A Slice on Vanessa Quigley, Co-Founder of Chatbooks
Becoming an entrepreneur was not on Vanessa Quigley’s radar. She initially set out to become an opera singer and even went to school for music to pursue an opera career. But life had other plans for her. Quigley got pregnant with her first child in college, and like any great mother would, she decided to focus her time on being a mom. Little did she know that the start of her family would also lead to the start of her entrepreneurial career. Quigley is co-founder and Chatbooker-in-Chief at Chatbooks, an automated photobook that pulls photos from an existing camera roll, Instagram or Facebook. To date, Chatbooks is in its series B round and has raised $21.6M in funding.
As a mother, Quigley always gave herself the title of family storyteller. She recalls being a “diehard scrapbooker” and actively made volumes of scrapbooks for her firstborn. But when her family started to grow, that hobby faded away. It wasn’t intentional, but her children were starting to notice. One night, Quigley’s youngest son, Declan, was having an emotional moment when he was looking at a photobook his preschool teacher had made for him. Sobbing and telling his mom that he never wanted to grow up, Quigley’s heart broke and she felt a huge blow of mom guilt. “In that moment, I realized I was failing. I always believed that the family storyteller was one of my key responsibilities and documenting our life together was something I took very seriously. But I had fallen off the wagon, and I felt overwhelmed and a lot of guilt around not having kept up with that.”
After taking a step back from the heavy emotions, Quigley turned to reminisce on photos she had taken of her children. Lying in bed and scrolling through her Instagram, she thought if she could print out her Instagram, Declan would have more than a photobook made by one of his teachers. Quigley did not hesitate to take this idea to her husband, an already established entrepreneur. Lucky for Quigley, her husband’s current business wasn’t exactly taking off, so he and his team took a hack week to pivot and build a prototype to print Instagram photos. After the prototype was complete, they decided to show it to potential customers, and they received tons of positive feedback. Leaving Chatbooks in the hands of her business-savvy husband, Quigley gave him full permission to take it and run with it, but she didn’t completely step away. “He did make a few choices I didn’t really agree with (color choices, logo), and every time I would offer up some advice or my opinion, he’d be like, ‘Okay, great. Come join the team. We need you.’”
Quigley decided to join Chatbooks as Co-Founder and Chatbooker-in-Chief, and decided to uproot her family from Florida to Utah to get involved in the startup ecosystem. Making a huge decision like this didn’t come easily for Quigley, and she recalls this as one of her biggest risks along her entrepreneurial journey. “It felt very risky, to go all in on an idea that would help strengthen families. It’s not a very sexy sector.” Quigley’s risks didn’t stop here. She set out with a goal in mind to work with the Harmon Brothers, who produced marketing videos for big-name brands like Squatty Potty and Purple Mattress. “The fee in our minds at that time was astronomical. I couldn’t believe it, it was so scary to put that much money behind one piece of content.” Regardless of the big check, Quigley was sure this would pay off, and she was right. The first night the video aired, it already had one million views. This ultimately led to huge growth for Chatbooks and another round of funding.
Making pivots was not something that was unusual for Quigley and team. One of the biggest mistakes Quigley remembers making is being stubborn and not listening to her customers. After conducting focus groups, customers consistently said they wanted books, but Quigley and her husband were sure that’s just what they thought they wanted. “In hindsight, we should have just listened a little harder, but that’s a challenge for entrepreneurs. If you want to do something really innovative, you’re going to get people who don’t catch the vision and don’t believe, and you want to hold fast to that vision, break out and do something really spectacular. But it can also hold you back and lead you down the wrong path.”
Quigley’s entrepreneurial journey has brought lots of lessons along the way, but her most valuable learning is how much gender diversity has led to success for Chatbooks. The original team started out as all men, who undoubtedly brought all sorts of talent to the table, but Quigley knew they could add even more valuable people to the team. “To really build a product that is going to have broad appeal, you need a variety of different voices, perspectives and backgrounds. Honestly, the minute we started hiring women, we started being successful.” Quigley is now proud to have a diverse executive team of men and women, and stands by her mission to strengthen families with Chatbooks.