How I Built a Communication Tool To
Annotate & Share Your Screenshots Online
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, I’m Perry and I’m the founder of Good Annotations. The company started off as a simple image annotation tool where users are able to markup and label any image. The tool is still in a stage where we are generalising. We want as many people to use it as possible so we can have interview sessions.
Right now it’s a tool to help you create, edit, annotate and share screenshots. We’ve found that people are using it for giving and receiving feedback or for directing users to show them how to perform certain actions. We think the latter is where we are building the tool out in the future. It can be a right pain to have to update suddenly out of date how to articles with new screenshots. We’re in this exciting stage right now where we are learning loads and adapting.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
As a teenager I started designing websites for local businesses because I knew how to use Photoshop. What I didn’t know was how to write code, so I had to learn. Figuring out the basics helped me build my first online retail business, which didn’t make a lot of money but it helped fund me through university.
In university, I had a great time but also worked hard to get good marks because I was aiming to land my first job at a huge conglomerate, which I got. I hated it, I suddenly felt like I was on this leadership program for graduates where I was a glorified Project Manager.
I stuck it out though and I am glad because, as part of the program, every few months I was thrown into the deep end into a team and role I had zero experience in, which was purposefully manufactured to help me grow. Since then I’ve made an effort to work as a freelancer in different companies, different roles to keep learning.
Over the years I’ve tried a few different ideas out to see if I can get them to work, because the ultimate dream is to run my own company so that I have both financial freedom and time to do what I love. I’ve never left a job to do them, which may be a part of the problem as side projects are a huge time suck and need a lot of focus to do them well.
During the coronavirus pandemic the company I was working for placed me onto the government furlough scheme which meant I was paid a basic wage but was not allowed to work for them. This gave me the time to go full on 9-5 on a side project. The idea for Good Annotations started small, a tool to annotate images that was opinionated to give consistency for a brand.
I had no idea if this was a tool people wanted to use so I built a prototype in just a few weeks but what was different this time is that I was able to spend a good amount of time on marketing. This led to higher usage which led to being able to have more feedback sessions with users.
I soon found that most people in my tool were using it for providing feedback on designs or showing people how to perform some kind of action on a product. Now good annotations are gearing towards helping people achieve those goals. We have a long way to go and it may change into something else in the future but that’s the exciting part about it.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I think one of the biggest challenges for me is and will be for a long time: marketing. It’s something I’ve had to learn over the last few months and it’s still the beast I don’t fully understand. It’s not that it’s hard to do, I think it’s more that it’s just as or maybe more time consuming than developing the product.
I have learnt that growth is what drives everything else and needs to be the number 1 priority rather than taking a back seat. Growth drives users to the tool, which increases the chances of customer interviews through support, emailing or some other method, which increases understanding of how people are using the tool and how you can make it better for them.
Customer interviews were also a real challenge, not many people would reply or want to get involved. This meant that my user research was really limited and the product was built on assumptions. It was the marketing side of things that really drove the increase in interviews, but it was a slow process. I read somewhere a few months in that you should do things that are NOT scalable when you start off. I think this is true for the development and marketing of the product. Don’t worry about neat code, as it’s probably going to get rewritten and spend time reaching out to individual users and keep, keep trying to get those interviews.
There have been loads of challenges and I’m guessing there will be a tonne more to come. Something I wished I had done differently which would have made things a lot easier is to have started this company with someone. Having a co-founder would have made all those initial pains, and the current ones, a lot less painful.
Who is your target market?
Currently, we are generalising the tool to target a few different markets. I’m doing this to try and get as many people using it as possible and find out what the common trends are.
The markets I’m targeting are: entrepreneurs that want to make nice looking screenshots for app stores, presentations or articles they are writing; teams that are responsible for providing feedback to designers/developers of a live website; people that provide support to their users on how to perform certain actions in some form of how-to.
This is a very wide capture area in terms of audience but there’s a lot of commonalities between them, which helps us understand what to build next. For instance almost everyone wants to create a story with their screenshots. It’s rarely just a single screenshot people are working with, it tends to be multiple screenshots in one project. So we have taken this feedback and have built a story mode.
This will likely be our process for the short term but then we will pick a use case that is performing well and target that specifically as our value proposition.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We test a few different approaches out. We spend a fair amount of time on SEO and are in the process of trying to make this our number 1 driver for growth. However, we also work a lot on Social. Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit and Quora have proved extremely efficient in driving traffic to the site. My takeaway from using these kinds of platforms is that I need to be responsive to what others are saying. It’s not just about posting randomly, it’s about being a part of a conversation and I’ve absolutely loved it. I’ve met and spoken to loads of different people and it’s been a great experience that’s a lot of fun.
Content writing is something we are trying to do more of. Whether that’s doing an interview like this or writing on someone else’s blog about some relevant topic or at least on a blog that relates to one of our audiences, it’s a lot more time consuming than the other methods for us at the moment, but I think that’s because we’re so new to it.
Because I’m from an engineering background I wanted to try out a slightly different approach: Engineering as Marketing. The idea is you build tools that people find useful, that are generally free and it drives traffic to your main product. We built a chrome extension as our test in this method. It’s done reasonably well in terms of the number of installs. Where it has excelled is increasing the number of engaged people who are willing to talk about Good Annotations and give feedback and insights to what they do. This free tool for users has been so valuable for our conversion goals and we plan to do more engineering as marketing on other platforms.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
The key for me is building a relationship with customers. If I could, I would speak to every single user that comes onto our site, but that’s not practical. Anyone who wants to have a call with me I book one in. I think what happens is that this builds a trust between the user and Good Annotations. They see I’m a normal person and that I’m focused on trying to help them as much as I can.
I think a good example is that recently someone came to me with a problem they were having internally in their feedback process. I got them to describe their problem to me and suggest how we could help, not a lot new here. However the more we talked the more I realised Good Annotations maybe was mature enough for what they were looking for. So I went back to the company and was honest with them and even showed them an alternative tool that I thought really met their needs. Yup, I went out of my way to show them a tool that wasn’t Good Annotations because I thought it solved their problem better than we did. A week later I get an email saying they chose our tool for their internal processes.
Now there may have been a few different factors involved, i.e. price point, but I think what’s important is I’ve shown them I’m an honest person and I’m willing to help them with their goals. Now I get to use their company as a major use case for the tool.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Culture is an odd one as we are still such a small company. I’m the only full-time person on it at the moment. I now have a copywriter that works part-time on blogs, landing pages, etc and I have a developer friend who helps me part-time on some features that aren’t urgent in the short term.
So I guess I would say it’s a culture that lets you be a part of it as much or as little as you want while giving you the freedom to work elsewhere or on your own thing, at least as we grow that’s what I would like.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Oh boy, we use loads of different tools. Maybe it would be better to break them down into categories. First up is feedback/research. We use the classic Google Analytics and have spent some time setting up events and creating our conversion goals so that we can understand how people are using the tool. We use Hotjar for recording some users’ interactivity with our landing pages and heatmaps to show how well conversions of landing pages work.
For customer success we use Crisp for our in-app chat, we use Mailchimp email marketing and newsletter signups. Tech & Infrastructure I decided to start and continue with Google Firebase. It provides all the hosting, storage, databases and authentication we could possibly need AND it’s incredibly fast to set up due to all the services being managed by Google. This means I don’t need to care about the server, db or any infrastructure management.
Lastly, something that we have just recently moved to is Webflow for our marketing site. It makes it super easy to create all the landing pages we need and all the blog content that will be coming soon.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I think the most obvious lesson learned is that development & engineering is less important at the beginning of the journey and marketing/research is way more important. I would say I spent too much time in development on a product that hadn’t really been tested enough. What I should have done is thought of much easier ways to test the market and find product-market fit earlier on.
We are still going through this process but if we had started earlier a lot of the hard part would have been done by now and we would know our market fit and our value proposition much better. So in short less time on actual development, more time on gathering information.
What I would probably do differently is focus on creating landing pages with different focus on market audiences & value propositions. The main call to action on those pages would lead to a coming soon page and sign up to our newsletter CTA. I could then A/B test different landing pages to see which had better conversion rates and then use emails to reach out to users and request interviews. I think it seems weird to launch a site like this but what this means is I would have saved 100% of development time to focus on marketing and research and if I had taken this approach development would be much more focused early on with an already engaged audience interested in the product.
What’s gone well is user relationships, I don’t know if this is because the audience is generally nice people or if I’m speaking to people the right way but every user session I’ve had has been a pleasant and helpful experience. I’ve heard horror stories about posting things on forums like Reddit as the community is meant to be pretty ruthless and rip your idea apart. I can honestly say I haven’t experienced that myself and Reddit has probably been one of the best drivers for steady growth (as long as I’m active on it).
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
It’s weird to call myself an entrepreneur, I don’t know if I consider myself one yet! I definitely see that as a goal and hopefully it’s not too far away but I think of myself as a pre-entrepreneur.
When I start charging and we have regular income, then I’ll be an entrepreneur. However, I think what I have enjoyed about the experience so far is that you are your own boss, you can work at your own pace.
I would say I tend to lean towards being a bit of a workaholic and probably spend the same, if not more, time working than I would at a normal job. I think it’s because you are so invested in it. What’s great though is when you do want to take time off, you can take it whenever you need it and if I want to work from somewhere else for a week, I can.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I guess it’s the uncertainty: is this product going to work, are people going to like it, are people going to use it? It can be quite stressful to think you’ve put all this time into something and ask yourself is it even going to work.
It’s probably quite a dangerous place to be so you have to keep positive and believe that it will work because with perseverance it probably will, you just have to listen to users and learn on the way. I think even if this current business doesn’t work I’ll move onto something else and try again. I’ve learnt loads through this process so it will never be a waste of time.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
So podcasts are something I listen to a lot, I think they’re an easy way to consume information. The ones I’m binging to at the moment are “How I Built This” with Guy Raz and “Acquired” with Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal.
How I Built This is a little easier to consume and Guy interviews the founders behind a range of companies like Slack, Stripe, Fitbit, Burton and Dyson. The format is great and when you listen to a few you start to see some trends with the journeys the founders describe. Acquired is more of a deep dive into the mechanics and history of the businesses. It goes really deep for example the Netflix episode is a 2 parter and each part is one hour 30 minutes long. It’s not just about acquisitions but about IPO’s as well. It’s a great podcast to start learning some of the terminologies that seem scary and get an understanding of how businesses are run.
A book I’ve been reading recently which I kind of have to hand and go back to a lot is “Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth” by Gabriel Weinberg. It’s a great resource for looking at how you can apply a growth framework to your startup and how you can test different channels to see what works for you.
The basic idea is you force yourself to consider all the channels and how you might utilise them, even ones you might think are not for you. What might surprise you is you come up with growth ideas in channels that are underutilised in your market and prove to be a great growth strategy. You then run small tests from a shortlist of the channels and see what proves to work best for you and then put your resources into the one that works the best. If you’re just starting out and you have a small team you really want to focus on a small number of channels. The unsurprising thing the book says is that everything takes time, they suggest running tests for at least 3 months.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I guess everyone says bigger, better and more profit and I’m no exception. I think the difference is I’m not aiming to be a big unicorn with this current company. I’m happy with getting to a point where I have financial freedom and time freedom, the latter actually being more important to me.
It would be great to get the business to a place where it basically runs itself and requires minimum input from me. I’m then free to either take holiday or most likely start something else. It’s easy for me to say I don’t want much and I’d be happy with a small/medium company but once you get there I’m sure your mindset changes. But I could see myself running a few different businesses like this.