Co-founders Christopher Gimmer and Marc Chouinard launched Snappa beta version in July 2015, and by October 2016 they had 1,500+ paid users paying $10 per month, billed annually.

Snappa is an easy graphic design tool that helps marketers and small business owners create highly engaging images without the help of a graphic designer. Snappa have combined a huge library of beautiful visual assets with a fully-featured graphic editor.

Why build another graphic design tool?

With tools like Canva and Photoshop already on the market was there a need for one more design tool?

To put it simply, their audience wanted it.

Here’s what Chris learnt by interviewing his potential customers before building Snappa:

“Traditionally, marketers and business owners had to struggle with complicated and inefficient tools like Photoshop. Or, they had to spend lots of money to hire a designer who took days to turnaround a simple graphic. Snappa saves a ton of time versus these alternatives and puts money back into our customers’ pockets.”

What were some of the challenges with building Snappa?

As Chris shared on episode 115 of the WordPress Chick podcast:

“One of the big challenges was that the first version was built on one code base until we got to the point where we realised there were going to be a lot of limitations going forward.

We had to make a really painful decision of essentially halting all new features, and rebuilt a good portion of the app using custom java script instead of the javascript frameworks we were using. Looking back that was definitely the right decision. It caused a lot of delays but having said that, when we launched the new update with the new version of the app it was significantly better and much faster.

Now it’s going to enable us to do a lot of cool things in the future. Being a small team there’s definitely pros and cons. The challenge will always be with development and keeping up with requests.

The good thing is that it forces you to be very focused, and having those kind of constraints helps us prioritise the most important stuff rather than building millions of features.”

Learning from past mistakes

“There’s always going to be stuff that comes up but part of being a business owner and entrepreneur is learning to roll with the punches and just getting through the challenges.”

Snappa was Chris and Marc’s fourth project. They made a lot of mistakes in the first 3 projects, and the key lesson he can share with anyone else wanting to create a SaaS startup business is this:

Get something out there quickly, get feedback and iterate on that.

“The #1 mistake new entrepreneurs make is building something without validating it, and getting feedback on it. We built a student dating site and the business itself was very flawed, and wasn’t unique enough where it really needed to exist.”

Build your audience and talk to your customers before you start building anything

By far the most effective thing Chris did to grow Snappa was to first create a free stock photo site called StockSnap.io.

“This site generates a lot of traffic and we use it to cross promote Snappa. Naturally, most people interested in free stock photos would also be interested Snappa.”

He then conducted a series of interviews with his target audience.

Chris also shared on the WP Chick podcast:

“The first thing I did was to do a survey with people on our stock photo site to see what they were using the photos for, and it turns out that a lot of them were using the photos for social media, blog posts and content marketing which is great because that’s really the target market that we’re going after.

The second thing I did was to do a lot of skype calls with a lot of those users to get a sense of what kind of tools they were using, whether they were frustrated with the current process, and whether they were working with designers. Out of those customer interviews I really did feel confident that there was a need for a product like Snappa. At that point was when we decided “let’s go ahead and start building this. I think we have the audience to market to, and there was a need for it.”

The first two projects we didn’t have any of that stuff and we basically just built stuff that people didn’t want and that we couldn’t generate revenue from.”

How to effectively get quality feedback from customers

Chris’ process is as follows:

  1. Using analytics, put together a list of your best customers. In Snappa’s case, they were customers who were downloading a lot of images and frequently using the tool.
  2. Send them an email explaining that you want to learn about their current challenges and get some feedback regarding future updates for the product.
  3. In the same email, give them a Calendly link so they can easily schedule a time that is convenient for them.
  4. Do the interview over Skype (audio only) and take notes during the call.

The questions Chris asked during the interview were heavily based on the framework from Lean Customer Development. Chris highly recommends anyone doing customer development to read this book.

Finally, Chris warns, the most important thing to remember when doing customer interviews is not to ask leading questions.

Always ask open-ended questions instead and let the customer do the talking.

For example, instead of asking “Do you struggle with x?” ask them “What are you currently struggling with?”

If the problem is big enough, they’ll mention without you guiding them.

How was Snappa launched and marketed?

Here are the steps the team took to grow their business:

  1. Created landing page for Snappa
  2. Use their stock photo site to start driving traffic to the landing page to sign up for the beta list
  3. Continue to use the audience from stock photo site to drive traffic
  4. Launch on product hunt
  5. Partner with Lead pages to do a promotion
  6. Publish consistent and useful blog content (content marketing)
  7. Get mentions on blog posts and use guest posting (see Chris’ blogger outreach strategy here)

Chris’ top 3 tips for anyone thinking of launching a Software As A Service (SaaS) business

  1. Validate your idea as much as possible before writing a line of code
  2. Start marketing your product the day you start coding
  3. Talk to your customers as much as possible

What does the Snappa team look like?

Snappa is currently a team of 5 based in Ottawa, Canada. Chris is the co-founder and CEO, and his other co-founder and CTO is Marc Chouinard. They also have a full-time developer, full-time designer and a part-time virtual assistant.

What’s next for Snappa?

“Our goal is to continue building a great product and satisfying our customers. We currently have over 1,500 paying customers and we plan on reaching 10,000 within the next few years.”

We asked Chris what strategy he has to scale from 1,500 to 10,000 customers and what (or who) has inspired that strategy.

This was his reply:

“Now that we have a bit more cashflow at our disposal, we’re going to experiment with paid acquisition via Facebook ads, SEM and even things like podcast sponsorships. We’re also going to be looking at partnerships and integrations.

A lot of my process for growth comes from the book Traction. I really like the idea of testing a couple of channels and doubling down on the ones that work until they’re exhausted. I’ve also been inspired by the OG growth hackers like Sean Ellis and Brian Balfour who come up with a backlog of growth ideas and then test them as quickly as possible. “

How has Bean Ninjas helped Snappa grow?

“Bean Ninjas has definitely saved us a ton of time! More importantly, it’s freed up a ton of mental energy since I no longer need to worry about reconciling the books and whether everything is accurate.

Currently, I’m spending a lot of time talking to customers to get a deep understanding of their needs and challenges. This helps us tremendously when figuring out our product roadmap and which features are important.”

To try Snappa free head to Snappa.io.

To see how Bean Ninjas can save you time, money and headaches with your bookkeeping refer here.

Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

Co-founder at Bean Ninjas
Meryl is a Chartered Accountant, entrepreneur and surfer!

Prior to Bean Ninjas she ran a cloud accounting consulting firm, worked in both commercial accounting roles, as an auditor (BDO), and as a lecturer in accounting and audit.
Meryl Johnston
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