Nancy Desmond – Founder of MemoryWeb

If you can, I recommend bootstrapping your business. We bootstrapped MemoryWeb and it has given us full control over the destiny and design of the product. I am thankful for that every single day.

Nancy Desmond is a founder and the “Chief Memory Officer” of MemoryWeb. She has spent the majority of her career building products and brands for companies in the technology industry.

Where did the idea for MemoryWeb come from?

The idea for MemoryWeb came out of personal need. As parents of two young boys, my husband and I were sitting on a stockpile of digital photos that was totally out of control. We also had a ton of historic family photos we wanted to preserve and share, but not in a public forum like social media or in a stale digital shoebox like online storage apps. Our friend and co-founder Mike was in the same boat. No single tool, app or technology let us manage, organize, enjoy, share, collaborate and preserve details in/out of their platform. Especially when it came to the long-term, no solution out there gave us hope that our kids would be able to find all their wonderful photos, be able to use them, and be able to actually know the story behind each 20 years from now and beyond. So we decided to create the solution we needed.

What does your typical day look like?

Although I am not a morning person, most days I still manage to get up by 6:45. That way I can get a cup of coffee and bit of work in before my two boys are awake. After everyone’s at school, I head to the office I rent across from our local library — a change of scene is so important for my creativity and sanity. Our team is completely virtual, with a large part overseas in Croatia, so much of my day is spent communicating over emails and through a project workflow ticketing system called Productive. I also have weekly calls with various groups of our team so we have a regular time to clarify fuzzy items and reconnect on priorities. Mid-day, I like to ride my bike on the local trails if weather and season permits (Chicago winters are not ideal for riding). I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve solved or ideas I’ve generated on my bike. In the evening, I tend to work for a bit after the kiddos are in bed to line things up for the next day.

How did you bring the idea to life?

My co-founders and I decided that if no one else was going to create the solution we all needed, then it had to be us. We started by having Mike build the system architecture and logic engine that would power MemoryWeb. Since this was completely new technology, it was critical that we had proof that our idea was scientifically feasible. Once we established that it was, we found resources that could help us build the interface and iOS app that would bring the user’s photos and data to life. This is also when we filed for our first patent.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The focus on understanding and appreciating Introverts in the workplace brings me joy. As an introvert, I have to give a big shout out to Susan Cain for her book Quiet and for her Quiet Revolution forum. I think she has done so much to help people understand that being an Introvert does not mean you are anti-social or passive. We’re just deep thinkers who tend to process things before speaking and keep our batteries full by balancing outward/social time with inward/quiet time.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I like to “Frankenstein” new ideas using my very limited graphic design skills. For example, I’ll mock up the UX/UI for a new feature in PowerPoint with a ton of annotations before we even attempt to create wireframes. This helps clarify both the interface and the workflow and saves a ton of time across the team.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My worst job was at a large hardware store during summer break in college. It wasn’t the job itself that bothered me. I actually loved being in the seasonal department, but just didn’t like when people would come to our area for mulch, gravel, etc. and insist that one of my male co-workers load the bags onto their cart. They didn’t think a girl could/should do it. I am nearly 6 feet tall and was a fit 20-year-old at the time, so I was pretty frustrated when someone doubted my abilities. I learned to work around the bias by sending the customer to the checkout line with the promise one of the guys would meet them there in a few minutes. Then I was free to load the cart myself and just have one of the guys deliver it up front. Figuring out a solution to make multiple parties happy makes me happy.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have cut the strings on a few outsourced resources sooner. We were building a technology platform that was remarkably robust and novel. It took a few starts and stops before we found resources with the technical and project management skills to execute to our standards.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

If you can, I recommend bootstrapping your business. We bootstrapped MemoryWeb and it has given us full control over the destiny and design of the product. I am thankful for that every single day.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Look for any and all information in the public domain about your competitors, past and present. You’ll be surprised at what you can find by digging around. For example, we found incredibly detailed information (strategies, campaigns, analytics, creative, incentive metrics, pitch deck and more) for a shuttered startup called Everpix. Everpix’s photo app was really innovative and people were devastated when the company shut down. We learned a ton about what worked and didn’t about their business model and were able to apply those key takeaways to our own business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When I was at a different startup in the information services industry, we launched our product at a financial services conference. Our product offered more complete information and better analytics than the leading solution, so we thought we could get a much higher price than the de-facto solution. We had tested the price point in other industries and it held, so we thought the financial services industry would embrace it as well. The pricing went over like a lead balloon, with one attendee slamming our literature back on our table in disgust. The good news is we were quickly able to create a service with a price point that made sense to this market and were able to gain a strong foothold and a loyal customer base. This startup has been and is doing extremely well since that time.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I hate lined paper and always carry at least one sketchbook and markers in my bag. I love how blank pages let me write all over and in any direction. The markers are just for fun and always include at least one metallic. Copper is my favorite.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Funny or Die Weather – the quirky humor on this weather app has made me laugh out loud even when it’s telling me to expect a windchill of 40 below.
GameChanger – when I travel and miss my boys’ baseball games, I can see play by play action in real time and talk with them about it later.
Productive – this allows our whole team to efficiently manage, track and prioritize tasks associated with projects.
AWS – we feel like our stuff and our customers’ is safest using Amazon Web Services.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. This is hands-down the best book for entrepreneurs. The trials and tribulations Horowitz’s shares about starting, running, growing and selling a business during some pretty crazy economic times are refreshingly specific and incredibly actionable. No ivory tower theory or cookie cutter advice here. Horowitz’s anecdotes and guidance come directly from the trenches and are told with such humanity that we can feel his emotions. Plus, he begins chapters with rap lyrics. What’s not to like?

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Jeff Bezos – Amazon never ceases to amaze me with the diversity and foresight of their business. He’s the ultimate magician and you never know what he’s got up his sleeve next.

Steve Jobs – the thing that I most admire about Jobs was his ability to anticipate (and deliver) what someone wants even before they realized it themselves.

Amy Cuddy – her research on how body language shapes who you are is actionable and mind blowing. Check out her Ted talk here.


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