Nate Quigley | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Nate Quigley

Background:  

Chatbooks is a mobile app that creates photo books using users’ digital photos. The free app lifts images from Instagram or Facebook and produces a book for $8 with free shipping. In an age where photos live online, Chatbooks offers friends and families the ability to share their photos physically in a compact display. The Provo, Utah-based company has raised $10 million in four rounds of financing from several investors.

The Mistake:

Chatbooks started out as Just Family, a service to help families organize and enjoy photos that are spread across computers and storage devices. We envisioned it as a web service and an app. We struggled mightily to build it, and we couldn't make it quite easy enough for users.

All along the way, we kept hearing people want to print their photos. But we were too busy building the thing we were convinced the world needed that we weren't listening to our customers and what they were telling us.

It wasn't intuitive to me and the other men on my team, but my wife said, “How many times are you going to hear people say they want to print photos and ignore them, you ding-dong?”

We finally realized we could provide a lot of what they wanted if we could just print pictures from their Instagram accounts. They've done the organizing and curating already. They've selected and captioned the photos, and the pictures include the date and time.

After almost two years in the development wilderness, we sold our first photo book a little more than two years ago. We sold 500,000 in the first 12 months after that, and our second 500,000 just six months later. We were selling as many as we could print, and hit our first production bottleneck in two weeks.

How many times are you going to … ignore them, you ding-dong?

The Lesson:

The really interesting challenge for entrepreneurs is to know what you need to listen to, what you must hear clearly, and what you need to block out so you don't quit. Startups are just trying to go out of business; they're looking for reasons to stop. The thing is so precarious that there are a thousand things that can kill it. You have to ignore all of those reasons to stop, except for the moment of clarity that comes through in the middle of all that noise.

A team has to block out a lot of that negative feedback. You have to have a certain amount of grit and put your head down and plow forward. At the same time, you somehow have to be really, really sensitive to what is really important. If it's something you've heard a hundred times, it's clear as a bell, and you can't ignore that one.

Be humble in thinking you don't have all the answers. Be a very active listener when your core customer is telling you what their problem is.

Follow Chatbooks on Twitter at @ChatbooksApp.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Utah.