How We Started A $4.7K/Month Business Selling Custom Hand-Drawn Avatars
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Zoltán, together with my two colleagues Arnold and Gergő, we founded Avatoon.net
We are selling custom hand-drawn avatars, drawn by professional illustrators through our website.
On an average month, we make around $5,000, with ~100 clients.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The three of us were hanging out a lot, and on one of these nights, Gergő took fancy of a cartoon avatar used by a Youtuber and so he got curious about how he can get one for himself. We did a little research and we found that the topic of avatars is somewhat obscure, it's not really discussed in depth anywhere.
We saw this as an opportunity and dug deeper. We realized there's a space for custom avatars, so we immediately put our heads together to come up with a solution to plug this hole in the market. We figured we’ll make a website for this purpose ourselves, since we are graphic designers, and hire artists to draw the avatars.
We had to gather money to execute our idea so for the next few months we kept our expenses at a minimum, and survived by eating only Pufulet, (a really cheap “traditional” Romanian snack containing 1% corn, 99% air, and 0% nutrients), and drinking rainwater.
These were rough times but after we saved up enough money, we started hiring freelancers and asked them to draw avatars. We hired the best artists we could find the full time.
These are the ones we chose:
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
With the hiring done the next step was putting the website together. To create it as fast as possible, since we already hired the artists, we left the city and traveled to a small village. We secluded ourselves as best we could, to keep at bay the distractions that come with living in a city close to our friends and family. We became unreachable to the outside world and disappeared. (We had laptops and internet so we can actually work though).
We had nothing else to do, so during this time we were 100% focused on two things only: 1. How to execute the website; 2. What should we eat?
We did a lot of research in this field and did our best to add content to our site, so it has some meat to it, not only bare-bones, with just the option to order something.
We separated the construction so each of our team members could focus on one aspect of the site, occasionally asking the others for their advice and thoughts. In these few days, we progressed A LOT. We built up and refined the UI/UX crafting each detail with a lot of thought behind it.
We added 85% of the text that you can see, and tested the site for errors as best as we could. We ran through our content so it makes sense not only while reading it, but it’s acceptable as far as SEO goes as well. Before our journey, into the obscure village, hidden from all traces of technology, we decided to blow the rest of our savings on food and drinks, so each day ended with a great feast.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The launch date was approaching fast, we started our ad campaign on social media.
We sent out 30.000 emails, which we acquired through a lot of blood sweat, and tears over the years as graphic designers. These emails notified potential customers of the nature of our business, and to get ready for our arrival. We sent them using Mailchimp which wasn't the cheapest option by far, but in our opinion, it was worth it. We advertised ourselves on every platform we could think of. One of these was ProductHunt.
On the day we launched, we sent out another batch of emails to remind everyone that Avatoon is up, and ready to go. After so much build up the first day was underwhelming, with only a few orders here and there we made our illustrators draw random things, so they're not bored.
On the second day, though it all exploded. We suddenly got so many orders we could barely keep up with it. Our “cutting edge” server was on fire from all the traffic (the server actually crashed). We had no clue whats the reason behind this sudden burst of interest. By doing a quick survey we found out that it was thanks to ProductHunt. Our website got featured as the top three most popular products of the day, and with that came the swarm of orders.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since our launch, we have focused on improving our SEO and hired experts to improve it. This worked pretty well, as most of our visitors/clients come with organic search.
With the help of the experts, we could pinpoint the most valuable keywords, that have a lot of searches and are relevant to our service. We edited our website to integrate these high-value keywords and managed to get to the top half of the list when someone searches them on google. By now we are getting 80-90% of our clients from google searches.
We tried Google Ads as well, but that didn’t work out at all. We think this was because we misread what the people who clicked our ads wanted, which is to create a custom cartoon avatar for free and not have one created for money.
We are present on social media but we’re not very active, so it’s no surprise that we’re not attracting new customers that way. We currently don’t have the resources to focus on this more seriously, but it’s certainly something that we’re planning to do in the future.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Fortunately, we are doing quite well currently, giving benefits, such as discounts for returning customers paid off. The majority of our clients are companies who return with more orders regularly.
We tried spending a few thousand dollars on Google ads and it didn’t work at all, that money was thrown out the window, most likely because we didn’t nail our target audience, and the people who clicked our ads didn’t find what they were looking for. We think that they were looking for free avatars and not a service that they have to pay for.
In the future we’re planning to spend more on SEO, so we reach the right people.
We’re also planning to introduce different art styles at different price points.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Unfortunately, we were ill-prepared at the launch of the website, and our server crashed. Because of this, we lost a lot of potential customers. We are still in contact with some of the companies that made orders on the day of the launch.
We also misjudged our target audience, now we’re focusing more on bulk orders issued by companies, rather than individual orders.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We only use the website we constructed ourselves to sell our service.
We use Google Drive File Stream, it has unlimited storage and it shows up as a hard drive. Sharing files between colleagues, and machines is pretty easy.
We are also using Trello to make tasks. When we receive an order it creates a task on Trello that has all the information we need to keep track of things, like deadlines, order number, order status.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I listened to Anthony Robbins a lot while I worked at a factory. I found his program Personal Power really insightful. It helped me clarify my goals and to follow through. That’s when I started to learn graphic design.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Starting something that we already had quite a lot of experience in, was really helpful.
This helped us to be more independent. We could realize our vision with precision, we were more aware of the challenges that we had to face and didn't need to invest as much since we didn't have to consult professionals regarding every aspect of the startup.
We also did a little research before getting started, to make sure the competition isn't too fierce, and we won't be squashed by large, already established companies.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you wish to find out more, you can visit our website.
Avatoon has provided an update on their business!
About 1 year ago, we followed up with Avatoon to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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