How I Started an AI-Powered
Background Removal Software Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
ZapBG is an AI & ML powered background removal software that helps users redefine their creative strategies and build assets at scale without a learning curve. With just a few clicks, users can upload a photograph, and remove its background. They also have the option of replacing it with another background.
ZapBG helps online entrepreneurs, designers, marketers & creatives to improve their work efficiency and provide assets at scale with just a few clicks.
My team and I built ZapBG to enhance creativity and minimise stress. Our Mission is to help our users optimise their workflow and properly invest two of their most important resources: time and money.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for the past 20 years, and have multiple businesses with both failures and a few successes. I founded a modest wear fashion brand based in London, and scaled it to having multiple retail outlets through franchising in countries such as Egypt, UAE, Africa and Asia. This brand lives online too, therefore I am very familiar with the e-commerce industry.
I am your typical university dropout entrepreneur, and only went to university for one year before taking a year out to think about what I really enjoyed doing. I was studying Human Physiology and quickly realised I had lost total interest despite science being my favourite subject in school.
I dabbled in the world of Information Technology and absolutely fell in love with it. Although my first ever tech business wasn’t until 15 years after.
I guess I am one of the lucky ones, where both my job and hobby is building businesses. I can never get bored or lose energy discussing business ideas and growth.
ZapBG as an idea was born out of sheer passion to serve the e-commerce community by providing a tool that not only saved time and money, but made the process of removing the backgrounds of images so easy and simple.
I guess it’s the challenge that drives me to see what can be achieved within a very competitive market where there are other similar tools.
I know for a fact that any business online that sells physical products, requires hundreds and even thousands of design assets (banners, adverts, posts, product images, content etc…) throughout the year, and a tool like ZapBG is that one solution which will become part of an entrepreneur’s ammunition.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Some of our challenges were more tech related. We wanted to build an AI and ML driven tool which learnt on its own and got better every time someone used it. Choosing the right developers who understood the requirements and more importantly the entire lifespan and growth of the product was one of the first challenges.
ZapBG has both manual and auto capabilities. We know machines need a lot of teaching before they get smart. So, we wanted to give our users the ability to manually remove the background efficiently. However, it was important to build the basis on AI technology.
Who is your target market?
Our main audience consists of two types of personas:
- Creative Freelancer, who has 8+ clients or working on 8+ projects in the field of digital marketing, website design, UX & UI design, graphic design and content creation.
- C-Level Executive in SaaS Business, building digital products that serve website design, graphic design, UX & UI design, digital marketing and content creation.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
ZapBG is promoted to potential users through owned, paid and earned media channels. Two of our most successful campaigns were based on organic Facebook efforts (outreach to targeted Facebook Groups and communities), as well as our official Product Hunt release. We became 3rd product of the week, which got us showcased in Product Hunt’s weekly newsletter and gathered massive traffic and sales.
ZapBG has also attracted over 400 affiliates, who receive a 30% commission and if they can earn $500+ per month (which is relatively easy) then they get accepted to become one of our super affiliates and can earn a whooping 40% recurring commission. The full details can be found here https://www.zapbg.com/affiliate/
ZapBG also has a cool in-app referral program that is about to get released, which allows every user to increase their monthly background remover credit amounts by simply sharing ZapBG to their friends and family on social media.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Attraction-wise, we were mainly focusing on expanding our presence on social media by tapping into communities and soft-promoting our product as a solution that will solve their pains and problems. Regarding paid campaigns, we are now mainly focusing on Facebook retargeting that brings us ~4x ROAS. We’re yet to tap into Paid Search and content.
Retention-wise, our main success comes from our product and support team. Support team plays the key role, as our team is consisted of talented individuals that cover 24/7.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
All our team members work remotely. Most have a prior relationship working together before joining ZapBG. We believe in autonomy and a sense of responsibility. We also believe that one should be comfortable with the other members of the team.
Everyone is encouraged to make mistakes by thinking and doing things out of the box. My personal motto for hiring is to only hire people who meet 3 criterias: the first is honesty and integrity, the second is intelligence and the third is hard working.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Glorify: To create all our marketing assets
Stripe: as our payment gateway.
Xero: accounting and bookkeeping
Slack: Team communication
Notion: Documenting plans and strategy
Figma: All our web design mockups
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
The biggest mistake for me in business has got to be choosing business partners unwisely. It’s important to choose co-founders who are on the same wavelength as you when it comes to life principles. Integrity and honesty beats no other requirements for me.
This mistake has costly me greatly in the past, and looking back now I guess it was worth paying the price for having had the learning.
I also believe it’s important to think BIG and set BIG goals for your business from day one. There is no doubt that you will put tremendous amounts of time and effort and hard work to build your business, and therefore, I say why not set goals that are huge. If you fall anywhere close to it then you would have done pretty well.
The biggest mistake most people make is to set goals that are achievable. In such instances you are really not pushing yourself.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur is really thinking of the impossible challenge and making it possible in my mind. And then, working towards achieving it and inspiring others to believe that it is also possible and finally, get working to achieving it as a team. I am a believer in “teamwork makes dreams work”.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Least favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur is the difficulty and effort required to switch off sometimes. It’s a necessity to switch off and recharge and that has to be done. Entrepreneurship for someone like myself can become obsessive. I personally can not stop or rest until I have reached the end of an idea. Either it fails or becomes a success, but until I reach that point I am a very restless person.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Many books have inspired me over the years. Mainly books that are written by successful entrepreneurs and their journeys of struggles to triumphs. Richard Branson Screw It Let’s Do It inspired me to really step up my game and work harder. Grinding It Out: The Making Of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc, truly inspired me to build my fashion business into a worldwide brand with 26 retail franchises.
Many inspirational and motivational speakers have been my source of counsel over the years also. The likes of Les Brown, Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn and Tony Robbins have been my company on many long drives and train journeys.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
We believe that creativity is the new currency for businesses. By the end of 2025, we want to help 100K businesses, creatives, marketers & online entrepreneurs re-frame what creativity is, to challenge them to see the different perspectives and achieve the “impossible”.