Hitting The Mark
Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success
with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter
Ep007 – Eddie Geller, Founder, Tinybeans
Fabian talks branding with Eddie Geller who founded Tinybeans, an all in one app that provides a safe and loving space for parents to document their child’s lives. We dive into the importance and power of naming and how to get it right from the get-go.
In this episode, we break new ground with Eddie Geller, a startup founder who is well beyond his brand’s IPO. His app has accumulated a staggering three million users, yet many of you may have never heard of it because he has a very targeted appeal: Young parents and their parents.
We talk about the difficulty of marketing across generations, creating a brand name that can be used as a verb, and how going against users’ expectations may turn into your startup’s most important feature.
F Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting the Mark. On our first six episodes we covered a lot of ground from a founder who was on SharkTank, where he tanked, to an investor bringing back beloved brands like Iva and the 90’s Pepsi Co drink Slice, but today we break new ground with a startup founder who is well beyond his brands IPO. His app has accumulated a staggering three million users. I’m joined by Eddie Geller who is the co-founder and CEO of Tinybeans, an all in one app that provides a safe and loving space for parents to document their child’s lives through photo sharing, journaling, milestone tracking, and photo album printing. He immediately saw the potential of Tiny Beans had to bring families together around the shared experience of watching his own kids play and grow.
F Geyrhalter: Welcome Eddie, thanks for being on Hitting the Mark.
E Geller: Yeah, thanks so much for having me Fabian, obviously great to be on the show.
F Geyrhalter: Oh absolutely, so many listeners, many of us may have never heard of your app, which by the way has 2,500 new users join each and every single day, but the reason they might have not heard of it is because they may not be your target audience, which consists mainly of parents and grandparents. So tell us a little bit about the idea, about how the app functions, and how you made the impossible possible, which is to get young parents away from the social networks that they’re already using to opt into something totally new, to opt into Tinybeans?
E Geller: Yeah man, for sure. So look, it’s a really simple concept and I think for new parents, you know, probably relate to it a lot more. So Tinybeans, like you sort of said in the intro, is this really simple app that allows new parents to capture these everyday memories and have them safely stored and then share them selectively with families all over the world. So the problem that we’re solving that often is difficult to solve is really that sharing aspect, so that’s how really we began, sort of this very basic way in which a mom would sign up with the app that basically … capturing memories, and then they share it with family and then everyday an email would be generated that would be sent to the family members automatically. So parents loved this simple way in which they could be capturing these memories, they could selectively share with these handful of family members, it could be 10, 15, 20 and then they would get these emails everyday. Then through that experience these grandparents, aunts, and uncles could then comment and love and be part of that experience so there wouldn’t be a need for them to be on other big social medias or download an app or do anything complicated. They just wanted to experience what … obviously these new babies and kids are up to and that’s really the simplest format which we began and I guess the millennial mom of today is very … I guess up to date with the latest on sort of trends and privacy is a critical thing for her and that’s really what’s driven a lot of the growth in the last five, six years is, basically this very simple way which parents own the information. They get to control who gets to see it and obviously you know, it’s very safe inside Tiny Beans.
F Geyrhalter: Are you in Europe as well or are you only in the US and Australia right now?
E Geller: Yes, so Tinybeans is everywhere, it’s available all over the world. I think at last count we’re in every country, like over … I think there’s 170 countries in the world, over 200 territories, we’re everywhere. The US is our largest audience, we’re about 75, 80 percent in the US. Given our heritage is Australia, I’m from Sydney, about 10, 15 percent is Australian, UK, Canada, and then the rest scattered, but I mean we have like a decent audience in like France and Germany and all parts of Europe because again, it’s really communities that take privacy seriously.
F Geyrhalter: Right.
E Geller: And appreciate the importance of capturing and recording their child’s lives and have them in a safe space.
F Geyrhalter: And that’s exactly why I brought this up because I figured that privacy in the US is just slowly becoming something that generates awareness with a lot of users but in Europe, they’re much more up in arms about that and I think it makes sense that you’re starting to explode over there. You know, you talked about the parents, you talked about the grandparents, but you didn’t talk about the new parents’ friends and I think it really helps them too, to not suddenly see 20,000 baby photos every day on Facebook.
E Geller: Totally.
F Geyrhalter: So you actually help them too by not being overshared with something that they might not relate to as much as a new parent and their parents, so …
E Geller: Yeah, absolutely, that was actually … I’m not sure if you won’t remember this. Many years ago there was an app in Facebook called Un-baby Me and it solved the problem of parents oversharing their child’s photos in your feed and it would replace them with bacon and cat pictures.
F Geyrhalter: Oh my God, this is hilarious, I have not seen that, where was I?
E Geller: It’s no longer available but it was there in the very early days and it predates Tinybeans, but yeah, I mean exactly like you say Fabian. I mean you know, we solved that problem so it could be your closest friends, it could be you know … and we have a lot … mothers sharing with other mothers and dads sharing with dads and some of the sharing networks in the US get 30, 40, 50 people, so it’s way beyond just a related family member. It could be like your closest friend because in the US and primarily … there’s lots of moving and very transient e culture of obviously you’re moving to college, you’re then moving to another city for work, you could be moving to another city for another job three years later. So you’re acquiring lots of very close friends but family is spread everywhere. So the sharing networks in Tinybeans tends to be pretty large in the US, considering you’re sharing photos of your kid every day, whereas in other cultures and communities, Europe and even Australia, they’re much smaller networks because again you sort of tend to sort of stay in the same city your brought up in, whereas it’s different in the US.
F Geyrhalter: Which makes a lot of sense, and I mean obviously you’re dealing with this very particular audience, how do you create a brand that speaks to young, hip moms, or very often they are hip moms, and yet you also need to attract grandparents. Obviously, you advertise to the moms, that’s who you speak too in the beginning, but how do you work the brand language and the design and the UI UX around those two very far apart age groups?
E Geller: Yeah, it’s a great question, I think it’s something … it’s a journey, we’re always trying to think of it out but I guess when we started out … I mean first of all, it starts with you know, the name. If you think about the name Tiny Beans, it’s a metaphor for a child, so really it’s really at the center of everything we do is your child’s life. So it’s your little tiny bean and in the early days and still to this day, we put that language in the experience, like hey capture another photo of your tiny bean or you know, what’s your tiny bean up to today. So we’re using that language into the experience that obviously brings that brand into reality, so it becomes one of those things where we become … have you taken your tiny beans moments today. Not your child’s photos today, so it’s very important to us that the brand is integrated not just visually but also through language and the experience and that appeals to everyone. Whether your a grandparent or a mom, it’s all about kids. So that’s one core aspect that’s really important and the second thing is around you know, the creative or I guess the brand itself and the brand you know is obviously much more than just a logo, it’s the tone, it’s the colors, it’s making it playful, it’s making it fun. So all the illustrations that we do again, all connected to the brand, it’s about … we want people, our members, our users, when they are using the brand, using the app, is that happiness comes through. It’s all about them being … feeling happy, feeling this joyful experience every time they use the app and our goal internally is to make sure every time they’re using the app, it’s a joyful, positive experience that they’re getting out of it. It could be a flashback of a year ago of seeing their child grow up, it could be … basically a great piece of content that we’re sort of giving them. It’s just how can we integrate this sort of visual storytelling through the app experience, but then obviously you know it drives a connection to the brand because really at the center it’s all about trust. So we need to ensure that whatever we’re doing is all about connecting the brand to the experience, eliciting trust to the user because that’ll make sure they keep coming back and then obviously spread through word of mouth and tell others about us.
F Geyrhalter: Happiness and trust, that seems to be a brand DNA and you know, I’m not surprised. Obviously you took your company IPO and you realized a lot of amazing brand tricks through growing your company. I mean that whole idea that you create a name for an app that is so relatable that you can actually start using it as a verb, you can start using it in different ways like Twitter and you tweet and those are those lessons that I always tell startup founders when they create an app, to do that. It’s really difficult to actually pull that off and I think with Tiny Beans, you hit that perfect mark where it’s not only … it’s a fun but cute word that works for these different generations and it can be used to actually talk about the subject matter. Really great lessons. When did you, with this brand, when did you start actively actually investing may that be time or money, into branding? Would you do it earlier or later with your next startup?
E Geller: Yeah, great question, we created our logo, a very basic logo … you know, Steve, and the original founder and CTO, he created the first logo, if you go to our internet archive you can sort of see it, the sort of very basic … a little bean with some petals on it. That was obviously of no cost, we … and again, I guess like different versions of I guess when you say brand investment, right, so I think we spent 800 bucks on the video, on a sizzle real in terms of showing the app. That was you know, really sort of our big spend considering we had no money in the early days.
F Geyrhalter: Yeah.
E Geller: And then probably our sort of … our biggest investment, you know, when we started the journey in 2014, we raised a seed round and we engaged an external agency to help us with an updated logo and messaging and creative to then help us take it sort of … we were launching more significantly in the US, we’d form some partnerships, we wanted to sort of I guess you know, make a step wise change. So we invested in an agency to help us with that part of it and it was great, they helped us with the brand book, with the colors, with messaging, with the creative, and that was probably the first proper investment in the brand we did was post seed round.
F Geyrhalter: And that made sense … a lot of sense in your journey, right, because you were able to bootstrap everything until then but then you really needed to put it in place, yeah.
E Geller: Yeah, plus the main thing that I wanted to have was I guess we’re from Australia and we were all based there and we felt we needed some help to then go after a US consumer in a global audience, and as you know, obviously visiting other parts around the world. The US consumer is a different type of consumer to a consumer you see in other parts of the world, so we really wanted to get some help to just ensure that just whatever we didn’t wouldn’t be in the sort of historical bias of what we felt the right consumer would be. It’d be made in terms of this consumer we’re going after and obviously, without any biases of the messaging and the creative and the integration of that brand, we would then obviously need to do in the future.
F Geyrhalter: Right, no absolutely, and let’s talk a little bit more about trust and how your brand is about trust. I’ve read that you have a cult-like following, which makes a lot of sense, because you know, once you have kids, it kind grows with that and it gets deeper and deeper and people get more engaged over the time. How do you navigate advertising and sponsorships, I mean we know privacy is super important to you but privacy and advertising is always kind of … they are very close to each other and they’re not necessarily friends, so it must be top of mind for Tiny Beans at all times to kind of like walk this fine line?
E Geller: Yeah, absolutely, I mean I’m … first and foremost we’re always about our consumer, our member, our parent, our grandparent, et cetera. For us trust is at the center, happiness is at the center, and we need to be authentic all the time because really fundamentally that’s what’s built our success today and that’ll help us get to when we’re 100 million members. So it’s all … it’s always about that member and we have this Tiny Beans promise we often talk about, it’s sort of at the top of our terms and conditions, that I think it’s really important to also highlight, which also differentiates us from other generic social platforms. First and foremost with parents, they own all the memories that they add to the platform, so there’s none of this oh as soon as you add it, it’s owned by others, they own everything. Secondly, they control who gets to see it, so they decide they want to share it with a grandparent, with aunts and uncles, et cetera, so they control who gets to see it. Third, we’ll never sell their personally identifiable data, so that’s a promise that … so again. We’re saying that overtly it’s one of the things that’s very crucial that people appreciate, the effect that that’s sort of the core basis of what Tiny Beans works on, so with that lens, when we think about advertising and working with brands. There’s a balance there but fundamentally consumers need brands, right, we’re all out there trying to find a relevant product based on our stage in life be it a … someone whose just out of college looking for his first job or a mom that’s just had a baby, right. We all need different products and as you know there’s millions of products out there and there’s millions of reasons why you’d need different types of products, and what we’ve always been trying to do with our parents and family members about … because we know a lot about you, mom, and we also know a lot about your child, we’re probably in a great position to then recommend relevant products and content for you. So what we’ll all do is work with brands and go hey, you want to get to parents of six-month-olds because your product is really helpful there, then we’ll take that content and serve that up to parents of six-month-olds. So what we want to do is sort of draw the connection between I guess opportunity out there, or content services for families and connect the dots for actual parents who need it. So if you’ve got a six-month-old it’s relevant to you but if you’ve got a three-year-old it’s not.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely.
E Geller: So we’ll only give you the relevant information based on that age and stage and we work really hard around that, so an 18-month-old, here’s something that’s relevant for you, you’ve got a three-year-old, here’s something that’s relevant for you. So that’s how we try and strattle the balance of two but it’s difficult, it’s one of those things we’re always thinking about because we want to always add value to our users, we want to give this utility to them. You want to capture a memory, you want to get a parenting tip, you want to be able to find a product, you want to be able to help you, at the same time we want brands to appreciate that value but we’ll never pass the users information onto that brand.
F Geyrhalter: And you have an amazing target audience to actually serve up recommendations because they are … that’s how a lot of young parents start suddenly doubling or tripling their friend count because suddenly they actually need other parents just for advice. It’s like how do we deal with all this, this is all new to me, right, so everything that a young parent does is different than before. They read different things, they need to educate themselves about the different brands and different products that they’ve never had in their life, so it actually really is a perfect match for you to have this community, this online community that is all about trust and it’s all about happiness and then suddenly you serve them up what isn’t even an ad. It’s really just hey, we know where you’re at right now in life and here’s a product we feel might be really good for you. They’re actually going to run towards it with open arms rather than oh God, there’s an ad, right?
E Geller: Exactly.
F Geyrhalter: So you’re at a really good position to do that without losing trust, you’re actually gaining trust by serving up an ad, which rarely happens, which is really nice.
E Geller: The other thing I just want to add to that is that the brands are benefiting because they’re sort of leveraging the trust we have with our parents.
F Geyrhalter: Of course.
E Geller: If we say hey, this is a great … is a Tiny Beans tested product, we’d highly recommend it, that like is a 10x in terms of what the parent would have thought of that product if they saw it on a generic sort of social platform. So having said that, I mean, and you’d appreciate this. Big brands haven’t quite caught up. Big brands still want big reach audiences and they haven’t quite figured out that actually, you know, you actually don’t want big reach random audiences. You want small targeted engaged audiences, the media and agencies haven’t quite caught up to that yet and that’s part of our journey as well.
F Geyrhalter: Yeah, it’s actually mind-blowing. I just read about that again last night where it seems like it is so logical that you go for niche audiences and you really … you own that small pond rather than keep fishing in the big ocean and it’s just, it’s amazing how long it takes the larger an organization the longer it takes for that mindset to shift. It makes sense, right, it’s easier for a nimble small company to navigate those waters. Did you ever go against data, like did you ever see some customer data in the early days of Tinybean, where you were still very involved I’m sure day to day, did you see data and you did the gutsy move where you said you know what, I see the data, I know we should do one thing but I really based on my instinct, I think we should go a different direction? Or maybe a new feature where it really doesn’t seem to resonate in the beginning but you really wanted to push it through because you felt that the instinct of a founder, you felt like … I’m driven to do this, did you ever do that when you just went against your own data?
E Geller: Well one thing that comes to mind with that question Fabian, is early days, I mean there were other sort of other very basic apps out there for capturing memories and they were all very … I guess, one dimensional. Meaning you add a photo, you can come back to sort of a grid-like view and see those photos, right, it would be very standard. What we did, which was very unconventional but in hindsight sort of obvious, was we created a calendar view where you basically … you capture the photos in a calendar like experience, which means that you’re looking at what the child did yesterday, and the day before, and then you can reflect on last month and also more importantly, it encourages daily interaction. It’s like every day you want to fill it in with a photo.
F Geyrhalter: It’s a diary, yeah, it’s a photo diary in the end, yeah.
E Geller: Exactly, but it was unconventional because historically if you look at all sort of scrapbooking, it’s not really time-based, it’s more milestone based. I mean yes there is some element of time but it’s sort of random, you know, parents come in and out of certain things are sort of random so it’s a bit unconventional. Now if you think about it, it actually to be honest with you I think if you asked what’s the one of the secret ingredients that have helped us succeed is being the calendar view. Initially people weren’t very fond of it because they wanted to easily scroll like they would scroll in other apps and we sort of kept true to the focus around … you know the reason for the calendar view is clearly around this sort of very easy and very happy way in which you can see how your child grows up. One of the early taglines was like watch your children grow, it’s through the sort of scrolling of the calendar view that you would see that and you still now to this day a key part that sort of demonstrates this unique way in which you can see your child grow up. All within 30 days, you can snapshot that as a month. So that’d probably be what comes to mind the most, you know, we’ve done some recent surveying of users to look at other parts of sort of the parenting journey and looking to see whether or not we will double down in certain areas that go against what they think we should. For the moment, that probably is the biggest thing that comes to mind in the early days that I think has really been a successful part of our formula.
F Geyrhalter: Well and it’s interesting because it seems like my question was about what was a gutsy move when you felt like this may or may not work but you really believe it will and that in the end actually, your users did not feel too comfortable within the beginning and now it turned out that that was actually one of the big breakthrough moments, like that actually … going against that grain and that’s kind of where I was heading with the question because sometimes that’s what it takes and that’s why founders have to be gutsy and they kind of have to fail forward as a lot of people say, right. But that’s really … that’s a wonderful story. One final piece of brand advice that you may have for founders as a takeaway and it can be anything that’s on your mind right now, like what would you like to give younger youths, right, like younger entrepreneurs that … young as far as company goes, right, no attribute, just company growth. Young founders, what would you give them on the road as far as branding goes?
E Geller: To be honest with you and for us it was I guess it was pretty straight forward, but probably the single biggest piece of advice for branding for a new startup would be to have a name that is memorable and you can integrate somehow because without … in the absence of a lot of money, meaning for branding and logos and all that type of stuff, a founder can do that without any money. They have to be creative, so come up with a name and a meaningful purpose around the name and then integrate that into whatever you’re building. So it has to be you know, as if you’re creating … a happy brand, so that’s got to be personified across the entire experience. You want it to be a memorable one, it’s got to be in there, so that’d probably be the single biggest thing that I think with no money a startup founder could do really well. I’m saying it’s easy, but that would be one thing I think has really helped us more than probably we appreciated it at the time. Whereas I think those early decisions I think can really make a big deal, especially if like if the names are so generic, you just won’t get any cut through, we get so inundated with messaging. If you can’t have a name that sort of makes you pause and your ears prick then it’s going to be a battle, especially for a consumer brand.
F Geyrhalter: That was a great take away and you know, that’s why I had you on this podcast Eddie, so you can appreciate the power of the subliminal branding genius that you did at the very beginning of starting your company, it was just that name. Now you’re so used to it, right, but it is really … there’s a lot of thought that went into it and it actually carried you until now, right, really well, and I think that is so important, naming is so crucial, and we’re not even talking about trademarks and dot coms and all of that, right. But the idea that you go past that and that you actually make it something that is so usable and so meaningful and it has the right personality that you want to convey early on that will never change with the company. It’s like it’s always going to be about parents and grandparents. So parents listening who fell in love with Tinybeans but they’re not quite ready to head into the app store, where can they learn more about you?
E Geller: Yeah so check out our website TinyBeans.com, there’s lots of information there. Yeah I mean obviously like the app store like you say is a great source, even if you don’t have kids of your own or know others that have kids, you know, it’s really an amazingly great product and it’s free. It’s free for everyone, there is an upgraded premium version but all the basics that go … we talk about in terms of capturing and sharing is available free, we want everyone in the world to have that free feature. So definitely check it out online and if do a search there’s a ton of other information as well.
F Geyrhalter: This was such a pleasure having you here, thank you so much for your time Eddie, we all really appreciate it.
E Geller: Thanks so much Fabian, really great talking to you today.
F Geyrhalter: And thank you all for listening. Make sure to give this show a quick rating and to hit that follow button, this episode is brought to you by Mr. Maginsky. Possibly the greatest invention in men’s underwear since men’s underwear itself, find out more and grab a double pack today at MisterMaginsky.com. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won, I will see you next time when we once again will be hitting the mark.