Chatbooks, Showing the Power of Simplicity

“For all the reasons that we wish we had a good journal or nice scrapbooks — because you do get this really amazing rush of emotions when you see that stuff — that’s why people want Chatbooks.”

“Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product…In Greek, nostalgia literally means, ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.”

These potent words were uttered by Don Draper on AMC’s Mad Men in one of the most powerful, impactful scenes I have ever watched on television. Nostalgia is a universal experience, and triggered in any way imaginable: that time you were flipping through old photos, came across a long-forgotten lover, and remembered all the strange, tender moments you once shared; finding pictures of a friend that you haven’t spoken to in years, a friend separated from your inner-circle by time or conflict, and remembering that once upon a time, things weren’t all that bad; or seeing a ten-year-old snapshot of your family and laughing, to the point of tears, at your parents absolutely absurd fashion choices.

Nostalgia binds us together — the people and places acting as triggers are different, but that twinge in your heart is something everyone can relate to. As technology advances and our personal media caches grow to unprecedented heights, it’s easy to forget all the pictures that make us smile. So how do you go about mashing together the old world of scrapbooks and 8×10’s with the new world of camera phones and Instagram?

That is the question Chatbooks co-founders Nate and Vanessa Quigley are here to answer.

“For all the reasons that we wish we had a good journal or nice scrapbooks — because you do get this really amazing rush of emotions when you see that stuff — that’s why people want Chatbooks,” Nate said. “We’d done enough talking with customers, specifically moms, to know that they really wanted printed books. How can we give them that with no effort at all?”

Here’s how: by creating an app that is automatic and mind-blowingly simple, so simple that if you can’t use it, you should never show your face in public again. Register for the app, provide an Instagram feed, and your work is done. After every 60 photos, you pay $6 and a book is sent to your door — the union of technology and scrapbooking is complete.

“What’s crazy, we’ve met people that have downloaded the app, logged into their Instagram, and then never opened the app again,” Vanessa said. “They don’t even know what the app does, they just get books.”

I know what you’re thinking — $6 sounds unreasonably cheap. It is, but that’s also the point. In the conception of Chatbooks, Nate and Vanessa wanted to create something automatic and simple while also maintaining a cost-effective aspect. If the price was so low people questioned its validity, even better.

“I think that super-easy/automatic/magical is directly related to price,” Nate said. “Because the second it’s expensive, you have to think about it. That’s death for us. How do we cut through and get people to tell everyone they know about us? And so we thought it had to be a great product at a freakish price.”

The creation of Chatbooks wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Nate and Vanessa went through two failed iterations of trying to answer the question of new-age scrapbooking before arriving at their current solution. As a life-long entrepreneur, Nate honed many different ideas — some successful, others not — through a variety of methods and techniques.

“As an entrepreneur, you get really good at blocking out negative feedback,” Nate said. “The trick is, how do you hear that tiny signal? It’s weird, the thing that makes entrepreneurs survive is also the thing that makes it easy to miss stuff along the way.”

The idea that has ultimately made Chatbooks successful, the printing of actual books, is something that Vanessa and others had been pounding from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took Nate years of sifting through feedback before finally realizing the value in that idea — there is a powerful emotional connection that comes with turning the pages of a photo album. As they say, better late than never.

“All my sisters and friends needle him (Nate) to no end,” Vanessa said. “‘Chatbooks, what a brilliant idea. Books.’ But what makes Chatbooks different, it takes that Instagram idea, takes what people are already doing, and gives them what they want without having to do anything extra.”

Chatbooks isn’t limited to Instagram feeds. Users wanting to personalize their own book can upload photos from their camera roll, Dropbox, or Facebook. Let’s think of the possibilities. You can make one about that trip to Cancun where you drank too much, threw up on the hotel couch, and embarrassed yourself in front of God and man. You can make one about the floppy-hatted hippie wanderer who lurks outside your office, channeling the earth’s energies and scribbling notes along the way. You can even make one that chronicles your family reunion where you love half the people there, while secretly hate the other half.

“While we started with Instagram, because we were looking for the absolute easiest way to get something great in people’s hands, you can still add photos from anywhere,” Nate said. “We’re building this #lovechatbooks hashtag, because that’s what we kept hearing from people: ‘I LOVE MY CHATBOOKS!’ All caps, people would post about it, talk about how they cried when they opened the box, and we realized this is more than a product, it’s an emotional connection that we’re making for people.”

After raising a seed round in 2012, Nate is on the warpath for more money and is currently working out the financial details with different investors. You know what additional money means — the opportunity to expand in areas that have previously been on the backburner. So Chatbooks is looking to hire product team members (design, development, Q&A) as well as a marketing expert. If you have skills, or if you just want to go to their office and listen to The Rolling Stones on vinyl, then hit them up.

“At what point do these moments start to really matter to you where you want to have them on the shelf?” Nate said. “This picture that Heather took of her husband and little baby, if you’re Heather and you see that, it’s kind of a big deal. Because these pictures disappear in your Instagram feed, you haven’t seen them in a while.”

If you’re looking for that surge of emotion, go give Chatbooks a try. It’ll cost you the price of lunch, but it will provide you with something much more meaningful than a McDonald’s cheeseburger (I know, I know, everything on earth is more meaningful than a McDonald’s cheeseburger, just bear with me). It’s as simple as an app can be, and the dopamine rush that accompanies flipping through the pages of your life is about as good as it gets. If you love pictures from your past, if you love simplicity, you will #lovechatbooks.

Published 3/25/2015

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