idea to actually like the execution, did you guys pause Bootstrap Bay or keep that going? What's the story there to piggy-back and I guess start Snappa?
Christopher Gimmer: What happened was it was kind of a series of fortunate events. Well, manufactured fortunate events, let's put it that way.
Preston Miller: Okay.
Christopher Gimmer: Like I said, I was doing a lot of content marketing, so I read this post from Brian Dean about the “Skyscraper Technique”. I don't know if you …
Preston Miller: Yeah.
Christopher Gimmer: Okay. I ended up stumbling upon this post on medium about where to find free stock photos. This was a few years back. Sites like Stocksnap and Unsplash, they were still very new. There's only a few of them. This post, I think it was on Reddit, and it did extremely well. It was literally just a list of links. I was like, wow, obviously there is a big demand for these cool, modern looking stock photos that are released under Creative Commons. Essentially what I did was I just took those links and turned it into a much better, longer blogpost so that when I released it, it just went viral. It went so crazy that it started ranking on the first page of Google for free stock photos.
Preston Miller: Whoa.
Christopher Gimmer: Yeah it was crazy. Then the entrepreneur kicked in me. Actually, what happened was I figured at some point it would just die down, but the traffic just kept increasing to this post. When I looked at all the sites that we were linking out to, most of them were just releasing 7 photos a day and there was no search functionality. You couldn't sort anything, so it was kind of shitty because you had to go to 5 or 6 different sources. Essentially, we had the idea, obviously there is a big need for these stock photos. Why don't we just make our own site?
Preston Miller: There you go.
Christopher Gimmer: We built our own which is Stocksnap.io and then we released that. We put it up on product hunt, got like 1,000 up-votes. That site started taking off. We had the idea for Snappa before all this happened, but the problem with Snappa is it cost $15 a month. In order to make money off a tool like that, you need a lot of customers. We weren't really confident at that time. How are we going to market this thing? That was one of the reasons too we wanted to do the Stocksnap thing. We figured, well, if we have our own stock photo site that ends up becoming really popular, that would be a perfect way to promote Snappa.
Preston Miller: Yeah, so did you guys build up … I don't know if you guys were doing email marketing or anything like that. I've heard about people who launch and have lists of 10,000 people and you just do thousands and thousands of revenue on just launch day.
Christopher Gimmer: Sorry, a list for which one?
Preston Miller: When you guys were building Stocksnap and then you launched Snappa, and you go, hey I've got 1,000 people who have already registered, received the email updates or new photos, or anything like that.
Christopher Gimmer: With Stocksnap we did build an email list while we were doing that. The other thing we were doing was the second we started writing code for Snappa, we put up a landing page. Even from day one, we started cross-promoting at that landing page to Stocksnap. By the time we had launched the initial beta for Snappa, we already had … I honestly can't even remember how big the list was, but it was at least a couple thousand I think. The other thing too is I actually started sending out surveys to people who were on Stocksnap asking what they were using the stock photos for. I wanted to know are these were social media people? Are these digital marketers? It turned out that a lot of them were.
I also did some Skype interviews to figure out what tools were they using? I wanted to get a sense of whether they had the same problem or not. I had a lot of conversations where people really did have this issue of not having any good tools to create graphics for their content marketing and social media. We had a lot of confidence that Snappa would be a useful tool for this audience.
Preston Miller: Yeah wow, that's exciting. I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, I just got on Snappa a few months ago, but it looks like you guys are coming up on a year anniversary of it. It think it was November 2015, is that right?
Christopher Gimmer: That's right. That was the official launch and we had been running our beta since, I think it was July. I don't know when you had signed up for Snappa but if you would have seen the first beta, it was so basic.
Preston Miller: Oh gosh.
Christopher Gimmer: Yeah, we didn't have templates. You couldn't save. I don't even think we had the alignment too. It was really … But, you know what? I would recommend everyone to launch as early as possible because it really helped us prioritize what features were the most critical.
Preston Miller: What you just said reminds me, was that strategy based on the book The Lean Start-up? Create the most memorable, viable product and see if it catches on and then build on top of that. Was that your reasoning there or was it something else?
Christopher Gimmer: More or less. We had gotten burned in the past by building stuff for 4 months and then realizing we just wasted 4 months. We didn't want to make that same mistake again. We were really just anxious to start getting some initial feedback and figuring out what the most important features are, and whether the UI made sense and all that kind of stuff.
Preston Miller: For people who are listening, if you're an entrepreneur, if you're a blogger, if you're on social media at all, you've got to check out Snappa. I've been using it on my blog, PrestonsCorner.com for feature images. I've also been doing some stuff on YouTube. It's a fantastic tool if you don't want to get into some of the other, more complicated design software. IF you will Chris, can you tell us how many people … It's a freemium model so you have free user and you have paid users. How many people are checking out Snappa? How many people are on there?
Christopher Gimmer: Right now we have 1,200 paying customers. We typically see over 5,000 active monthly between the freemium and the paid.
Preston Miller: Okay wow. That's actually pretty good. I'll just tell you, I think I found it through SCO from Googling different design tools trying to find something more simple than just Photoshop. I know a lot of people are using that. It's just too complicated for me. I don't know. Have you seen that in your experience?
Christopher Gimmer: For what? For Photoshop or do you mean leads?
Preston Miller: I mean people who using Snappa. They don't want to get into something crazy like Photoshop. They don't want to go down that whole road. They just need a basic graphic editor.
Christopher Gimmer: Yeah, totally. I've been doing … Actually, you're one of them. I've been doing customer calls over the past month. We're actually revamping the copy on our website because I realized that it kind of sucks. We're trying to learn a lot more about who really are … Who's getting the most value from the tool? What were they using before? A shocking amount of people were actually using Photoshop and it's just complicated, it's slow, it doesn't have built-in graphics. For people who aren't professional designers, it's really easy to convince them on the value of Snappa.
Preston Miller: I also got to tell you, you guys have a great promo video on the home page. I can tell you guys put a lot of work into that, but that is fantastic. A+. Are you guys doing paid ads? Are you guys doing any kind of paid advertising or is it all focusing on content marketing?
Christopher Gimmer: Right now we've been really focused on building out some of the core features. We had just released image re-size which is a huge feature, and tons of people have been asking for it. We're just about to roll out save folders and search, so now you can easily search your designs and store them in folders and stuff like that. We're just about to release undo/redo save colors. We've got a ton of really, really good stuff coming out. Our strategy right now is get the product to the point where it's really good. We have churn under control and the onboarding is good. At that point, we might start dabbling in paid ads. Right now it's all inbound.
Paid ads is really tough to work and you basically need to put a lot of focus into it. We're just not there yet right now.
Preston Miller: Okay. How many people do you have at Snappa? I know you said you got you and your co-founder, Mark. How many people are actually working there right now?
Christopher Gimmer: Right now it's me, my co-founder, we have a full-time developer, a full-time graphic designer, and a VA that helps us out with some stuff.
Preston Miller: That's fantastic. If you had any advice for an entrepreneur who wants to do a SAS model or a web app or something like this … I guess you lucked out because you hooked in with Mark, but for somebody who's trying to find a developer or get anything like this done, what advice to you have for them? You've done this. What would you say?
Christopher Gimmer: When it comes to SAS … Number one, the hard thing about SAS is you're charging a monthly fee, which is great. The recurring revenue portion of it is really great. The problem is it takes a year or two to really get that lifetime value from the customer. The issue with SAS is that there is a lot of upfront development time and costs and you don't necessarily see the fruits of your labor until a bit further down the road. Personally, I don't know how anyone would be able to run a successful SAS company unless they have a technical co-founder who's going to be really passionate on the project.
It's interesting because do you know Nathan Barry?
Preston Miller: No, no. I'm not familiar.
Christopher Gimmer: He's published a ton of books around design. He recently started Convert Kit, which is an email marketing software.
Preston Miller: I've heard of that.
Christopher Gimmer: He runs Convert Kit. Quick story, when he first started it, he was using contractors and stuff like that. The thing was just chugging along and he wasn't really putting all his effort into it too. He was still doing his books all that kind of stuff. Basically for about a year, it just doing a couple grand [inaudible 00:18:39] wasn't growing. At one point, someone had said, “You either need to shut down the business or you need to focus on it.” He put 50 grand of his own money into the company, hired a really good technical guy, started focusing on it 100%, and now they're just absolutely crushing it. They're doing a couple million dollars ARR in literally two years.
SAS has got a lot of advantages but you always have to continually improve the software. There's always going to be bugs to fix, and I just feel like to do SAS, you really need to have a good technical guy who has skin in the game, who's going to work and bust his ass when a new feature needs to come out. Again, I was pretty lucky, but I would just say try to network. Ask around. If you can bring some … A lot of programmers don't want to do marketing. They don't want to do sales. If you can bring that to the table, it's a good selling point for them.
Preston Miller: I think you're exactly right. I've been trying to figure this out. These guys overseas, you don't know who they are, you don't know who you're dealing with, and just wiring them money freaks me out to be honest. I've seen people go, oh, just hire them overseas, it's super cheap. If somebody's not invested or a technical co-founder or something like that, or not giving them equity or anything, then I just don't know why they would really care.
Christopher Gimmer: There's a difference between getting somebody to build you a website and building the core infrastructure of your company. When you think of a SAS business, the most important thing is the technology behind it. If you can't trust the person that built it, you can really get screwed. If someone builds you a website or an e-commerce store and the thing goes down, you can always hire someone else to fix it or whatever. The technology itself isn't the lifeblood of the business, but when you're talking about SAS, it really is. I just don't see any other way around it.
Preston Miller: Well, fantastic. Thank you so much for being on the show, Chris. I know everybody's really going to enjoy this episode. IF you haven't checked out Snappa, you got to go check that out. Chris and his team have really outdone themselves. It's a fantastic tool. If you've seen my graphics on my site, they're all made with Snappa, and I'll link to it in the description below. Thank you so much for being on the show, Chris. I really appreciate it.
Christopher Gimmer: Thanks for having me, man.