I caught up with Dan Barker, founder of Yearbook Machine - Yearbook Machine is a London-based startup that creates beautifully designed yearbooks, using a social network.
In the full interview below, Dan talks me through his journey so far running the company and how the idea for Yearbook Machine came about.
Hi Dan, Thanks for doing this interview with me.
No problem Joseph, any time.
Can you give you some background information about yourself, were you the entrepreneurial type growing up?
It depends what you mean by ‘entrepreneurial’. I’ve always liked tinkering with computers, designing and building things and thinking about how things can be done better. I’d say it’s the desire to make cool products and have the resources to do interesting stuff that led me into starting a company, rather than just the desire for money. Money is important though of course
You left the University of Cambridge to concentrate on running your business full-time. Was that an easy decision?
I felt that I could either stay at uni and do both my degree and my business reasonably well, but not excellently, or pick one to do very well. I felt that I would learn more about more things that interested me by doing the business. So when it came down to it, the decision was quite easy.
Is there anything you miss about being at university?
It’s nice being carefree and being surrounded by great friends who also have nothing to do!
Tell me how the idea for Yearbook Machine came about?
When I left high school, we wanted a yearbook. None of the companies around seemed to offer very good products - they all looked pretty amateurish and could get really expensive. I made a very simple program to make a yearbook automatically and everyone loved it. The school asked me to do it again the next year and I made a bit of cash from it. All the people from other schools I spoke to said that their school yearbooks were a bit rubbish and expensive, so I got to work designing the system that would make yearbooks like we had for more schools.
What is Yearbook Machine? Tell me how it works?
Yearbook Machine is your own private online social network, where the content you write about yourself and your friends is turned into beautiful printed books. We provide a smooth interface to collect memories and photos online, then allow you to fit them to professional designs which are turned into real books.
What would you say was the hardest part of starting/running the business?
The hardest part is keeping focus on what really matters, and having to accept ‘good enough’. We’re selling a premium product and the whole point is that what we offer is ‘better’, so I have real difficulty trying to not be such a perfectionist about things! It’s pretty upsetting sometimes when you realise that a lot of people just don’t care about quality...
Are you profitable?
We’re breaking even as we re-invest everything we make back into the business.
How many users do you have? Paying customers?
We’ll be serving our 10,000th paying customer in the next month or two.
What makes your business different from other companies/competitors out there?
We really care about making great-quality products that people will want to keep forever. We’ve grown our business relatively slowly compared to some competitors, because we want to make sure that we can always keep our quality high and keep all of our customers happy.
What could you say has been some of the key things you’ve learnt so far as an entrepreneur?
I’ve learned not to waste time doing stuff that ‘might’ lead to some possible situation, or to go chasing after people who are going to magically make stuff happen for me. If you want something done the most reliable way is to do it yourself.
What pieces of advices could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there looking to start their business?
If it’s anything at all to do with the internet, then learn how to program and/or design. We outsourced the programming abroad for ages and it almost ruined our business as everything would just break all the time. Then I learned how to program (and hired Jazeps, our CTO) and things started going well. Learn how to program.
What can we be expecting from you and Yearbook Machine in 2012?
More, better yearbooks, and other exciting stuff!
Where do you want the company to be in five years?
We need to have a fountain in our reception, made of granite or maybe marble.