Everything I Learned Launching A $2K/Month Photojournal Project Website

Start A Photo Sharing Platform
About The Company
Coming Up With The Idea
Building The Product
Growing The Business
Revenue + Financials
Lessons Learned
Recommended Tools
Books & Resources
Advice For Founders
$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
product
Tookapic
from Białystok, Podlaskie Voivodeship, Poland
started August 2013
$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
452K
alexa rank
1.51K
followers
500
followers
737
subs
Discover what tools Paweł reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Paweł reccommends to grow your business!
Listen to the audio version of this story!

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello! My name is Pawel Kadysz and I’m the founder of Tookapic. It’s a photo-sharing platform where entrepreneurs, accountants, programmers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and other non-photographers share their passion for photography.

Tookapic is a premium photo journaling platform and community where you pay $9/mo or $69/y to take part in a 365-day challenge that will help you transforms ordinary moments into extraordinary memories.

But here’s the catch. It only allows you to publish one photo a day and encourages you to do it every day for a year. This type of photo journal is called 365 projects.

It helps amateurs learn their camera’s capabilities, take better photos and develop as photographers. But since it’s a daily challenge of documenting your life it also helps you learn a lot about yourself.

We believe every day is worth celebrating even though life is not always perfect and Instagram-worthy. With Tookapic people discover moments worth capturing in their daily, mundane life.

The mindful Instagram alternative is a good way to describe what we’ve built.

everything-i-learned-launching-a-2k-month-photojournal-project-website

In a world of oversharing and overdoing it, we’re embracing simplicity and cultivating a refreshing revolution. We believe it’s time to break through the comparison that our society promotes, and start appreciating our own stories - one photo at a time.

Tookapic challenges people to forget what others are doing online and embrace the evolution of their own lives. We believe there’s more to life than likes, views, and shares.

everything-i-learned-launching-a-2k-month-photojournal-project-website

As people share one photo a day for a year, they watch their own chronological timeline come to life with simple memories that have actually shaped their story. It’s not an album of just the highlights like Instagram.

This is life. Unfiltered.

Over the years we developed a set of rules for our platform. No spam, no ads, and no bots to invade your space, feed you lies and steal your time.

  • No app to install.
  • No sneaky algorithms.
  • No ads or sponsored content.
  • No influencers.
  • No push notifications.
  • No harassment.
  • No hate speech.
  • No stickers.
  • No filters.

And it works.

Our customer success stories include programmers starting successful photo businesses, teachers opening their photo studios, designers starting photo projects that attract the attention of worldwide media, students making money doing fashion photoshoots, and much more. We’re now making ~$2000/mo from subscriptions and an additional $100-200/mo from selling photo books and prints.

everything-i-learned-launching-a-2k-month-photojournal-project-website

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Back in 2013, I moved to a new house with my girlfriend. Our own house. It was a completely new chapter for us and I thought it would be nice to document it somehow. Naturally, I thought about photos. But I had no idea about photography.

I did have an old DSLR though. I decided to start taking photos daily and publish one on a Tumblr blog every day for a year. That was August 13th, 2013 - the day the idea was born.

everything-i-learned-launching-a-2k-month-photojournal-project-website

I completed my first year without a day missed. Along the way I noticed people taking up the challenge and starting their own photo journals. Most of them gave up after a week or two.

I knew exactly why this was happening. There was no community around the idea. No support from people sharing the same goal. That was also the main reason I wanted to give up many times during my own photo-a-day project.

That’s when I decided to build a platform for people who want to take up the challenge of a 365 project.

You can watch my personal story in a video below.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I’m a web/UI/UX designer, so taking up a new, personal project was very exciting. I didn’t think of it as a business. I just wanted to get it out to people so they can use the app and share my (disturbingly high levels of) excitement.

That was my first mistake.

I jumped right into prototyping some basic features without doing any kind of market research.

Be patient. Figuring everything out takes time. If you’re not getting the traction you want, it’s not because you suck. You just don’t know enough. You don’t have the experience. Yet.

At the time, I worked with a very talented web developer, my main business was doing more than good so it seemed like the perfect moment for launching a side project.

We quickly made a coming-soon page with email opt-in.

This is how our coming soon page looked like (September 2014).

everything-i-learned-launching-a-2k-month-photojournal-project-website

This is where I made my second mistake. I considered 600 emails a good enough sign of interest in the thing we were about to build. That number should’ve been at least 10x bigger.

Closed beta launched on October 9th, 2014, just 4 months after we decided to do it. Day one brought in 6 (six) photos. It took 2 months to get 1000 images in the app.

That was not the traction I was hoping for.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

After making all those mistakes I listed above, I would say that there’s no sense in doing any kind of marketing until you position your product in the market.

Positioning

After doing tons of research, surveying hundreds of users, analyzing user behavior, their habits and favorite features I finally figured it out.

Tookapic is a photo project for non-photographers. Entrepreneurs, programmers, teachers, students, doctors, lawyers, accountants who once bought a camera but never actually used it.

It’s not for Instagram people. It’s not for professional photographers.

It’s for amateurs who want to make use of the camera they once bought. People who want to learn & improve along other non-photographers sharing the same goal. One photo a day for a year.

It’s for people who want to share their not-yet-perfect photos in a friendly environment without being afraid of hateful comments (khm, Facebook groups).

Figuring out what Tookapic is and who it helps was 80% of the work. It’s so much easier now to attract and retain customers. I know who I’m talking to, what problems they have and how I can help solve those problems.

And it only took me 5 years. 👏

Word of mouth

Tookapic is a niche product. It’s not for everyone. As you see, it’s for a very specific kind of user. Now that we figured out the positioning, we get most of our new users through word of mouth.

How and why?

“People like us do things like this.” - I recommend reading *This is Marketing* by Seth Godin.

Short Trial

Most people drop off within the first 10 days of the 365 project. So our trial is just 7 days. Users need to make the decision within the first week. This commitment is actually a feature. “I paid for it, so I’m going to do it.” is something I hear a lot.

The short trial period also helps with activating new users. It has a lot to do with Parkinson’s law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. If you have a 30-day trial, it seems like plenty of time, so you can postpone testing the product until next week. But if you only have 7 days to try the app out, you get to it right away.

Personal contact from the founder

Every new user gets a personalized plain text email. I spent way too long on polishing the contents of the email, but it paid off. It has a 75%+ reply rate. It gives me a huge amount of insights on what people look for in Tookapic, what they need help with and how they found out about us.

More personal contact from the founder

I recently started sending out personalized videos to people who already uploaded 3 photos (that’s a good sign they’ll commit). The video contains personal welcome (with their name), positive comment on their first photos, instructions on how to get help if they need it and few words on “the next steps” they should take to get the most of their 7-day trial.

The feedback was amazing. “Wow, I can’t believe you recorded this for me.” - that’s what I get a lot as a reply. People love to be recognized.

Personalized video from the founder also shows users that this is not a faceless corporation like Facebook or Instagram. There’s a real person behind the project. A person that is ready to help them anytime.

Optimized nurture campaign

During the trial period, the new user gets 3-4 emails. Those emails answer all the questions, objections and doubts a newbie might have.

We send a free, 40-page guide to 365 project PDF. Every email is personalized and looks different depending on the stage the user is on (signed up, activated, upgraded).

“Your trial is about to expire” emails

People get the first one just 4 days after signing up (but only if they are qualified as ready to upgrade). In total, every qualified user gets 3 of those emails. This pushes them to use the discover as much of the app as possible.

Emails contain user’s stats, accomplishments, encouragements, price anchoring (we compare the weekly cost of Tookapic to being less than half of the cheapest Starbucks coffee), and happy customers’ testimonials.

It works. These emails have a 30% conversion rate (based only on the ones that were opened).

Facebook Ads

Targeting people on Facebook by interests did not work for Tookapic. As mentioned before, it’s not enough to target people interested in photography.

Again, I went with Seth Godin’s “People like us do things like this” and I set up paying users lookalike audience and let Facebook do all the work.

Conversion rates improved. CAC dropped significantly.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’re doing good. Better than ever. It only took me 5 years to figure things out 😅. But I’m glad I didn’t give up on the idea of Tookapic.

I feel like I’m finally moving out of the dip of the Dunning-Kruger curve.

With 300%+ conversion rate improvement on landing pages and optimizing Signup -> Onboard -> Activate -> Upgrade flow, I’m now focusing on driving more organic traffic to the landing pages. The blog will launch in February 2020.

Tookapic is not and will never be the Instagram killer, and I don’t want it to be. I’m not aiming at millions of random users. My goal right now is 1000 true fans.

So far Tookapic was only a side project. I plan to move to work on Tookapic full-time by October 2020.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I did learn a lot. The past couple of years were all about learning. Learning the hard way. It was a series of mistakes and bad decisions. I’m amazed that I didn’t just give up after the launch flop.

I read 50+ books on marketing, copywriting, sales, positioning, CRO, user testing. And while I was definitely learning, that did not stop me from making one mistake after another.

Here’s a list of the most painful ones.

Mistake: Launching Tookapic as free to use

I was way too optimistic about the attention Tookapic was going to attract. I made it free because I wanted as many users on board as possible.

Here’s the problem with free platforms:

  • when it grows - it generates higher costs and doesn’t make money
  • when it doesn’t grow - it still generates costs and still doesn’t make money

A paid platform on the other hand:

  • generates higher costs when it grows, but it also makes more money
  • still generates costs when it doesn’t grow, but still makes money

I wanted to keep it free for users. I tried ads and sponsorships, and while it did bring in some revenue, it wasn’t enough to keep the lights on.

About one year after launching we introduced some premium features. It barely moved the needle. Turned out that the main reason people used Tookapic was a friendly, engaging and supportive community.

And that was still available for free.

I was running out of money. We had 4 weeks of runway left when I made another decision. In December 2017 I announced that Tookapic will no longer be free to use.

The whole week leading to the announcement I had this overwhelming feeling of being a failure. I was sure people will abandon the sinking ship and I’d be left alone with the wreck.

I couldn’t be more wrong.

“Good!” was the first comment on the announcement. And more positive feedback followed.

Tookapic is a paid-only platform since December 15th, 2017. Ever since we switched, it makes more than enough money to sustain itself.

The paywall also solved the issue of bots, trolls, fake accounts, spam, and hate.

Mistake: Lowering prices to get more customers

Ok, so I knew people were willing to pay for the service. Now it was a matter of getting more of those people on board. That was a wonderful opportunity to make yet another mistake. And I took it!

I lowered the prices from $9/mo to $3/mo. Signups dropped, so did the revenue.

Well done, Pawel. 👏

It turned out that if a user thought Tookapic was the right platform for her, the price didn’t really matter.

The only people who complained about the price were the ones who wouldn’t even pay $1/mo (I know because that’s exactly what I offered them).

I went back to $9/mo pricing and both signups and revenue went up again.

Learn to write. Being a web designer, this lesson "hurts” me the most. If you have a good copy, you can sell your product with a plain text document. If you copy sucks, no fancy gradients, animations and polished icons on your landing page will fix that.

Mistake: Launching features nobody wanted

As an active subscriber of the app I was building, I thought I knew what was missing and which areas could use improvement. I asked others, and they also “thought they knew”.

Over the years we launched tens of features nobody wanted. Nobody ever asked for most of them. Some were only used by less than 1% of users.

The product got cluttered with unnecessary features. It got slow and unusable for some power users. We decided to rewrite it from scratch. In January 2019 we launched Tookapic “vanilla” with only the most crucial features.

Mistake: Trying to reach EVERYONE

For a very long time, I was sure that Tookapic wasn’t growing as much as I wanted it to grow because not enough people knew about it. And while that was true (duh!), my actions did not fix the issue.

I was trying to market the idea to a very wide audience of people who take photos. That’s a vague target.

National Geographic photographers take photos. So do stay-at-home moms. Astronauts take photos. So do Instagram influencers. People with medium format cameras take photos. So do people who don’t own a "proper” camera at all.

I eventually fixed that, keep reading.

Mistake: Redesigning the landing page every month

This is strongly connected to the previous mistake. I tried reaching a vague audience with a vague message that did not resonate with anyone really.

And since I’ve been a web designer for more than 15 years, I was sure that there’s something wrong with the landing page. And there was something wrong with it. But it definitely wasn’t the design. Not the colors I used, not the call to action placements, not animations, nor gradients and icons I used.

It was a badly written copy.

Mistake: Believing people don’t read online

There’s this myth that people nowadays don’t read online. They skim. They have the attention span of a goldfish. And you have like 0.002 seconds to get them hooked.

And so we (the designers) design flashy landing pages with parallax scrolling, SVG animations and those creepy illustrations of mutated people with overgrown limbs and tiny heads. 🙈

There’s very little content on most of the SaaS landing pages. The truth is, the right people do read. And they read like crazy. They devour every single word. And they want to read more.

Once you know who the right person is, you just need to give them the content they want. A single plain text column is all you need.

I know, because once I switched from a "beautiful” landing page to a single column long copy (2000 words), my conversion rates went more than 300% up.

everything-i-learned-launching-a-2k-month-photojournal-project-website

You don’t want someone to sign up just because you used the color they liked. They will never upgrade anyway.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I try to keep the costs as low as possible. I spend a lot of time thinking about the benefits of the tool before I sign up for it.

Tookapic is based in Poland and running SaaS business here is a nightmare. Stripe was not available in Poland until 2019 and even if it was, the amount of paperwork for every single $9/mo customer would be ridiculous.

Solution? Paddle. They handle our subscriptions, payments, taxes, and refunds. We get one invoice a month and that’s the only tax document to file. Brilliant.

We use HelpScout to handle support tickets through live chat, or email. I’m now in the process of writing content for our help center which will also be powered by HelpScout.

HotJar helps me understand my users better with heatmaps and session recordings. It’s an incredible source of insights.

I use Google Optimize for landing page A/B tests.

Customer.io for email marketing and drip campaigns. It’s expensive (starting at $150/mo) but I don’t think we could do without it.

I recently started to use Bonjoro ($39/mo) to welcome, engage, retain and upsell customers. It lets you record personal videos targeted at a specific user. There’s definitely a "wow” effect on the user’s side. I think Bonjoro had the most impact on our numbers recently. It does, however, take a lot of time and effort to record those videos, especially if you’re not used to being in front of the camera. It gets easier with time.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I read 50+ books a year, so I have a lot to recommend, but if I were to choose just five…

  1. Getting Things Done by David Allen. I have no idea how I was able to do anything without GTD. My productivity skyrocketed after I used the system for a few weeks (that’s actually important, it won’t work on day one, you need to give it time).
  2. This is Marketing by Seth Godin helped me understand that what I’m building is not for everyone and it’s ok to say "it’s not for you, please move on”.
  3. Words That Sell by Richard Bayan. If you write copy and want it to sell more, that’s the book you need. It’s not a list of tips, blueprints or instructions. It’s an actual list of 6000+ headlines, phrases, questions, statements that make your copy more effective.
  4. Essentialist by Greg McKeown helped me understand what I need to focus on and how to defend my time from distractions.
  5. Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. That’s pure motivation. I laughed at myself, my procrastination & laziness after reading this one. Goggins knows how to inspire action. I strongly recommend getting an audiobook with additional commentary from the author.

Bonus: Go read anything from Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman. I can’t afford their flagship 30x500 course, but their <$100 products alone made a huge difference in how I promote Tookapic. And even if you don’t want to spend a dollar, head over to stackingthebricks.com for tons of free and extremely valuable content.

Seriously, if you’re struggling with people "not getting” what your product is about, read Amy’s content. It will blow your mind.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Be patient. Figuring everything out takes time. If you’re not getting the traction you want, it’s not because you suck. You just don’t know enough. You don’t have the experience. Yet. But once you figure it out, once you connect the dots, once everything starts to take off… Oh man, that’s such an awesome feeling. Don’t take it away from yourself by giving up too early.

Position your product. Tell people exactly what it is. People hate being confused. And if they don’t know what your product is and what it can help them with within the first couple of seconds, puff! They’re gone. Probably forever.

Learn to write. Being a web designer, this lesson "hurts” me the most. If you have a good copy, you can sell your product with a plain text document. If you copy sucks, no fancy gradients, animations and polished icons on your landing page will fix that.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from failure. I know it’s easier said than done. I can’t count how many bad ideas I had with Tookapic. How many bad decisions I made. But without making those choices I wouldn’t have learned anything. I now use the experience, the knowledge and insights to help clients of my web design business.

Decisions based on your feelings are probably bad decisions. I know how hard it is to calm down your ego. But realizing you’re probably wrong most of the time is a liberating feeling. If you think you have a good idea - great! Test, verify, iterate, improve. But don’t just "think” it’s a good idea.

Focus on superusers. Instead of desperately looking for ways to find new customers, focus on your power users and understand why they’re so engaged with your product. This is the best source of insights. Ask them a ton of questions (they love your product and they will be happy to answer). Use their answers to find more of those people. It might be a niche, but you’d rather deal with a 100 of engaged and happy customers, than with a 1000 of "meh, I don’t feel this” users.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Paweł Kadysz,   Founder of Tookapic

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