This piece originally appeared on the Hustle.
Some people believe that, in order to create a successful business, you must provide an entirely new and unique service or product. They’re wrong. Can you go that route? Sure. But many of the world’s top businesses take a different approach:
Improve an existing service/product so much that people wonder how they ever survived before you came along.
Uber took the annoying process of hailing a cab and transformed it into a two-tap checkout. Casper looked at mattress stores and said, “No one likes coming here. Let’s put it all online and make the whole process seamless.”
And now, Framebridge, a two-year-old company with over $20 million in funding, is taking the process of getting something framed and making it insanely simple and yes, even enjoyable.
My friends are obsessed with Framebridge. My mom, whose go-to gift has always been a framed photo, refuses to use anything else now.
I wanted to find out more about this game-changing business, so I reached out toFramebridge’s founder, Susan Tynan. Here’s my interview with her.
Kendall Baker from The Hustle: Hey, Susan. First question…How’d you get the idea for Framebridge?
Susan Tynan from Framebridge: I went on a hiking trip with my sister. We visited a bunch of National Parks and I bought four of those classic WPA-style posters for $40 each. But when I went into a frame store to frame them, I had a horrible experience and ended up paying $400 per frame. I left the store and felt ill – they were the most expensive items in my house at the time! I started asking other people about their framing experiences and I heard a lot of similar stories. I knew there was an opportunity.
KB: Where’d you work prior to founding Framebridge? I see you had a stint in the White House budgeting office. How’d that (and other jobs) prepare you for this?
ST: Yes, I’ve worked for a number of tech companies and spent 18 months in the Obama White House. That was an amazing experience and it was super intense. It’s a 20-hour-a-day job, so great training ground for founding a start-up! But I also realized it’s just hard to get stuff done in the government and running a start-up is the opposite of that – you can get anything done you prioritize.
KB: What were first six months of business like for you and how’d you get your first users?
ST: The first four months were spent building the business. It was super rewarding to launch to the public, but that path to launching was challenging because you’re working like crazy in a dark tunnel on a product that doesn’t exist to anyone. Launching is a huge relief – there are real customers, you’re not deluding yourself.
I knew we were going to become a real company when we started getting new customers who weren’t our friends and families, which was a couple months after we launched. In the first few days and weeks, we’d see a new customer and celebrate and realize he or she was always someone’s cousin!
KB: What about the framing industry made you realize it was ripe for disruption?
ST: Traditional framing is just not customer-friendly – or at least, in the way customers today want to interact. The way it’s delivered is too expensive, there’s uncomfortable upselling, it takes forever, and you have to go to the frame store at least twice. Having worked in consumer tech, I knew we could create a vastly better experience.
This was 2014. At the time, I was also working for a rideshare app and I realized how many intelligent people were competing in that space to solve that problem. Then I looked at framing, this big, fragmented market with a really broken experience, and knew I could solve it.
KB: Can you explain the process from beginning to end? I send you a picture I want framed. What happens between that and me receiving it?
ST: Once you order from our site, we’ll send you a secure mailer so you can ship it back to us. All shipping is free and we include a shipping label to make the collection process seamless. Once we receive your item at our studio, our expert team will build a frame to your exact specifications. This takes about 2-3 days, at which point we’ll ship your finished frame straight to you. It arrives completely ready-to-hang so all you have to do is hammer a nail into the wall and hang your frame.
You can also upload photos and digital files to our site and our team will print and frame them.
KB: Framing doesn’t necessarily seem like something people do on a regular basis. Maybe for a Christmas gift. Or a birthday. But probably not every two months. Is that correct? Or do you see a lot of returning/frequent customers?
ST: Our strong belief was that – with Framebridge – people would frame more items because we made it easy and affordable. And that’s exactly what happened! One-third of our customers are completely new to custom framing and the large majority has indicated they intend to frame more items moving forward because our experience is so enjoyable.
We also looked at these amazing items our customers frame and realized people have these micro-moments that should be celebrated. It could be a marathon bib to commemorate an accomplishment, or a landscape photo to get your apartment ready before you meet your in-laws. Everything we frame is important to somebody, so we like to think in terms of opening people’s eyes to those important moments.
This type of change in consumer behavior only becomes possible when you bring the price down and make framing seem like an accessible, everyday item. And that’s what we did with prices that are up to 75% cheaper than many traditional frame stores. It’s allowed our business to take off.
KB: What’s been the most effective growth strategy for you guys?
ST: It all starts with nailing our customer experience. Everyone in the company is focused on delivering a consistently excellent experience. That produces a lot of customer happiness, which drives word-of-mouth. We also invest in channels like podcasts and social influencers, which provide a longer format to describe who we are and how it works. With a little explanation, everyone realizes they have stuff they should frame!
KB: Coolest thing you’ve framed for a Framebridge customer?
ST: Recently a customer framed her grandfather’s scissors. He was a barber and an immigrant so it was cool to think these were the tools of his trade that gave their family its start in the United States.
I also love that we see what our customers are passionate about. He’s talked about them on his podcast, so I can tell you we framed around 40 vintage sports and movie posters for Bill Simmons, the media personality. He’s collected them on eBay over several years and they were all these amazing pieces of popular culture. Now he’s used them to decorate the offices of his website and HBO show. I would think he is much happier with them hung proudly on the wall instead of being stored in a tube.
KB: Biggest lesson you’ve learned thus far?
ST: We had some employees who weren’t a strong fit and we realized they either weren’t passionate enough about the business or they weren’t solution-oriented. Or both. So for a company like ours with a clear mission and lots of opportunity, I realized we need to hire folks who come in crazy excited and who like running into challenges.