Commentary & Analysis
Chatbooks: Linking the Physical and Digital Worlds
Our President, Eric Vessels, came across the Chatbooks service in Instagram and shared it with the team. Our own Frank Romano commented on it in a video last week, and today we have an interview with Chatbooks CEO Nate Quigley for a deeper look at the service and print’s value add.
By Cary Sherburne
Published: January 17, 2016
A series of Chatbooks.
I was quite interested to learn about Chatbooks from WhatTheyThink’s President, Eric Vessels. Being a grandma, having an easy, affordable way to capture and print life moments, especially those including grandkids, is a dream. Nate Quigley, Chatbooks CEO, talks about why the company was founded, its goals, and the services it provides. Worth a read, and then check out the app!
WTT: Nate, give us some of the background about why you and your wife, Vanessa, founded Chatbooks.
NQ: After our first child, during the scrapbooking craze in the mid 1990s, Vanessa did a great job of documenting our lives that way. But by the time the third child came along it started getting complicated, and with seven kids, you can imagine that her time is limited. When our seventh child was five, Vanessa came across him looking at a drug store photo holder that his preschool teacher had given him with six photos of himself. She realized that those few photos that his teacher had taken were all he had to show for his life so far. She really wanted to capture all the memories for our entire family, but just didn’t have time anymore, and we realized that there wasn’t any behavior change that was going to make a difference. They only thing would be to develop some software that made it easy to integrate this into everyday living. And since we are software developers, who, by the way, knew nothing about print, that’s what we set out to do.
WTT: So explain how the process works.
NQ: It has become so easy to capture photos these days, and share them online with Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites because of the great image quality and even editing capabilities available right within your phone. So we started with Instagram … we have a subscription program that allows you to connect us to your Instagram account via an app on your phone. When you have accumulated 60 photos there, you’ll get a notice saying your photobook – which is a 6x6” 60-page soft- or hard-cover book – will go to print in three days. This gives you an opportunity to review your 60 photos and edit or delete as necessary. If the number drops down below 60 because you don’t want to print all of them, the process repeats. Books are printed, bound and mailed to you. It’s that easy! No dragging and dropping, no extra work, just accumulating and printing your photos in the normal course of your life. We talk about it as being able to subscribe to the magazine of your life.
WTT: That sounds easy. Is it expensive?
NQ: Not at all. We knew that in order to make this work, it had to be super easy, super affordable and have great quality. When you opt for a subscription series, the softcover books are $8 each and there is a free shipping option. We also offer the option to order multiple copies; for example, a copy for the grandparents. That’s been a popular feature.
WTT: I personally don’t use Instagram, I’m sorry to say. Are there other ways to participate?
NQ: Absolutely. You can connect with Facebook, and you can also use it right from your phone. With an iPhone, as you are taking photos, simply favorite the photos you want to go into your Chatbooks, and those are the only ones that will be uploaded. You can also connect with Android phones, but since Android photo doesn’t have the “favorite” feature, it takes slightly more effort. You can also use our web app. When we expanded to Facebook, we also added a connection to Google Photos, so now you don’t even have to upload photos. Each series you specify includes the series name, volume number and dates of the photos on the spine, so when you have them lined up on the bookshelf and want to look at the photos from last summer’s barbecue or beach trip, you can quickly find the right book. And you can also choose which photo you want on the cover.
WTT: And how are you printing them?
NQ: Right now we have two print partners in Utah, ZenPrint and Alexander’s. ZenPrint has Xerox iGens and Alexander’s has HP Indigo.
WTT: Both presses have great quality, but they do look different.
NQ: We’ve addressed that as well. Your first order will go to whichever company is next up in the workflow. Then all future books you order will automatically go to that same company. That way you get the same look and feel across all of your books.
WTT: How is it going so far?
NQ: It’s been absolutely amazing. We printed a half million books in the first 12 months and another half million in the next six months for a total of a million books in the first 18 months!
WTT: And what are your plans for the future?
NQ: We have an aggressive growth plan for 2016, and while we will continue to grow with our two great printing partners, we are also looking for additional partners in other geographies, particularly on the East Coast and in Latin America and Japan. Based on our experience so far, we believe our growth will be gated more by our operational capacity and ability to ramp up new partners than it will be by marketing efforts.
WTT: With that kind of growth projected, how do you handle customer service?
NQ: We have what we think is a pretty unique approach we call the Mom Force. These are Chatbookers who love the product and want to earn some extra money from home. We have Mom Force members in every North American time zone. They are effective because they look a lot like our target audience, and because they are able to be involved in a company they believe in and care about with an opportunity to contribute to the family income many of them would not otherwise have. This model is extremely scalable and the concept will be part of what allows us to grow globally. If someone in Brazil is looking for support, for example, their call will be answered by a Portuguese-speaking member of our Mom Force. And we are modeling customer support on the Nordstrom or Zappos model: If you are not 100% satisfied, we will give you your money back or reprint until you are happy.
WTT: Why do you think the printed books are so popular rather than just leaving photos in Instagram, Facebook or cloud storage?
NQ: I think the “Hold On to What Matters” concept resonates with people. They want the confidence of knowing that their photos are secure in the cloud, but also want a bookshelf copy. They don’t want to deal with the shoebox and most people don’t have a lot of time to create all of the photobooks they would like. By keeping this so simple, almost automatic, it takes all of the work out of it. You just point and shoot, and your photo book shows up in your mailbox. What’s not to like about that? Helping people hold on to what matters; that’s what we are all about.
WTT: What are you most proud of?
NQ: I am most proud of the fact that we are building a customer base that is really happy with Net Promoter Scores off the charts. Our customer support model is different, and our whole model is amazingly scalable. We just want to continue to acquire happy customers, keep them happy, and keep bringing them cool new things that are super easy, affordable and of great quality.