How We Started A Colouring App
and Launched on iOS
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Katarina Lotric, and together with fellow co-founders, we have started Lake. Lake is an iOS coloring app with the largest library of artist coloring books in the world.
Since coloring requires no extra skills – anyone can do it. It represents a path to a quick stress-relief via being creative, even for those who consider themselves non-artistic.
On the other side, Lake is also a marketplace for artists, since we share a portion of our revenue directly with them. This is our way of saying art is important in our daily lives and giving appreciation/support for talent across the globe.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
My background is in Communication Studies, and most of my professional experience comes from this field. I have been working in the apps industry since 2012 when we worked on a small, super sleek currency and unit converter called Vert. It was my intro to this world, and from the very beginning, I found it fascinating. It had no limits, and it came with a promise that anything is possible.
Prior to that, I was leading a marketing/PR department of a Toyota car dealership. The reason I quit was that I found it to be claustrophobic, in the sense that there was only so much we could do, people we could address, etc … it was also just cars, not exactly my greatest passion, haha…I came to a point where I no longer saw myself growing there and knew it was time for me to go.
Later on, I worked with various startups, typically working on a mish-mash of things: product, strategy, marketing, PR, business. Fortunately, in 2016, things took a new turn.
I met Goran Ivašić and Luka Orešnik (co-founders) and it was immediately obvious we were compatible and had similar desires and views of the world. It felt like a place where I could connect my expertise, passion and vision. Somewhere we could operate freely and with no limitations. The idea was to work on kids’ apps together (they had already been working on some before).
It soon became clear we were going in a new direction. Our mission became to create a digital coloring book concept no one had done before. The idea was to combine high-quality content with a flawless user experience that would enable users to relax, and a business model that would serve everyone involved.
We wanted to do something good, not just for ourselves. We wanted to come up with a business that would be and do good as a whole and one that could scale on the global market.
It may sound naive, it may even be naive, but we have not changed our attitude since then. We believe that everyone should contribute to society by doing good where their skills are the strongest and spread that around.
Our main drive isn’t insane growth or profit, we are not driven by Excel spreadsheets. What we do here represents a large part of our lives, and we want to make it human-friendly and meaningful on many different levels, not just be slaves to capitalism.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
We were lucky because for the first year we were working under a parent company (3fs), so we felt the freedom to take our time and polish our idea before pushing it into the world. There were plenty of challenges, but we were highly motivated. We wanted to make this work, so we put our best into it, each of us in our chosen field.
We had no connections with opinion makers from the industry, Apple, or other companies who we could learn from – we didn’t even know any illustrators apart from one. There were a lot of coloring books out there, but that didn’t scare us, quite the opposite. We did some thorough research, came up with a plan, and started working. We knew there was a niche for this, and that there was still a lot that could be done better, and took that challenge on.
Luka and Goran are both extremely talented product professionals, so I was completely confident that the product was in the best of hands. In the meantime, I started pitching the idea to illustrators, reaching out to (for us) relevant people from the industry with questions that were popping up, and working our way into Apple. It all took off from there and started coming together like a puzzle. In November 2016, we established the company Lake d.o.o.
A good year after starting to work together, we launched Lake with 11 awesome illustrators on board. Besides contributing unique and high-quality art, they also represented one of our ways of reaching the public: they all had a strong and healthy social presence and automatically became our ambassadors. This eased our way into the market: we all know how hard it is to get some good PR nowadays, and how expensive and ludicrous Facebook ads can be.
A week after the launch, we became the Editors Choice app in App Stores across the globe. It was a great success for us since that was the most prominent exposure an app could get on the App Store.
Later on, emails and phone calls from Apple became our daily companion, followed by an invitation in May to the WWDC (the most important conference annually held by Apple who uses the event to showcase its new software and technologies for software developers).
To our utter astonishment, we were one of the 12 winners of the Apple Design Award for 2017. The award recognises the best and most innovative Macintosh and iOS software/hardware produced by independent developers, as well as the most creative uses of Apple’s products.
In the first year, we grew from a team of 3 to a team of 5. It was all moving along better than we could have imagined! We have been profitable since the month of our launch.
It’s fair to say that it helps that we are based in Europe (Slovenia), where living expenses are lower compared to those of our US colleagues with whom we are competing for the same audience.
Who is your target market?
Our target market is mostly women between 18 and 45 who feel at ease with expressing themselves and looking for an accessible and simple way to unwind.
Part of our users appears to be a really creative bunch who come to have fun and consider coloring as a hobby. And then there is this other group who come to Lake to soothe their anxiety/trouble sleeping/depression/loneliness. For these people, it is not so much about making the coloring flawless, but more about the mental journey along the way. We hear this a lot, especially now with the Coronavirus situation when our mental wellbeing is being challenged on so many levels.
On the other hand, Lake can also be considered as a family app, since it is easy to use, and offers various motifs where anyone can find something for themselves. We often hear the app being used on the weekends as a family activity, on holidays, or whilst commuting.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Our main user stream comes through the App Store. Due to the high quality of the app, the public’s interest and constant upgrades (of content and features), we get a lot of exposure on that front. We are also featured on iPads and iPhones in Apple Stores across the globe.
Another organic user acquisition channel is through our illustrators (atm there are 71 in the app) and their social media. There are multiple shares from users on social media, the most famous one being from Brie Larson who has now shared two stories on her IG! 🙂 We were super hyped to see that happen, and she had quite some impact on downloads for those two days.
Every now and then we do PR when we have something relevant to say. As for paid advertising, we are playing around with Facebook ads, which are a real pain to nail and Search Ads on the App Store. We have done some collabs with Youtube vloggers and Instagram beauty/lifestyle bloggers. We notice that the things that work best are the organic ones that happen spontaneously.
In the past, we did some co-branding with Spoonflower, Two Dots and Hopper, and that was fun.
We have not done any of the old school advertising: like having an ad in a newspaper. But who knows … we may decide on a billboard in Times Square one day. =) We are always open to new ways of letting people know about us and that way, finding a tool that could be helpful to them!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
If someone recognises the real value for them, they will stay and keep returning. We are constantly in the process of finding our real “it” factor. I believe we are not that far off now!
It’s a process of trial and error, constant research, constant listening to users and coming closer to them. It’s trying to see what the future trends will be and being one step ahead.
As we started with a coloring app, we have learned that its biggest value lies in calming people down, in creating a healthy self-care habit. We are now in the process of deepening that experience by adding brush sounds, which will take you deeper into your inner world.
We are also in talks with medical professionals on how to make Lake even more of a proper tool to help you deal with uneasy situations. Bringing sound into the app is definitely our first step towards that, and we have some exciting ideas that are now in the prototype phase and will follow sometime soon.
Constant improvement of the product, also based on user feedback along with good support, on all platforms, helps us develop and maintain a relationship with our community.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We are still a small team, and the atmosphere is very loose and friendly. It is important for people to feel comfortable at work, to know they are heard, seen and can contribute. To enable them to do and be their best is good for all involved!
Regarding our ways of working, there is a weekly Monday sync to go through the state of current projects. We have meetings that need to be held for those involved in a certain project during the week.
Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, when we were all working from home, we introduced a self-care day. Everyone had one day off in the week to do whatever needed to check-in within themselves and stay well.
As for our other activities, part of the team goes climbing together every Thursday, which is super fun! We celebrate birthdays by going out for drinks and organising team building on the go. Honestly speaking, all our work feels like team building! 🙂
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
For us, I would say that believing in making things your way! You don’t have to go by the book, follow what others have done, listen to a gazillion how-to’s, etc …
Yes, pay attention to how great things were made but then spin it your way. Create your own goals, and walk your own path.
Believe in yourself, your product and create a team synced in values and one that shares a similar view of the world. We’ve learned that for the best cooperation, this is more important than a flawless CV.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
That you have the freedom to create whatever you want, the way you want it. That there are no limits in terms of ideas, ways of doing the work, … apart from those you set yourself. That you are creating your own working environment and everything that comes with it.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
That’s an easy one! Bureaucracy. 🙂 It is not something you sign up for. Haha …
Also, it can be hard to set the limit between your personal and business self/life. You don’t know where one ends and another begins. You have to consciously decide to switch, otherwise, it can take its toll on you.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I don’t think we are a typical startup. We don’t have our own “Bible” and we don’t comb the internet for the new hot tips and tricks!
For me, it’s more about being open. Paying attention to stories/people you (randomly) stumble upon and noticing what could be of relevance to your development. Walk this earth being awake, rather than hunt down whatever you think you are looking for.
There is no magic potion, a trick that could turn your business into a success. You have to come up with your own.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
A healthy business with 15-20 shiny people on board ! Being positioned in the global market as a go-to-place for relaxing via creativity with a better refined product.