I've know author Susanne Dunlap ever since the halcyon days of Readerville.com. I love her historical novels, love her dog Betty, one of the few breeds that doesn't make me sneeze or wheeze, and I especially adore her. Only a lucky few novelists don't have to have other work to pay the bills, and Suzanne came up with an ingenious company, Appy Couple, that's doing fantastically well, and I wanted her to come on and talk about it here. Thank you, Susanne! (And give Betty a big hug for me.)
So tell us about your business?
Appy Couple is a platform that lets engaged couples create and publish their own mobile wedding app. It lets people share photos, give all the event information, take RSVPs and more. With Appy Couple, you create a mobile app and a wedding website at the same time. Anyone who is thinking of getting married or has gotten married recently knows what we’re talking about!
So how does a novelist become a business person? What was the transition like? Your company's been featured everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to the NYT--is it a different kind of fame than being a well-known novelist?
First of all, novelists ARE business people, whether we like it or not. Our novels are our products, which need to be packaged and promoted effectively in order to sell.
But for me, I’ve been in the business world since I graduated from college and went into advertising—as a copywriter! So I guess that begs the question of writer first, or business first.
Like the vast majority of novelists, I have never earned a real living from my books. I’ve either worked a full-time job at the same time, or tried to patch together enough freelance to keep a roof over my head. So it really wasn’t so much of a transition when my co-founder and I decided to create this business.
In fact, we were both working for another startup when the idea was hatched. We’d worked together on creating a very successful mobile app called WordWit, for a company named Ballpoint, Inc.
What I didn’t expect was how all-absorbing, totally encompassing, and night-and-day 7-days-a-week it would be. Frankly, we started it thinking it might be a cool and profitable business. We didn’t expect to become a part of the burgeoning tech startup community in NY, or graduate from the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator program, or have interest from VCs and other investors. We knew it was a great idea, and that we knew how to execute it well, but it has definitely taken off beyond our dreams.
As to fame—it’s the company that’s well known, not me. Sharmeen Mitha-Sehgal, the CEO and co-founder, is more the face of the company than I am, so she’s gotten a certain amount of notice. It’s very satisfying to see something we’ve worked so hard to create be out in the world and having people use and enjoy it.
In fact, launching a startup is very much like writing a book in that sense. It takes dedication, obsession, creativity, belief in what you’re doing, and the ability to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
And once you’re out there, you’re dealing with reviews. We have been fortunate to have great ones in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times (my books have never been reviewed in either of those!), but the mobile app equivalent of Amazon reviews are App Store reviews. These have been mostly great too, but every once in a while someone gives us one star for a really crazy reason, like they couldn’t get ahold of an invitation code.
How do you balance writing your novels and running a business? Did anything about it surprise you?
Frankly, I haven’t written a word since I started this business. I even had a novel come out in April (The Academie), and have done little or nothing to promote it. There are not enough hours in the day, and I have no mental or emotional energy left for anything else. The startup is a 60 – 70-hour-a-week job, and I’m no spring chicken! I now know why kids just out of college are normally the ones who decide to do such a crazy thing…
The idea for AppyCouple.com is genius. Was this something you had always been thinking about or was it a flash of inspiration?
I can’t take all the credit for Appy Couple at all. Sharmeen had the basic idea, after she returned from a huge family wedding in India, where tons of money was spent but no one had the info they needed at their fingertips. We brainstormed the initial product together, and have pushed and prodded it into what it is now. We had to hire programmers to build out our vision, but Sharmeen is also the design genius behind everything.
I did, however, come up with the name, and have been closely involved in every step of the business. Now I turn my hand to anything from the marketing plan, to insurance, to customer support—even to a bit of coding, which I’ve learned by necessity.
What's obsessing you now and why?
Three things are obsessing me now: 1. How is Appy Couple going to continue to push forward and stay ahead of the encroaching competition; 2. Will our funding come through soon so we can hire the people we need; and 3. When will things quiet down enough for me to start writing again?
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
That’s easy! How can your readers get Appy Couple, if they happen to be engaged, or have friends and family who are engaged?
Right now, we’re in invitation-only beta. That means you need an invitation code in order to set up an account at AppyCouple.com and configure your app. We’ve created a limited number of codes for your readers: APPY4CL. You use it at appycouple.com, not in the app itself. You choose from our over 100 designs, and when you save it, you use the invitation code. After that, you’ll get a unique wedding code, which is how you log into your app and see how gorgeous it is!
Thanks for letting me talk about my latest creative project, even though it’s not a novel!