How We Created an
AI Algorithm To Draw Illustrated Portraits
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Agata, I’m an illustrator and co-founder of dzook. This technology gives people the opportunity to have their drawn portraits in many different art styles just in seconds. We developed mobile and web applications called “dzook” and our users can get their artistic portraits converted from simple selfies.
We started as a gifting company three years ago and understood that thousands of people want an artist to draw their portrait. People want to see their drawn characters or avatars and love to use them on social media or business communication platforms. We were drawing by hand, we have created and sold thousands of illustrated portraits and personalized products and worked with 40+ companies in Armenia, mostly with HR departments.
At some point, we understood that we need to scale the market, which was impossible as everything was done by hand and our customers need to wait a week to get their order. We needed some technical solutions. Fortunately, we met AI guys, and together we have created an AI algorithm that learned to draw just like us!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m trying to draw something just for fun every morning and I call it morningbzbz:) then I post that drawings on my FB or Instagram page:)
So one morning, I decided to draw my friend Irina’s portrait then put it on a phone case mockup. I posted it on my FB wall, asking if there is someone who would like to have something like this? That day we received about 15 requests, so Irina said: “Well, let’s start a business!”
I graduated as a designer but I love drawing more than design. I worked as an illustrator more than as a designer, and I’m addicted to comics, even drawing several for kids and teenagers. But now drawing only for dzook. And I’m lucky enough to do it with friends 🙂
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
We have been working on an algorithm for more than a year and as it is a very new technology, we had no one to learn from. We were just experimenting a lot, getting sometimes really awful results, trying over and over. But we had very good advisers that help us, we are still learning.
We are new in the startup world, so learning every day. We have released our products and now trying to make it better, to make better marketing, to organise good customer support. It’s 24/7 working, learning and improving everything!
Who is your target market?
Our most active customers are people who like to take selfies, like to see their drawn characters, and then use it as an avatar whenever they want. People who love to have personalized products, like t-shirt with their drawn portrait or phone case with printed friend’s face character. As soon as they get a drawn portrait they can easily order a lot of products with that portrait, like thermos, mugs, bags, flip-flops, socks, and even underwear!
Also, HRs who want to make personalized gifts, work anniversary cards, welcome kits, social media posts for their employees and etc. Also, some companies who would like to use our API.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
When we released our web platform we spent 0$ on marketing.
We just made a challenge, like one person changes his avatar to a dzook-drawn one and challenges 3 friends to try… and things go viral! We did it with our first “glam” style and within a month the platform was used in over 110 countries leading to the creation of 80k+ illustrations. The power of social media and mouth to mouth marketing:)
Recently we became popular in Spain, Portugal, and Mexico. Lots of user traffic came from our posts in Tweeter, many articles appear in Spanish portals and bloggers. We receive thousands of feedback and e-mails.
We are planning to use influencer marketing to make more people know about us and e-mail marketing.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
We are trying to keep in touch with all our customers, 2 of us are spending 2-3 hours answering feedbacks, questions, suggestions.
“dzook” is a one-click artwork creation platform.
It is an AI-assisted platform that allows users to convert photos into stylish illustrated portraits in different art styles. It takes seconds!
While using dzook you don’t need to select each part of your face manually and still get a character that looks nothing like you. Thanks to AI technology, there is no limitation on colours and shapes of different parts of your face and you can have a character that looks exactly like you. Moreover, dzook illustrations are unique and can’t be found anywhere else because the art style our AI technology uses was created by our artists.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
All of us are working remotely now. In fact, we’ve never sat in the same room since we started to work at dzook:). As soon as we wanted to gather together, COVID-19 happened, so we are staying home. We have Zoom calls every day, make our plans, and trying to keep in touch.
I believe that each mature person has to estimate the amount and terms of his work and then has to do it. This is how we work at dzook, I love the team I work with. We don’t control each other but all of us are doing the tasks we have to do. All processes are transparent and we know what each of us is doing at any given moment.
I think the only team building method is respecting teammates, to love what you do, be honest, and also have equality within the team.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Well, we don’t have a CRM tool yet but we are considering HubSpot CRM. We are collaborating with an accounting company, which does all the paperwork instead of us 🙂
As our app optimization tool, we use Google Analytics and Apptweak and for email marketing we use Mailchimp. We also use software called ManyChat which combines Facebook Messenger, SMS, and email to automate personalized communication for every user.
All this helps to understand how to improve and promote our product and understand our users’ needs.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Honestly, I don’t know what I will change, as we have started recently.
Till now there are so many unclear things so we are trying to “unlock each game level by its time”. Of course, we have a vision we are planning for several years but we can understand that we need to change strategy, as our product is new and technology can be used in so many ways and directions, just need to be flexible. I think I can answer this question a year later, or two:)
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Freedom. You work for yourself, you create a product you really love, you create a team you want to work with. You work 24 hours but you raise a “child”!
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Public speeches 🙂 I still learn how to present yourself and your work, how to express all I know, and feel the right way, never had that skill so learning and learning.
Fears. Not to be able to do all that we’ve planned, letting the team down, or making a product that no one needs…
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Maybe the most significant book for me was “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, I very often remember the ideas written there. It is very important to understand what customers really want and it is important to understand it very quickly and to adapt or make changes. This is what I always try to keep in mind.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I believe that our platform will be used by millions of customers and they will love it and will return over and over every day. We are going to add many fancy features to satisfy our customers. We will create a very useful HR platform that will be used by HR Specialists, HR platforms, and Employee Engagement Softwares.
Many companies will use the API we provide to brighten up their business with new features by dzook.
The team will grow and we will get large revenues 🙂