Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Joining me today is a hustler, an entrepreneur who really hustles. In fact, I’ll shut up for a second and just ask this one question. Sasha, are you sleeping with another dude right now?
Sasha: Yeah. Actually, with two other dudes right now.
Andrew: In the same bed?
Sasha: Not in the same bed, in the same room.
Andrew: Was there a period where you were sleeping with another guy?
Sasha: Because we didn’t have any room. So, we had only one futon in the living room and that’s where we had to see.
Andrew: And you were bootstrapping your company at the time and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and that’s just one example of the kinds of things that you did to build up your company. The guy who you guys heard from, his name is Sasha Eslami. He is the cofounder of Eversnap.
What’s Eversnap? You know how when you go to an event, you see tons of people taking photos and they all promise each other that they’re going to send it to the host but they either forget or maybe they’re a little worried about how their hair looks in one photo or they have other priorities, like sobering up the next day after the party. So, they never get the photos back to the host.
Well, the idea behind Eversnap is it’s one app that every guest has. They can take photos and the photos automatically in real time go to the host. People don’t have to put in all that work and the host gets all the photos and they get to celebrate and remember the event. I met Sasha when his team photographed a Mixergy event that we did here in San Francisco on Focus.
In fact, if you guys want to see photos from it, all you have to do is go to Mixergy.com/Eversnap and you’ll see the photos that they took. In addition to the app that allows hosts to get all their guest photos all in one place, Sasha’s company also does photography. I invited him here to talk about how he did it and why he’s sometimes sleeping with so many people and about his background in Iran, about crashing 400 Startups, about so much.
And I afford to do all this because–frankly, because it doesn’t cost that much money–but also because of great sponsors. They are DesignCrowd–when you need something designed, you don’t want a designer. You want DesignCrowd. In a moment, I’ll tell you or later on I’ll tell you why you want to go to DesignCrowd.com/Mixergy.
And by Toptal–if you need a killer developer, I’m talking about one of the best of the best of the best, you want to go to Toptal.com. You can hire them for a few hours a week, for part-time or full-time and they’ll fit in with your team if you’ve got one. But I’ll tell you more about them later. Now I’ve got to meet Sasha. Sasha, welcome.
Sasha: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: Before we get into this whole app thing, you’ve got a bit of an accent. The accent comes not from Alabama where you grew up, but from the other place you grew up and were born. Where is that?
Sasha: That’s from Iran.
Andrew: How old were you when you first left?
Sasha: So, when I first left Iran, I was like six years old. But then we moved back to Iran back and forth basically until college.
Sasha: My dad is a math professor in Iran. So, we came to Alabama. He wanted to do research with a professor there. Our base was always Iran, south of Iran called Kerman. And then yeah, then last year of high school, I came here. I studied for college and went to college here and I’ve been here since.
Andrew: So, your dad who’s a math professor had business in Alabama of all places?
Sasha: That’s even what Alabamians said. They were like, “What are you doing here?”
Andrew: Right. Did anyone in Alabama ever see anyone as dark as you?
Sasha: Well, there are a lot of black people.
Andrew: It’s not known for diversity, is it?
Sasha: No, it’s not.
Andrew: Okay. So, what was it like for you? I grew up in New York. There are people from all over the world in New York. I swear, if you’re an American whose family is from America, you stand out. My friend Crystal stood out completely as the one person whose parents were actually native and white and all that. But in Alabama, what was it like for you coming in from Iran and bouncing back and forth?
Sasha: Luckily at that time I was really young. So, when I was in elementary school, kids were so young, nobody cared. When I was in middle school, I went to a school center of the city that was like out of 700 students, 680 were black and like 19 Mexican and then there was me. So, there was no white person or any other person in our school. And then high school, I went back to Iran. So, I never really experienced outside of my shelter, the real life–
Andrew: How was Iran compared to the US? Take me back as someone who had never been there. What is it like? As someone with an American perspective now.
Sasha: Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t be the best judge because I haven’t lived there since I was like 17.
Andrew: What was it like back then?
Sasha: Back then, I think it was like two lives. Everyone had two lives. One was on the surface, on the street, how you talked, how you interact in the community. The other life was inside the houses. So, there aren’t any clubs or bars or stuff in Iran. But there are families that like to dance. Families like to have a good time. So, a lot of stuff going on inside of the houses. People were very conscious of how they would look towards the outer community versus the people who they let into the houses.
Andrew: Give me an example. What’s one thing that you would have to project outside that wasn’t really how you’d act inside?
Sasha: Just the way a lot of women dress. Outside, you have to cover yourself like to a certain extent. But of course, that’s getting more and more lenient over the years. Inside, people can basically d whatever they want. But of course, they’re not going to be too crazy. But inside everybody wears like here. There’s no difference.
Andrew: I see. You’re talking about maybe shorts or mini-dresses or skirts, that kind of thing.
Sasha: Yeah. That’s correct.
Andrew: Okay. I was going to say at least you had your family with you, but you told our producer that you and your brothers used to fight every day. What would you fight about?
Sasha: So, just about different things, about playing games or different aspects, you know.
Andrew: Don’t hold back now. You really had an issue. What was the issue?
Sasha: Honestly I was too young to remember exactly the issue, but they were a lot older than me. So, it was just like–
Andrew: Were you a bit of a wild child? Was it that you were more wild and they were more traditional?
Sasha: I was a little bit more wild, but not too wild. I think I got wilder when they left the house.
Andrew: Like what kind of things would you do that they would have considered too much?
Sasha: Well, I would just want to have everything my way.
Andrew: For example?
Sasha: I wanted to be able to play computer any time I want. So, my parents would like hide the keyboard and hide the wires and I would always find them without an exception. And then I would get into fights with my brother. They wanted to play or I wanted to play. I remember just like one of my biggest accomplishments at the time was that I made my big brother cry by hiding all his clothes.
Andrew: I see.
Sasha: I was like five or six years old and he was like ten, eleven.
Andrew: You told our producer, Jeremy Weisz, that you had your independence at 13. So far, this doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would kind of call for independence at 13. I’m sensing there was something else going on. What happened?
Sasha: So, at that time, when they were with me–so, they would always kind of like–it wasn’t like… now I’m making them sound really bad.
Andrew: No, you’re making them sound like regular brothers.
Sasha: Yeah. But I felt like I wasn’t as free to do everything I wanted to do, not because they were bad but because I wanted to do a lot more.
Andrew: Like what. What did you want to do?
Sasha: Oh man, we’re talking the time I’m 12 or 11.
Andrew: Okay. So, there’s nothing specific. And then when you say you had your independence at 13, what does independence at 13 mean?
Sasha: Independence at 13 is like I was the only person living in the house. We had a four-bedroom house, medium-size in Iran. My parents were traveling. So, I would have access to their cars, which they didn’t know at the time. So, I started driving at the age of 12.
Andrew: Wow. How do you get away driving at the age of 12 and there’s not a catch you. Meanwhile if I watch on TV, a woman who doesn’t have the right headdress is getting caught.
Sasha: Well, I looked a little bit older.
Sasha: I had already hit puberty. So, I had looked a little bit older. At first I was a little bit scared to drive. I would only go a certain distance. But one time I picked up my girlfriend and her friend and her friend’s boyfriend. That guy was a lot older than me. So, I got kind of peer pressured to go outside of my comfortable range. And from that day on, I was travelling all over the city.
Andrew: What’s the best place you went to?
Sasha: Best place… There was a place overlooking the city. So, it was called the Roof of the City and it had the whole overview of the city.
Andrew: So far this sounds like a great life. Here’s the part that I’m especially excited about because of who I am. At 16, you were selling vacation packages.
Andrew: What is that?
Sasha: So, there was some sort of multi-level marketing thing going on in Iran. I think it was illegal at the time. I don’t know what’s the status right now. I hope I don’t get in trouble by just admitting it right now.
Andrew: I imagine the statute of limitations are fine.
Sasha: Yeah. And then I convinced my parents to buy me into it. They put in, I think at the time, around $1,000 maybe. And then my aunt was in it. So, I got a lot of guidance and stuff with her. So, we were reading a lot of leadership books. We were reading a lot of how to present, how to sell. We would go to people’s houses. Everybody was older than me by 10, 20 years.
Andrew: And you were trying to sell them on vacation packages? And if they joined this thing, they would also be able to sell vacation packages and make more money.
Andrew: I see. And how much did you sell?
Sasha: Around $16,000, $17,000.
Andrew: $16,000, $17,000–how much of that went into your pocket?
Sasha: Probably around $1,500.
Andrew: $1,500, that’s it?
Sasha: Yeah. I barely broke even.
Sasha: I said I barely broke even.
Andrew: Right, considering the $1,000 that your parents bought you in. Was there anything that you got out of it?
Sasha: I learned a lot.
Andrew: What did you learn?
Sasha: I learned how to sell, how to pitch, how to be comfortable talking with people who are not my age, a completely different lifestyle.
Andrew: What’s one specific thing you learned about selling that we can take away from your experience?
Sasha: Handling objections.
Andrew: How would you do that?
Sasha: So, we had a list of objections prepared ahead of time. We knew exactly what the guy is going to talk about. But that wasn’t the thing that I learned the most. That was easy to memorize to anybody. What I learned the most was how you’ve got to keep your mind open and really listen to the guy’s concern, what is behind the question that he’s asking. Maybe the real concern is his wife. Maybe the real concern is status in the community that he is is–address that question as opposed to just getting the surface.
Andrew: I see. So, if they say something like, “I don’t know. I’m a little bit busy.” But you’re sensing that really what they’re worried about is how are people going to perceive them if they join a multi-level marketing thing. What would your response to that objection be?
Sasha: So, at that time, we were talking about there were a couple benefits. One is changing your lifestyle. So, being able to afford more things for your family. Being able to put your kid in a better college. Being able to buy a car for your wife. And of course all of your family would love for your family to prosper if you were able to do it. Now, with your current job, it’s not something that you can get in the near future, right?
Andrew: I see. And this is all scripted out for you. You just have to remember it and if you see someone’s worried about the way that they’ll look to their friends, you bring it back to something that you want, which is if you can provide for your family, your friends will respect you. And now you’re giving them a response to their real objection.
Andrew: That’s something that multi-level marketing programs are so good at. They’re good at anticipating all the rejections that you’re going to get and putting them down on paper for you and giving you the response and of course if you’re into MLM, multi-level marketing, you’re determined enough to study this stuff. So, you’re right back in with the perfect answer, which is so surprising to someone when they’ve just formulated an issue to have it not just be solvable by you, but to be solvable that fast by you is impressive.
Sasha: Yeah. I think the difference is that also, the difference between a beginner and master sales person is that the beginner just recites whatever script they have, whereas a master kind of vibes with the situation, can connect, establish that rapport.
Andrew: I see. How do I establish rapport fast?
Sasha: There are a couple of psychology stuff, like mimicking the other person’s body language. If they’re sitting with their cross arms, you can cross arms. The tone that they speak, the expressions that they use, these are some mechanical things to establish rapport. The other thing would be talking about yourself a little bit, the experiences that you think would be relative to that person. So, that person gets to know you a little bit more than just, “I just met you and you’re trying to sell me something.”
Andrew: All right. You’ve watched me before we officially recorded and you’re a long-time Mixergy fan, right? So, did you notice what I did before we started?
Andrew: What did I do?
Sasha: You talked to me about the business, how’s business going and establishing rapport.
Andrew: Actually, I didn’t think of that, but there’s a reason why I was doing that. I wanted to know before we officially started that everything is okay. If you’re nervous about hiding something, before we start is when the nerves are especially big. Me giving you an opportunity to like exit out of whatever lie you might have told the pre-interviewer or me is an opportunity for me to save myself in the audience. But you’re right. I forgot that I did that. That is something I do.
What I do for rapport is I give the person a tip that will make them look better on camera. In your case, it wasn’t so subtle because we had a real problem. You were like this, really over on the side. I found that if I give someone–like I’ve tried the whole mimicking body language and all that and it never worked for me. I don’t know, maybe I’m not good at copying other people.
What I’ve found is if I give someone who I’m interviewing a little tip, like, “Put me a little window on your computer and move that little window right underneath the camera, that way when you look at me during the interview, it will seem to the audience that you’re looking them right in the eye.”
If I say that and someone does it, they instantly see the change in the way they look on camera and they trust me and they relax. I’ve found that’s really good for building rapport. And then so I don’t come across as a guy who’s too directive, I reveal something that’s a little vulnerable if I’m feeling it. Today I didn’t feel anything vulnerable, so it didn’t come up. I’m feeling good.
Sasha: That’s okay. I forget.
Andrew: All right. I want to get into the business. Speaking of, what did you tell me the revenue was right now?
Sasha: Well, I can’t say the exact numbers. But they are–how can I say it without letting out too much? We’re going to be rasing our next round soon. So, the revenue and the growth is really good. Let’s just put it that way.
Andrew: Is it over a quarter-million a year?
Sasha: Yeah. It’s more than that.
Andrew: Can we say about half a million a year?
Sasha: Yeah. And growing.
Andrew: Okay. I won’t reveal anymore. I didn’t realize it was a secret. So, that’s why afterwards, after you said it or just before you said, “Andrew, are we starting the interview?” Okay. And that’s just from the app, right? Not the photography business.
Sasha: Right. That’s correct.
Andrew: Where’s revenue coming from in the app?
Sasha: So, we have three packages that we sell to events. Mostly, around 60-70 percent are weddings. We use what we called WeddingSnap. We used to be the most popular wedding app, back in 2011, 2012. So, the packages sell for $99 or $250. We have like 90 percent margins on them.
Andrew: I see. I’ve got Eversnap on my phone. There is no place for me to pay, right?
Sasha: No. So, interestingly enough, we have three business models.
Sasha: So, we have two revenue models and we have one way that we retain users. We get recurring purchases and we’re also creating kind of a social network out of it.
Andrew: So, the social network is, “I’ve got all these photos. Other people are going to check them out and we’re all going take a look at the photos together.” Let me click on one, yeah notification, and we get the chat and we get the thumbs up and so on, right?
Sasha: And you would create other albums. Let’s say your family is traveling to Argentina again and you were taking photos, your wife is taking photos and your friends are taking photos. You create an album and you have those photos in one place. Next time something else happens, one of your friends goes on a trip to Hawaii and he creates an album with his wife and adds their photos together.
Andrew: I see. But I still don’t see where the revenue is, even if we all do this. So, you’re saying for Eversnap there is no revenue at all?
Sasha: No. That is the retention model. For the revenue for the app, we have the three packages on GetEversnap.com that we sell and we also have the photography. So, the photography with EversnapPro.com, we try to make photography affordable for the masses.
Andrew: I see, so the basic photography comes with unlimited photos and videos–did I end up getting a free one? I have a ton of photos in here.
Sasha: No, the app itself is free. It’s premium for certain features.
Sasha: So, for example, if you have over 20 people in your album, if you want to have over 20 people in your album adding photos at the same time, that costs money.
Andrew: Gotcha. Okay. I see.
Sasha: But if you want to use it for your family, then it’s free and you can use it.
Andrew: Okay. I see. And a lot of this goes back to an Orthodox Jewish wedding. What happened at an Orthodox Jewish wedding?
Sasha: So, my cofounder’s girlfriend, she was a receptionist at this one hotel in Atlanta.
Sasha: And then she told us, “Hey, there’s this wedding coming up. You guys can check it out.” And we’re like, “Hey.” We’re very adventurous people and we were like, “Why not?”
Andrew: Did you have a wedding-based business at that point?
Andrew: No. You just said, “Hey, let’s go check out a wedding.”
Sasha: Yeah. That was the summer of discovery, adventure, trying to find good ideas that would resonate with us.
Andrew: I see.
Sasha: So, we went to that wedding and we were like the only guys in the whole wedding that are not wearing yarmulkes.
Sasha: We walk in and we’re scared. We’re really scared because we stand out right then and there. And then we notice that when the ceremony starts, so, we walk into the ceremony hall and first of all is that we sit on the wrong side. And like it was kind of like Orthodox, so you had men and women separate. So, we sit on the women side and we don’t even know it until everybody sits down and somebody tells us, “Hey, you guys should get up and sit on the other side.” Then we’re even more scared, like, “Holy shit, we’re going to get thrown out soon.”
And then I’m just watching the celebration, just having a good time and then my cofounder, well he’s really pissed off because he managed to find yarmulkes and his yarmulke is falling off his head in the middle of the ceremony multiple times. So, he just storms out of the room in the middle of the ceremony to get a pin and attach it to his head.
And he comes back and then what we notice throughout the ceremony is that a lot of people got up and they were taking pictures with their own phones. This is back in 2011. It was a fancy ceremony. So, they had multiple photographers all over the place taking really good photos. I always think to myself, “Why are these people taking photos? Does anybody care about these photos?”
So, then what happened after that is that we all went to the reception hall where everybody was dancing. I saw the craziest dance moves of my life.
Andrew: This is pretty gutsy for you to go into such a strange environment and not be invited and still keep staying there.
Sasha: Yeah. It kept on being a pattern throughout the rest of our startup journey.
Andrew: I wouldn’t have the guts. So, what did you see at the reception?
Sasha: At the reception, we noticed more and more people are taking photos, so everybody was having a fun time. Even I took out my phone and I’m taking videos of the guy doing pushups in the middle of the dance floor. They brought jump ropes and people were doing jump ropes in the middle of the dance floor.
It was crazy to us. It was unbelievable that this was a wedding and they’ve got jump ropes. But then I was like I got some very good video that I didn’t see the photographer taking those videos and the photographers were in different places, focusing on the bride and groom, different thing.
So, then afterwards, we were like, “Okay, how do the bride and groom get these photos.” Obviously, I didn’t see anything that says, “Email us these photos. There’s nothing there.” So, we asked around. Now, keep in mind, this is like the third startup that we really tried. Before this, we had tried ten different ideas. Every time we failed, we learned something new. One of the big things that we learned is that you shouldn’t be married to your idea. You should do your research, do your homework, then build something.
The first thing that we did for the month after we got the idea was to just ask around, talk to anybody who just recently got married, which we didn’t know anybody and then we had to ask friends of friends, “Please introduce us to any friend who just got married. Please, do you know any wedding planners? Do you know any wedding photographers?”
Also, we took the idea to a hack-a-thon. At the hack-a-thon–actually we didn’t take the idea to a hack-a-thon. We went to a hack-a-thon and we were like, “Let’s see if we can join another team and come up with a different idea. We didn’t even believe in this idea that much. But after hearing everybody pitch their ideas, my cofounder was like, “This is bullshit. I’m going to go pitch wedding snap.” I told them, “Okay, at least let me pitch it. I can speak better English than you.” He’s from Italy.
So, then we pitched the idea at the hack-a-thon and we got the biggest team of developers, which is like the biggest constrain in the hack-a-thon and then we won that hack-a-thon. That was also another validation point for us.
Andrew: I see. The reason that’s so validating is a lot of people are presenting their ideas and developers who are in the hack-a-thon decide who they want to work with. If you’re seeing developers love the product enough to want to be a part of it and then you win it, it’s all around positive.
Andrew: So, you said you had a couple of other ideas before. What’s the one that you made the mistake of not sitting on it for a bit and making sure it was a good idea?
Sasha: One was called Mingle. I started it my last year in college.
Andrew: What’s that? Oh, it’s the light that keeps dropping. I’ll tell you what, while I adjust it, I realize that I haven’t done my sponsorship message. So, let me do my sponsorship message real quick and then we’ll jump back into it.
My first sponsor is Toptal. Top as in top of the heap. These guys really do have the top people. And Tal for talent–Toptal.com. What is Toptal? Well, you know how sometimes you just need a really good developer? I’m not talking about one of these super cheap developers you can brag to your friends about how you got someone on some freelancing website for $3 an hour. But I’m saying you really want a good developer, someone who fits with the way you work, someone who can stick with you for a long time, for years maybe.
Well, if you’re looking to hire that person, if it’s a full-time basis, yes, you can get a headhunter, yes, you can spend months looking for them. But even then you may not end up with the perfect person. If it’s someone you need on a part-time basis, forget it. Headhunter for a part-time basis, headhunter for ten-hour week basis, it’s just not going to happen.
So, what do you do? What most people do is they start to look on different sites, they start to look on Craigslist, they start to ask friends and often they don’t end up with really solid developers and they compromise. You shouldn’t have to compromise with your business.
Here’s what we did at Mixergy. We went to Toptal. We signed up. As soon as we signed up, there was a person who called us up, a real person who we talked to and told our issue to. They gave us feedback on it. We told them the kind of developer we were looking for. We work in WordPress at Mixergy. We told them the level we needed. We told them how we work.
There’s no office that anyone works from. I’m here in the office on my own, but it’s a team who’s all over the world. They took all that in and they gave us a developer and you know what, the developer was good but not great, not a great fit for us, anyway. So, we told them why it wasn’t a good fit. They got us someone else who was maybe the best WordPress developer I ever met.
We worked with him. This guy we expected was going to work four weeks, ended up doing the project in one week even though they get paid more if–he would have gotten paid more if he would have worked four weeks. He still got it done in a week. It was unreal. Great developer. So happy to have gotten to work with him. That’s what happens when you go to Toptal. They have the top three percent of their peers over at Toptal.
I’ve said this so many times before because I’m so impressed with it. I had these incredible entrepreneurs to my house for dinner, including the founder of Toptal. He looked at me and he said, “You know those two people over there, they were talking about Toptal because they applied to be developers at Toptal and we rejected them because we have such tough criteria here.” That’s the way Toptal works.
Toptal–in fact, let me give you this URL. If you go to Toptal.com/Mixergy, they are going to give you free development hours, which is incredible, and a guarantee. I say you keep that because they’re offering it just to Mixergy people. Even if you have a friend who needs a developer or is looking for a developer and is considering one, you should give them that URL and tell them to go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring.
Andrew: Were you checking them out?
Sasha: Yeah, I was just checking their website. It sounds like a very good business.
Andrew: How many developers are you?
Sasha: Right now we have five developers.
Andrew: Cool. All full-time?
Sasha: Full-time. Yeah.
Andrew: All right. So, what was the bad idea that you should have sat on for a little bit longer?
Sasha: So, we started this idea called Mingle my last year in college. Basically, the idea was that you go to a conference or an event to meet the right people. You’ve got to shake a lot of hands, kiss a lot of babies hoping that person is the right person. We were like, “How can we make this easier?” What if you can enter and you can see a list of attendees with their pictures and see, “Okay, this is Andrew Warner. He’s the CEO of Mixergy. I want to talk to him and not the junior developer, that guy.”
So, the idea, we talked to people. It was good. But it was more like the execution that it got very difficult and we had to shut it down after close to a year. The challenging part was that we didn’t think about the channels of distribution as much. So, as we discovered more and more, we thought, “Okay, the conference organizers, the people who are planning these events would be the people to sell to use this for the attendees so they can have a better networking time.”
Andrew: I see.
Sasha: But then we realized the people that we talked to, a lot of them didn’t care that much about that aspect because it didn’t really directly affect them. It was more of an indirect thing. And then we found out that as we talked more and more, we thought that, okay, the best way to go about this is to be the event registration company, the like Eventbrite that handles the ticketing and all that because they already have the list. At the same time, we don’t want to create another Eventbrite just to do this feature. So, we had to shut it down.
Andrew: How deep into it did you get before you had to shut it down?
Sasha: So, we built a Blackberry app. At that time, everybody had Blackberries. It’s funny. People had Blackberry, but they would never download an app. So, we built an app. We didn’t even do enough market research to see, “Okay, people are not downloading apps on their blackberries. They’re just using it for email.” Also Android app, we built an Android app.
Andrew: You did the same thing with Eversnap because Android is easier, you said to our producer.
Sasha: Yeah. We started with Android. At that time, our cofounder didn’t have a Mac. That was also the constraints here.
Andrew: We’re talking about 2011.
Sasha: Besides the fact that we got rejected from the Apple Store for three months.
Sasha: They said the app was too easy. It had nothing in it.
Andrew: What was the app?
Sasha: Too basic. It was called GuestPhotos. Basically it was a very early version of WeddingSnap.
Andrew: Got it. Was it too basic?
Sasha: Yeah. I mean, the very first version of our Android app, it was meant for one wedding. So, you would open it and it was a camera and that was it. You would take a picture, just like your normal camera. The only difference was that the photos were immediately getting uploaded to our server and then my cofounder would make a zip file and send it to the bride and groom.
Andrew: I see. And all the attendees could use it but your cofounder would manually zip it up and send it to the host.
Andrew: I see. Did you already have a wedding client when you created it?
Sasha: We didn’t. So, we had to beg. We had to ask around.
Andrew: I see. So, it was, “Hey, let’s create a minimum viable product. We’ll put it in the app store. When we get a wedding client, we’ll at least have something to give them and we’ll do most of it manually on the back end,” which ordinarily sounds like a great idea but Apple did not like that and they banned you for three months?
Sasha: Yeah. So, every two weeks we were publishing a new version, like, “How about this? How about this? How about this?”
Andrew: And they kept saying, “No, no, no, no.”
Sasha: Yeah. Finally, one of the guys felt so bad for us. He actually reached out to me and he was like, “Hey, just give me a call.” In that call, he told me, “Don’t write this in your notes in the Apple store submission stuff. It’s not good. Change this, that.”
Andrew: What was it in the notes that you shouldn’t write?
Sasha: It was something that the people can create an album on our website. And they said you should have all the functionalities that are needed to the user inside the app. But we wanted to keep the app basic because we didn’t know app development that much and had some stuff on the website.
Andrew: I see. All right. I see how you’re building out the app. You also needed to get some wedding clients. I don’t know about you. You live in the Bay Area, right?
Andrew: I live in the Bay Area. Before we had a kid and I worked hard to find other people who are in relationships, none of my friends were in a relationship. One, Nick O’Neill was and then they broke up.
Sasha: Yeah, I know Nick.
Andrew: So, it’s not easy to find friends who are in relationships, let alone ones that are going to get married. How’d you find your first one?
Sasha: Well my cofounder’s girlfriend at the time, she was in the Romanian community. She knew a lot of people who were getting married. These communities, like every time somebody is getting married. But she wouldn’t introduce us. She would be like, “Their wedding is only three months away. This is too late for their wedding.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?”
Some other friends, they were kind of like shy to introduce us to their friends to use the app for their big wedding. Finally, one of David’s old classmates who lives in Europe now introduced us to one of her friends who was getting married in Minnesota, like very, very remote connection. And we were able to test our first wedding with that. We only had the Android app for that.
Andrew: How did it go?
Sasha: It went good. We collected 60 photos. Of course, afterwards, we got a lot of complaints. We’re like, “Why doesn’t this work? What about this? What about that? Why is it so basic?” But at the end, they got 60 photos they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Andrew: It is tough with weddings. If you are going after like a New Year’s Eve party at first, it would have been easier. Why did you stick with weddings first instead of work your way to weddings?
Sasha: Well, we understood for Mingle we understood that for your idea to work the best, you might have multiple different avenues to go with your idea, but you need to figure out that niche that helps the best, the niche that is needed the most. We knew that with the collecting photos at an event, weddings are the most important from our own experience and from just asking around. So, we knew that we have to target weddings. Besides, from another startup project that we started before WeddingSnap, we understood that it’s very important to know your exact–
Andrew: Oh, I think we just froze. Know you exact what? Sorry.
Sasha: Target market.
Sasha: So, with WeddingSnap, it was very clear who are target market is, people who are getting married. They’re very reachable. You know where they’re going to hang out. You know what blogs to reach out to. You know where to find them. But there’s also that aspect that it’s harder. People think it’s like–it’s the biggest day of their lives.
Andrew: And obviously you don’t know where to find them because you don’t have any friends who are getting married and you don’t have any connections or you didn’t at the time.
Sasha: We knew at that time we had a hard time, but we knew in general they are a lot easier to find than if we just said, “Okay, people who like audio books, how do you target that?”
Andrew: All right. So then you gathered up some cash and you bought two sponsored blog posts. Where did you buy them?
Sasha: So, we understood in the wedding industry that people do not write about you. You pay people and they write about you.
Andrew: That’s how it works?
Sasha: I found that out after sending seven emails to this one wedding blogger to, “Please write about us. We’re so amazing.” She’s like, “Here’s our advertisement kit and $3,000 for the sponsored blog post.” I was like, “All right, that’s how it works.” So, we found two wedding blogs. We did a whole analysis.
I hired an outsourcer from oDesk to contact–I give the outsource a template to contact like 50 different blogs and get all their metrics. So, how many visitors they have per month, how many posts they do per day, how much do they charge and put them all into Excel and I did an analysis of where do we spend the least money to get the most visitors out of it. So, based on the $500 that I finally was able to borrow from my broke brother, we were able to buy two wedding sponsor posts. We got two signups, I think, out of that.
Andrew: That’s it?
Andrew: Did you see this as a failure?
Sasha: It was a failure. Yeah.
Andrew: That sucks. And then here’s what I see next in my notes here from my pre-interview. “Our first paid customer came almost two years after we didn’t make a dime. That person paid $27.” So, for the two years, why didn’t you stop?
Sasha: So, why didn’t we stop?
Sasha: Not all of that two years we were working on WeddingSnap. With WeddingSnap at that time, we were working for nine months.
Andrew: You mean full-time nine months?
Sasha: Full-time, well… full-time-ish because we ran out of money and I had to get a job and I got fired and all that.
Andrew: I see. Why didn’t you give up then?
Sasha: Because you know, I think that just the thought of going and working for the man and doing something that you’re not–
Andrew: Why not a different idea then?
Sasha: We really believed that this is needed. And all the brides that we talked to, all the past brides that we talked to, they would agree with us. The moment that I would start to explain what the idea is, they would finish my sentences. That was amazing.
Andrew: I see. So, there was not revenue. There was not really much traction and usage. But people kept saying, “This is needed,” and you saw that it was needed.
Sasha: Yeah. We believed in it. We saw it was needed. We wanted to make it happen.
Andrew: $27 comes in, not a huge life-changer, but at least it’s money coming in the door. Then Wedding Channel’s deal website did something with you. What did they do?
Sasha: So, after we bugged the crap out of the person over there, they had a Groupon kind of website for the wedding industry. So, they would feature wedding deals. So, I told them, “Hey, feature us.” She ignored me for the longest time possible. And then finally she was like, “Hey, I talked with my team and my manager says okay. We’ll feature you guys on a national level.”
That was because mainly because they didn’t have anyone else to feature because the wedding industry is not a very national thing. It’s very local. So, they featured us for one week on their website. And then in that week, we sold close to $15,000 worth of packages, wedding packages.
Andrew: What was in a wedding package back then?
Sasha: The ability to have your own online album and have a unique code that your guests can put inside the app and talk photos and you get all the photos in real time.
Andrew: I see. Basically what we have now, but not as sophisticated.
Sasha: Yeah. At that time, the guests couldn’t even see each other’s photos.
Andrew: Wow. So, they would just–alright. $15,000 comes in. Bugging really helps. In fact, you’re not the kind of person who’s going to stop at bugging there. What else did you do with them?
Sasha: So, we extended it another week.
Andrew: Okay. And?
Sasha: That was another $9,000, $10,000 that came in.
Andrew: Right on. How was that?
Andrew: How did you guys celebrate that?
Sasha: So, we celebrated–for us, it was like, “Okay, game on.” I had just moved to Palo Alto the month before and I was living in like a small tiny room over there. And then my cofounder was living with his parents to save money and all that. We were just working over Skype and stuff, not sure really how things were going, but we were just pushing forward.
So, it was a time to join forces. He came back to the US. We hired ten interns. And we were still trying to be very resourceful with our money. So, in the beginning when I hired the first two interns, I used to work at a Starbucks, right? The intern would ask me, “Where is the office?” I would be like, “Here’s the office. This table.” Finally we got our own office.
Andrew: How were they with that?
Sasha: Well, they never had to work at Starbucks because we got our own office.
Andrew: I see. I should say if there’s a startup here in any city I’m in, we have space here at this office, if you need a place to meet people that’s not Starbucks, just shoot my team an email and we can work out a time for you to come to the office and meet them. In fact, you don’t even have to work around my schedule, even if I’m not here, because of the office I’m in, you can sit out there you can have your coffee, you can have my space.
Sasha, you’re welcome to do that too. But anyone who needs to do it here, I happen to be in San Francisco, 201 Mission Street, if you’re a Mixergy fan, tell my team and if I forget to tell them just tell them to check in with me, but it shouldn’t be a problem.
Sasha: That’s very nice of you. Thank you for giving that to the community.
Andrew: Glad to. Frankly, it’s super easy for me. The coffee is all there. The tea is there. The water is there. We have whiskey if you need it. But I don’t think you’d need it for a meeting. But yeah, totally.
Sasha: I think this kind of stuff is really appreciated within the founders community, especially the people who are bootstrapping. From outside, I think the startup scene seems like, “Oh, everyone’s raising millions of dollars. Money is just flying everywhere.” But there are a lot of founders who are bootstrapping and they need any help that they can get.
Sasha: So, it means a lot.
Andrew: Yeah. Totally. I get it. I’m so over coffee shops as a place to work because it’s so unpredictable. You don’t know if you can get a table. You don’t know if you can have a conversation. And then I always feel obligated to buy a lot.
You know what I do? If I need to get away from the office and I do from time to time, what I do is if I need a brand new environment, I got to the nicest, most expensive hotel in the city that I’m in, like the most expensive and then I go sit in the lobby there. They’re used to business travelers being there anyway working. They don’t check for ID or push you to buy coffee or any of that.
They have this really nice environment that’s often inspiring and if you do happen to buy something, they’ll pamper you to death. Like I was at the Fairmont here in San Francisco, I just wanted to get away from the office. I went to the Fairmont. I sat down. I ordered coffee. The woman brings me not a cup of coffee, a carafe of coffee and I think she then, when it got cold, she replaced it with another carafe. You’re not getting that at a Starbucks.
Sasha: I heard about a hack that you can actually go and ask them for a meeting room, just the way you present yourself.
Andrew: I didn’t even think of that. Of course.
Sasha: And they’ll give you a meeting room. And also stationeries and all that, envelopes and pens and stuff.
Andrew: It’s way better, way better than a coffee shop. So, frankly, if anyone out there is not near me and you want to meet someone. Don’t tell them to meet you at a coffee shop, you could tell them to meet you at–I don’t know. What’s the nicest hotel in town, the Fairmont? Just scope it out. They always have tons of space.
All right. Let’s continue. Oh, my favorite is this guy. I love James Caan, the entrepreneur, not the actor, I love his biography. And in the biography, he talks about how in the early days, he had the tiniest little old closet of an office and he couldn’t have anyone meet him there. What he would do is he would tell them to meet him at his office. He would end up downstairs at the lobby and he’d say, “Listen, it’s just too hectic up there. Let’s go out somewhere.” And then they would go. So, at least he would give his clients the impression of size and then move on.
Sasha: That’s a good one.
Andrew: Oh, that book is full of it. It’s fantastic.
Sasha: James Caan.
Andrew: James Caan. He’s a Pakistani guy. He did not like his Pakistani name, so he took the name of his favorite actor, which now sounds ridiculous to call himself James Caan, especially he was doing it at a time when James Caan was a real celebrity.
Sasha: Huh, James Caan. So, that’s K-H-A-N, right?
Andrew: James Caan. C-A-A-N?
Sasha: Oh, C-A-A-N, a British-Pakistani entrepreneur…
Andrew: That’s him. Don’t even read the book, guys. If you’re out there listening, get the audio book. It’s just an inspiring audio book. It’s not like you have to highlight a bunch of stuff in there. You’ll remember it.
Oh, you know what? Speaking of highlighting–I’ve got to get back to your story, Sasha, but one more thing. Ovie in the audience gave me this great tip that at first I said, “All right, interesting,” and then I tried it and it’s been really helpful. If you’re driving and listening to Mixergy and you want to take a note, if you’re on an iPhone, just hold down the button on the iPhone, when Siri comes on, say, “Take a note,” and say what it is. Like here, I’m going to do it right now. “Note to self, remember to get James Caan’s autobiography (period). Andrew says it’s a good book (period).” See, boom, right there. I don’t know what it is on Android.
All right. Let’s move on with your story. You now have real revenue coming in, $24,000. It’s time for you to make your next leap forward and your next leap forward happens to involve 500 Startups. I said earlier that you somehow snuck into 500 Startups. What did you do there?
Sasha: So, we went to the demo day. We found out they have a demo day. At that time, we didn’t even know what 500 Startups was. We found out what it is and they have a demo day. So, we walked right in, they asked us, “Who are you?” And I was like, “Hey, I’m with Twitter.” They didn’t ask anything else. I just walked in.
At that time, we watched all the shows, all the demos. And then we continued talking with people there. One of them happened to be a mentor at 500 Startups. Then I actually slept in their office that night because it was in Mountain View and I was living in San Francisco. So, the train had already passed. They used to have a couch. They don’t have it anymore. That’s how we got into it–
Andrew: That’s kind of awkward, though, to sleep on their couch. How do you end up sleeping on their couch? You just stay until no one is in the office and you just fall asleep?
Sasha: Yeah. There wasn’t any–I think they also thought I’m just one of the other founders. They didn’t question it.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So, you sleep on their couch. How does that lead to getting funding from them?
Sasha: So, I got to know that mentor. That mentor, when we had real revenue and stuff like that, he introduced me to one of the partners at 500 Startups, plus I got a couple of other introductions to 500 Startups at that time. And then we had a meeting with 500 Startups and they decided to basically fund us.
Andrew: What do you think they liked about you?
Sasha: I think the biggest thing was the real revenue and also the wedding industry. So, they had funded other companies in the wedding industry, but none of them were successful. So, we were the first company who was profitable and was making a lot of money in the wedding industry. Also, we did a lot to get those introductions and they saw that. We’re hustling all over the place. I think Dave likes that.
Andrew: Is Dave the one who decided?
Sasha: First Dave decided. Dave actually, we got to Dave and Dave introduced us to Christine. I also met Dave again by crashing one of his own conferences and talking to him over there.
Andrew: Dave McClure is the founder of 500 Startups. He did a great Mixergy interview for anyone who wants to get check that out. Hey, let me do a sponsorship message for not designer, but DesignCrowd.
Look, when you need something designed like a logo or a webpage, a landing page, a whole new site, anything, a t-shirt, a flier–who needs a flier? I guess people still use fliers. Guys, don’t use fliers. But if you need a logo, web design, a t-shirt, something like that designed, don’t look for a designer. Go to DesignCrowd.
Why? If you go to a designer, first of all, it’s a pain in the butt to go find the perfect designer. Second, if they give you the wrong thing, it’s really hard to correct them because they’re so personally attached to what they created for you and sometimes they start creating and they disappear on you.
What you want is a lot of ideas. On DesignCrowd, you say what you need, you give them some background about who you are and then they get their–let me see how many they have. They have 479,692 graphic designers. That’s a lot of designers. Put your need out there to all their designers. A handful of them will start creating designs for you. You get to see the finish product and only pay if you find the one you like and that’s what you pay for. That’s how you know you’re going to be happy and you can give them feedback along the way.
Now, look, you’ve heard this kind of process before. Sasha, are you going to the webpage right now as we’re talking?
Andrew: Go to DeisgnCrowd.com/Mixergy and see why that’s better. You’ve heard of this whole DesignCrowd-like process before, right? But here’s the problem. Often, only one person gets paid, the one who you the client pick. The problem with that is that all the others don’t get paid. So, you feel a little bad about that.
Second, if a lot of designers have to create work for you and they know that most of them are not going to get paid, are they going to put their heart into it? Are they really going to put everything they have into something that potentially that most likely, in all probability is not going to get them any money? Would you?
Well, that’s why DesignCrowd is so different. What they do is even the people who you don’t pick can get paid because they put in the effort. They put in the time. As a result, they all put in effort. They all feel like they’re going to get paid. They all feel like their work is worth something.
There’s something else that DesignCrowd does that no other site as far as I know does. They work to make sure the different designs that you get from all those designers who are working for you are unique and they’re not all seeing each other and starting to copy each other and become group think. You don’t want that. You want lots of different designs so you can pick the one that’s right. You don’t want lots of variations on the same thing that they’re all copying from each other.
All right. That’s one of many different features that DesignCrowd has. If you want to see more, go to not DesignCrowd.com, but DesignCrowd.com/Mixergy. You’re not going to hear them advertised on Mixergy a lot because we’re sold out of ads. They’ve only bought three. So, write this down right now because you’re going to want it later on.
DesignCrowd/Mixergy, they’re offering a huge discount, 90 percent off posting fees because frankly they’re testing us. They want to see if it’s worth doing this battle with us to get one of the few ad spots that we have available on Mixergy. So, you might as well jump in and get the big discount that they’re offering as they’re testing us. Go to DesignCrowd.com/Mixergy. One-hundred percent money-back guarantee and a big discount if you do. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring.
Sasha, how much money did you get from 500 Startups?
Sasha: So, we got two rounds of funding from them. The first time $25k an second time was $75k.
Andrew: That’s it?
Andrew: How big a share of your business did they get for that?
Sasha: Close to 5%? No, not 5%, less than that, 2.5%,
Andrew: Oh, they get 2.5% for each $25,000 round?
Sasha: The last time was a convertible note. So, it’s tough to say what percentage. But close to 2.5% in total.
Andrew: I didn’t realize that. I thought they ended up with more.
Sasha: They normally take a lot more. But we didn’t go through the incubator program because we already had revenue and profit.
Andrew: Oh, I see. That’s the difference. What’s the deal with you sleeping in someone else’s bed? What happened there?
Sasha: You mean in general?
Andrew: No, I mean like I guess it one period there where you guys ran–here’s what I’ve got in my notes, “Our bank account was below $2,000. I thought I was going to have a heart attack at the time.” Before we get into someone’s bed, what does it feel like for you when you’re feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack? Take me to that moment.
Sasha: It’s one of those things that you hope you don’t think about it anymore. Well, it’s like time goes slower. It’s like everything is just stuck. It’s like the whole world is just stuck in one place. You’re just going in like slow motion.
Andrew: And do you start to visualize a negative future, something horrible happening?
Sasha: You can’t even think about the future. That’s the worst part.
Andrew: So, what do you think about?
Sasha: So, at that time, you’re thinking, “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.” And then you think about okay, the times that you kind of you calm yourself down is you think about, “Okay, how do you get out of it? How can you turn things around?”
Andrew: And you just keep going through it in your head. “How am I going to turn this around?” And is it productive thinking for you at the time or was it just panic?
Sasha: Well, it was like 70 percent panic and I think 30 percent finding a way.
Andrew: Okay. Do you remember one place where you stood when you were especially panicked?
Sasha: It was just the whole time. It was this like–like in the living room, I would go–the biggest was when I went to my barbershop. The lady, we always talk when she’s cutting my hair and we have a very good connection. At that time, I was like dead silent. She would try to talk to me and I would say something, like two or three words and I’d be like silent. I don’t even know if I was finishing my sentences or not.
Andrew: What was going through your head as you said that?
Sasha: I was thinking about the situation, the business, how are things going to change? What about all the people that we hired? How about the people that need their next paycheck, trusted us? You feel kind of really bad for letting people down or was there a way to avoid it, what to do now, what’s next. All those thoughts at the same time.
Andrew: Did you ever have a panic attack?
Sasha: What are the symptoms of it?
Andrew: I don’t know. I’ve never had it. I’ve heard that you feel it’s a heart attack, that you feel like it’s all closing in on you?
Sasha: I don’t think I had like physical, like that sensation physically. I think mentally it was similar.
Andrew: Okay. And then you asked around. You asked your parents. How did your parents react when you asked them for money?
Sasha: My parents, they were supportive. I told them, “Look, we’re in deep shit. Here’s what’s going on. Do you have any money?” They were like, “We are in a lot of loans ourselves right now. We’re in Iran and we really can’t do anything right now. But we have friends in the US that might be able to help.” And then they contacted some of their friends, three or four of their friends. They each gave us three or four grand each.
Sasha: Yeah. So, we got around $12,000-$15,000. So, I paid some of the stuff that I ended to pay immediately. But then the next investment kicked in four weeks later. So, I was able to give them their money back very quickly.
Andrew: So, it was just a loan.
Sasha: Yeah. It was just a loan. At that time, we didn’t know if the next investments were going to come through or just going to fall off like the other investments. We were going to raise $700,000. It all fell apart.
Andrew: How much did–actually, why did it fall apart?
Sasha: Well, why did it fall apart? Investor reasons are I think a little bit different than what they’d like to admit. One of the investors was like, “We don’t see your business growing exponentially at the time,” because they didn’t believe in the market. The other investor, I forgot what they said. I didn’t believe either of them.
Andrew: You don’t believe the reason they gave you. They just do it.
Sasha: Yeah. I think there was some, I don’t know, there might have been something else. But also, we didn’t hear exactly from the same partner that was a decision maker. It was kind of like a couple of people over.
Andrew: What about this one girl who was in college when you reached out to her? Who was she?
Sasha: So, she was the daughter of one of my dad’s friends. And she was the one–so, my dad reached out to her dad. Her dad reached out to her daughter and her daughter, who was still in college and her money from her past internship, she still had money from her past internship, she deposited to my account, completely blindly trusting everything.
Sasha: Unbelievable. She had worked like a full summer to be able to just save up that money.
Andrew: And you gave her back her money?
Sasha: Yeah. Three weeks later we sent it back to her.
Andrew: That’s a lot of pressure to take all those people’s money. It’s even worse, I feel, for me, more pressure.
Sasha: Yeah. The thing is that I think there is always this belief very deep inside that you think you will pull it off and you will make it happen.
Andrew: Did you really still believe in yourself the whole time?
Sasha: Yeah. I did.
Andrew: Where does that belief come from?
Sasha: That’s a good question. I think previous experiences of making it happen, that’s what makes you believe in yourself a lot more.
Andrew: What’s one example that you keep thinking back on and saying, “Well, if we made that happen, I can make this happen?”
Sasha: I can’t think of–well, one was the story of how we launched WeddingSnap to begin with, when we ran out of money, we had to live on a futon together for six months. Our girlfriends would visit us and we would all sleep in the living room, like four of us losers, all of that.
Andrew: Wait, where was this living room with the futon that you and your cofounder slept on?
Sasha: In Atlanta.
Andrew: I see. And the reason you did it is because you put your place up for rent on Airbnb?
Sasha: Yeah. We had two rooms. We put them both on Airbnb.
Andrew: Oh, and you were sleeping in the living room of the place.
Andrew: Oh, wow. Is that awkward?
Sasha: Yeah. That was really awkward. But at that time, it was awkward, but also we didn’t care. We were like, “Okay, we have a bigger mission here. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem.” Nobody that we ever dated had any problem with that. I think it was kind of our own confidence. They were just cool with it. They were like, “Oh wow, these guys are very committed.”
Andrew: So, looking back on it, when you suddenly ran out of money and you needed to find a way in, people, including your father’s friend’s daughter, who took all the money from an internship and gave it to you, when you had all that, you thought, “Well, if I pulled it off before and I slept on a futon with my cofounder and we found a way to make it work and we got here, I can figure out the next step?”
Andrew: That makes sense.
Sasha: And a lot of other–both me and my cofounder, we went to a very tough school. We had a lot of all-nighters. There were a lot of times you just had to make it happen. A lot of those examples come together and build this confidence of, “Okay, you can make it happen.”
Andrew: I’ve found that too, if you can focus on one or two of those examples of past successes, then it’s a lot easier to feel confident about future things that you’re doing and to pull them off. But most people don’t do that. What they’ll say is, “I was such a loser. I used to sleep with someone else and now I’m deep in debt. So, this is another example of how I’m a loser. So, they’ll take that past success and see it in a negative light and just keep reinforcing the sense that they’re all failing.
Andrew: I’m impressed by how you did it. There’s one other thing that I want to get to. Actually, two–first of all we’re not at only [inaudible 01:03:25] in revenue. That’s not the [inaudible 01:03:29]. What’s the big that you took that allowed you to get to whatever that revenue was? I’m actually going to edit that out. I never edit, but if I promise someone that I’m not going to reveal their revenue, I’ve got to edit that out.
Sasha: Yeah. So, what happened was that after that, we got that [inaudible 00:03:52] and we started doing PR. We started doing SEO. I started putting all the stuff that I learned from Mixergy courses, Mixergy Premium, putting it into effect.
We started buying AdWords, focusing on SEO. Every time we bought a sponsor post, we’d make sure we get the right keywords there. That all built up. So, over time we were able to constantly just grow the business. But also, the wedding business is a seasonal business. So, summer time, we’ll go really up and then we’ll come down again.
Andrew: I see. What was your biggest source of customers?
Sasha: Pinterest was a big one.
Andrew: That explains why so many of your images, I think all the images on your site are pinnable.
Sasha: It’s still an untapped market, Pinterest.
Andrew: So, how are you getting customers from Pinterest?
Sasha: Pinterest, it’s challenging. Pinterest, there aren’t that many things you can do directly to affect how many repins you’re going to get, how many click-throughs you’re going to get. Nowadays, you have so many ads that it’s an amazing resource. If your target audience is young women and you’re not spending money there, you’re losing. But the kind of things that we did is that to have pin it buttons all over the website, encourage people pin as much, pin to get a coupon, pin to get a discount, things like that.
And then we would also contact the influencers within the Pinterest market, so, somebody who would have two million pins and be like, “We’ll give you $100 if you can pin these ten images.” Before then, they had never seen anybody approach them and tell them, “Hey, we will pay you for pins.” So, a couple of months after we reached out to these people, they started making a business model behind it and they started charging even more.
Andrew: So, you would pay them to pin what images? What’s the process?
Sasha: So, we would give them an image that has a picture of an app and a bride and groom like happily on it and then write a text that says, “Wow, this is the best wedding app I’ve ever seen. It takes unlimited photos and videos, collects the guests.” And then they would pin this to one of their boards that would have the most followers. They would have like a million followers, see that pin and a lot of them would repin it. So, it would kind of have like the viral growth within there. A lot of them would share with their friends.
Andrew: Boy, I’m feeling really bad that I revealed the number within the interview. I promised I wouldn’t say it and I’ve never said it before.
Sasha: It’s the first.
Andrew: Were you shocked? I was looking at your face afterwards to see, “Did I just make a mistake?”
Sasha: Like, “What?”
Andrew: I will edit it out. All right. Final question is about this photography business. So, you actually have photographers that you send out to events.
Sasha: So, we want to make photography–like, photography hasn’t changed for the last hundred years besides digital cameras, the photography industry. Still over 90 percent freelancer. Still they get paid on average $30,000 a year, which is really low. And they charge $200 per hour. For somebody who charges $200 an hour, you would think they would be driving a Ferrari. The problem is they’re not getting gigs. They charge as much as they can because they don’t know when their next gig is going to be.
So, there’s all this flawed business model there and nobody is willing to lower their rates because they think how much their rate is signifies how much their personal wroth is. To me, I’m like, “That’s all bullshit.” So, what I did is I’m like, “I’m going to test this.” I bought a camera for $300 from Craigslist. I put on some Craigslist post and said, “Hey, I’m a photographer. I will do your event for $50 an hour.”
And within the first couple of days, I got three bookings. Two were for parents for their kid’s birthdays and one was Stanford, one of the Stanford organizations. And I have zero background in professional photography. I don’t know what shutter is, aperture and I don’t even care. My philosophy in the beginning was that if I can do it, anybody can do it. Well, part of it wasn’t true, but I’ll get to that. But I shot those events myself, edited, learned how it works. And they were happy.
So, my first idea was that, “Okay, why don’t we just get people who are smart, just basically manual labor who’s smart, buy the cameras give them the cameras, teach them a little bit and then they can do photography at one-fifth of the cost and we can just destroy the market like that.”
Sasha: We put a Craigslist ad that we said $20 an hour. “We’ll pay you to become a photographer $20 an hour.” And our only requirement was like no smoking, no photography background, nothing. We noticed 90 percent of the people applying, they are all photographers. They’re all people who have their own gear. They have the gear that is worth multiple times my $300 camera. They know like ten times more than I do about photography. I’m like, “What? What’s going on here?”
So, then we go through their portfolio, interviewed, hired some of them. Gradually we put in–I come from a process engineering, systems engineering background. So, assigning photographers to events on a mass scale is a lot of human processes in place. So, I wrote down all the steps that are needed to scale this and try to cut as many steps as possible and make it more scalable, make it more–so, the other problem was consistency of quality between different photographers, different gear and things like that. How can we improve that? How can we put processes in place? How can we put triggers? How can we put check lists?
So, all of those came into a place that right now we have our Net Promoter Score is 92, like 9.2 out of 10.
Andrew: Just finding people on Craigslist and getting them out there to take photos at events.
Sasha: Well, now it’s like we hire very good photographers.
Andrew: I see. So, you said there was a problem. What’s the problem?
Sasha: Well, the problem was consistency of quality in the beginning. But that was because we didn’t have set criteria of who we’re going to hire. But now, we put a lot of criteria of, “Who are the type of people we want to hire?” Like our photographers have, on average, 10 to 20 years of experience right now. They all have gear. They have all have, on average, $5,000 worth of gear.
Andrew: What do you guys charge for this?
Sasha: We charge right now on our website $120 an hour.
Andrew: I see, as opposed to the $200 that other photographers are charging.
Sasha: And $120 is their raw without any discounts, if you don’t see a pop up that jumps and says, “Take 20 percent off.”
Andrew: How does the revenue from that compare to the revenue from Eversnap?
Sasha: They’re pretty close.
Andrew: So, they’re about the same.
Sasha: Yeah. They’re almost about the same.
Andrew: So, how does one tie into the other or are they two different businesses?
Sasha: So, our business, our company vision is to collect your event experiences, memories in one place. If you want to do it yourself by collecting your friend’s photos from the event, you can do that with our app. If you want to hire somebody and not worry about collecting those photos from your friends, you can hire an affordable photographer.
Some people want to have both because there are some photos photographers can take that the guests can’t take and there are some fun photos that the guests can take the photographer cannot take. So, we think they’re both different products for the same solution.
Andrew: All right. Well, I feel like I could have done a whole interview based on the process behind the photography business, but we’re now way over time here. Also, I’m still feeling bad that I revealed something. I’ve never revealed anything before in an interview. I hate that I have to edit because I don’t want everyone else in the future to say, “Andrew, you edited Sasha’s interview. Why can’t you edit mine?”
So, let me say it publicly right here. The only reason I’m doing this edit is I promised my guest that if he revealed information to me before we started, I will not reveal it in the interview. I do that before interviews with people so that I can really check it out and make sure I’ve got a good guest. If I make a promise like that, I can’t suddenly back out of it.
So, of course, we have to edit. But I will continue my policy of no editing. Editing stinks. The problem with editing is the guest always wants the parts that are the best edited out. What we want is the raw part. I want someone who says that they spammed, to keep that story in the interview. I don’t need them to come back afterwards and say, “Andrew, as long as you’re editing, edit out the fact that I spammed. I don’t want the world to know that.” No. I need the world to know that.
All right. How do you feel the interview went, Sasha?
Sasha: Is it over?
Andrew: No. We’re still in it. I’m going to end it in a moment. While we’re on camera, what do you think?
Sasha: I think it went good. There were parts I was uncomfortable.
Andrew: Like what? What made you uncomfortable?
Sasha: Nothing. The things that I hadn’t thought about before, like for example what were we fighting about with my brothers.
Andrew: Actually, that part of the interview went a little bit long because I was prying. I was sensing that there was something there. Jeremy is good, the producer who you already spoke with. You told him all kinds of stuff and he started writing this stuff down. I feel like there’s some kind of friction between you and your dad.
That’s why I stuck with it. I was waiting for you to bring that up, friction between bouncing back and forth between the US and Iran. It’s not like you’re going between Canada and America. You’re going go between two countries that consider themselves enemies, at least on the political point. I felt that there must have been some friction there.
And then there was this other period there where you wanted to go to Switzerland. You applied to Swiss Banking Academy. You got in. Your dad didn’t want you to go to Switzerland. He would yell at you for–this part you told Jeremy, so I’m perfectly comfortable saying it in the interview–you yelled at each other for a couple of hours.
Sasha: Every day.
Andrew: Every day two hours.
Sasha: Yeah, for two weeks.
Andrew: And then how did it resolve itself?
Sasha: Finally, he stopped calling me. So, he told me that, “I’m not going to give you the money to go to Switzerland.” It cost like $8,000. I’m like a college kid. I have no money. This is 2007. So, the economy was good. So, I contacted every bank and credit–
Andrew: Credit union.
Sasha: Credit union that I could get my hand on. Finally, some random credit union writes me a check for $7,500. I tell my dad, “Look, I’ve got the money. I’m going.” So, at that time, he starts calling me for two hours every day for two weeks. And then finally he doesn’t call me for a week, two weeks and then he calls back and he’s like, “We’ll support you. We’ll give you the money.”
Andrew: I see. So, that’s a story that you didn’t have to tell Jeremy. The fact that you told Jeremy makes me feel like there’s something there that you haven’t talked about.
Sasha: Yeah. I think I told Jeremy that because I think your audience comes from a lot of different backgrounds. I think the part of your audience that might resonate with my story more is people who started right out of college, people who don’t have any savings, people have connections, people who don’t have life experience, people who think their parents tells them exactly what to do, when to do it.
That part of the story is to tell your audience like, look, you don’t need to do everything that your parents want you to. Your parents are not the decision makers. You make your own life, even if you don’t have the money, even if you don’t have the resources. If you want to do it, you can find a way to do it.
Andrew: I see. And then once you do, then the people who were against you will finally realize that you’ve got some superpower that needs to be encouraged.
Sasha: Yeah. When I did that, I got my way of going to Swiss Finance Academy. First of all, yeah, I learned some stuff. But it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, my life-changing break in this world. But that helped my parents to understand my point of view a lot better, like a thousand times better. So, at the time I told them, “Hey, I’m graduating from this fancy college that you guys paid $200,000 for to get my degree and I’m going to start my own startup.” At that time, it wasn’t a big deal anymore because I had already proven to them that this is my decision.
Andrew: I see. So, it’s not so much that you felt, “I had all this friction with my dad and I can’t wait to finally shout it into the world,” it’s that you feel this is a defining moment for you. The world said no. You found a way in and then the world–in that case, it was your parents that were you world–the opposition started to become a supporter. That’s why when you look at your life and you see challenges like running out of money because some investor pulled out for who knows why, you still feel like, “All right, I can turn this around just like I turned my dad around.”
Sasha: Exactly. That was another one of the examples that really helped me.
Andrew: Now I see why it’s such a defining moment. I get it. All right. This has been fantastic. We’ve talked in person, but there’s something about talking on camera for me that makes the conversation a lot more deep, I think. And we covered a lot. I’m glad of it. If anyone wants to check out what we did at the event–Tim Ferris was there. Weren’t you surprised that Tim Ferris stuck around for the whole event?
Sasha: Yeah. He was there the whole time hanging out. It was so cool.
Andrew: Yeah. He was so into it. He kept jumping into stuff that I was saying and adding to it. I handed out these bracelets to people and a week later, I saw it at a dinner he goes, “Got the True Mind beads on.”
Andrew: Which is pretty cool. Yeah.
Andrew: Yeah. And you got a bunch of photos of him and lots of people who came to the event. Anyone who wants to check it out can go to Mixergy.com/Eversnap. Of course, if you want to check out the Eversnap app, just go to frankly your app store, or if you prefer the web–does anyone check the web anymore?
Andrew: I’m still a web person. I know most people are app people. I’m still a web person. So, if you’re a web person, go to EversnapApp.com.
Sasha: If you want a good photographer, EversnapPro.com.
Andrew: EverysnapPro.com. Cool. Finally, I want to thank my sponsors, DesignCrowd and Toptal. Thank you so much for doing this interview. Everyone out there, thank you for being a part of Mixergy.
If you’re not yet subscribed to the podcast–and you should be–we just added away for you to easily subscribe. Frankly, you can search your podcast player and find it, or in whatever app you’re listening to me on right now, just scroll up to the cover art and you’ll see links to things we’ve mentioned in this interview, including the way to subscribe to this podcast and to rate it if you like it. I hate asking people to rate it, but I really appreciate it when people do because it helps me get a broader audience which helps us get better guests and so on.
And one day, maybe we’ll have enough of an audience that I can ship out better camera and lights to my guests.
Andrew: Sasha, thanks for setting that up today. The light keeps falling down on you.
Sasha: it’s all good.
Andrew: We might end up having the death of an entrepreneur here. Let’s end it before that happens.
Sasha: That would make a good podcast.
Andrew: No one’s dying on this podcast. Actually, that would really help me grow my audience if someone would die.
Sasha: Should I make it fall again?
Andrew: How about injury. All right. Forget it.
Sasha: I almost got injured.
Andrew: Thank you so much for being a part of it, everyone. Bye.