Chatbooks raises $11.5 million to put photo printing on autopilot

Photo-printing services abound online, from dotcom-era brands like Shutterfly to services launched through the years by Apple, Amazon, Costco and Walgreens. Startups keep cropping up, too — no surprise given the number of photos people take and share these days, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and social media. Now, one photo-printing startup called Chatbooks has raised $11.5 million in new venture funding to pull ahead of the pack. The round was led by Aries Capital Partners, and brings Chatbooks’ total equity funding to $20 million.

Photo-printing competitors like Blurb, Mpix, Snapfish, Picaboo, Sincerely and Groovebook promise users design tools, premium papers and the ability to send printed photos to loved ones by post. But Chatbooks has focused on taking the work out of designing a nice photo album, holiday cards or other printed matter. Their app lets users create custom photo albums from the pictures they’ve already posted to Instagram, Facebook, Google Photos or just stored in albums in their Camera Roll.

Users can opt for a one-off print or subscription service that automatically prints their favorite or most-liked photos over a given period in soft or hardcover albums. Over time, Chatbooks has expanded its offering from just albums to include prints and holiday cards. The startup works in partnership with stationers like Rifle Paper Co. to offer some premium products and classic designs.

Chatbooks photo albums.

Chatbooks photo albums.

Married co-founders of Chatbooks Nate and Vanessa Quigley intend to use the capital to develop new products and expand within the U.S. and international markets, they said. The couple was inspired to create Chatbooks when Vanessa Quigley found herself spending entirely too much time picking through digital photos of their seven children to print for various albums or holiday cards.

CEO Nate Quigley said, “Vanessa’s original insight was that there’s something about holding a picture in your hands… Sitting there looking at a photo album with no notifications, no screen light —  it’s like whatever you captured has been made more important because it’s on a page. But it has to be beyond easy to make that happen or else you’re just not going to do it. We say our app was built to ‘help people hold on to what matters most.'”

Because videos and GIFs have become as easy to create and share as photos, Chatbooks plans to use some of its new round of funding to develop products that help users turn their videos into physical assets. What form that will take, exactly, he didn’t specify. Based in Provo, Utah, the company employs about 40 full-time workers today and will also use some of its funding for hiring as-needed labor.

Aries Capital Partners’ investor Andy Dent tells TechCrunch his firm doesn’t usually back consumer tech. It made an exception for Chatbooks because of the app’s broad appeal. He said, “Whether it is grandparents, parents or young college students, everyone takes photos these days. But we take so many photos, we almost can’t enjoy them like we did when we had to take them to the store and develop these rolls of film. Chatbooks brings back that enjoyment without charging users an arm and a leg.”

He expects Chatbooks to maintain its focus on a dead simple user experience, and affordable but high-quality products. He lauded Chatbooks for reeling in users who had never tried photo-printing services before. Almost half of the company’s users fit that description, Quigley confirmed.