Da Vinci Eye: How to Keep Your Equity and Achieve $10K in Daily Revenue
Sam Gherman, the multi-talented founder and creator of Da Vinci Eye and Mural Maker, took a non-linear approach to success and built a loyal fanbase in the process. Da Vinci Eye bootstrapped its way to developing a suite of apps for artists and now boasts more than 73,600 Instagram followers, 14,000 YouTube Subscribers, and 4.4 million views each month on Pinterest. Here’s their story.
50,000 Users in the first 5 weeks
Sam always knew he wanted to create a successful side hustle, that would eventually turn into his main hustle. Inspired by the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, a gift from his mom, he started to apply the learned frameworks to his everyday life. In college, Sam tried his hand at launching a website and learning the basics of coding. He soon graduated onto bigger development projects and, during his time at Macy’s, was able to use his new skills to automate almost every aspect of his job. This freed up more time to advance his coding abilities. He soon moved into the world of apps.
Growing up in a family of artists, Sam found an opportunity to develop digital tools that physical artists could use. After watching a documentary that showed great masters using optical tools in their artwork, he recalled his father painting in the attic using a slide projector…and that’s how Da Vinci Eye was born. Sam knew he could turn optical tools into an app that would outlast any other physical tools in their toolkit.
A new app developer, Sam launched a very simple version of Da Vinci Eye and spent $2,000 on Facebook ads. Within the first five weeks, Da Vinci Eye generated more than 50,000 downloads. This was it; this was his aha moment: His side hustle had the potential to become his main hustle, but the journey was just beginning. More work needed to be done.
Reinvesting earnings to fuel growth
The launch of Da Vinci Eye showed a very promising future for the app. The challenge, however, was that it didn’t provide an income since it was a free app. Sam knew the performance metrics told a story that he could monetize, but he needed help. He shared his initial results with a friend in venture capital. There was investment interest, but Sam would need to rebuild the app using a good programming language.
Sam rebuilt the app and went back to the venture capitalist who was again impressed, but this time advised Sam own the growth of the app himself. Giving away equity would not be a good move for a business like this. Despite this advice, Sam continued to try to get funding from other VCs, but nobody bit. He was told, “No one will take you seriously for $50,000; you need to ask for $500,000.”
You don’t want to take more investor money when you don’t need to, but raising $50,000 is as hard as raising $5 million.
Sam was caught between a rock and a hard place sharing, “You don’t want to take more investor money when you don’t need to, but raising $50,000 is as hard as raising $5 million.” He decided to refocus his energy on further developing his business, reinvesting earnings into growth. The Da Vinci Eye team hit a wall with Facebook and social media advertising, but the potential was still there. Sam decided to hire an expert to help him climb up and over the UA wall.
The hired help fueled more growth and the time had come for Sam to quit his day job so he could focus on Da Vinci Eye full-time. Soon after, the app hit some major milestones: reaching $10,000 a day in revenue and achieving the number two paid app in the App Store.
Using Braavo to compound paid and organic growth
The iOS 14.5 update made it really difficult for apps to track ad performance, so Da Vinci Eye decided to focus on organic growth. They found that instructional video content yields the highest conversion rates. Sam attributes this to the fact that users want to see how the product works before they sign up. On the other hand, shorter social media videos are good for sparking interest and generating downloads.
The Da Vinci Eye team has found it most effective to run paid UA in tandem with organic because the incremental growth ends up compounding into sustainable recurring revenue. The challenge, however, is that it eats into your capital, which is why they decided to partner with Braavo.
Funding from Braavo has enabled the team to focus on incremental gains that compound over time. The increase in cash flow has freed up some of their other capital to reinvest in other longer-term projects.
The golden customer strategy: turn users into friends
A core strategy for Da Vinci Eye has been to make friends with as many people (i.e., users) as they can. They focus on customers because they know they can be their biggest advocates and a powerful source of organic growth. Turning users into friends starts with support tickets. They take a user-centered approach, a mission to delight customers and actively listen to their needs — with an understanding that the more invested they are in users, the more invested users will be in them.
Sam is no stranger to hopping on calls with users to listen to their feedback — it’s where most of his learning happens. It’s from these one-on-one conversations that Sam has learned about a variety of use cases for Da Vinci Eye that he wouldn’t have otherwise known. The app is a digital magnification tool that allows users to trace and magnify the areas they work on with the ability to overlay a reference image, but Sam didn’t imagine that it would be used by bakers, leather crafters, and blind or visually impaired artists.
Learning about the wide array of use cases has helped the Da Vinci Eye team further develop their tools, UI/UX and spark new app ideas. Even more, it has improved the types of promotional content they produce; they know what areas of the product to focus on and feature.
A focus on retention: from paid app to subscription app
When Sam first started working on Da Vinci Eye, he didn’t pay much attention to retention, thinking there was no point because users are only buying the app once. But it was through his conversations with users and the company’s approach of turning users into friends that he realized he could offer customers more value and better monetize the app.
Sam got to work. He created an entire social network within the app that had motivational triggers to keep users engaged. With that, Da Vinci Eye launched a subscription plan for users with a freemium offering — and they reached a 13% conversion rate!
Some tips Sam shares for higher conversion rates:
- Share the option to start a free trial as soon as users go through the onboarding flow.
- Find the right balance of what you offer in a freemium version vs. paid subscription — if you don’t have enough hooks in your freemium version, it’ll be tough to convince users to pay.
- Cross-promote your apps within your other apps — Sam’s team uses each of their apps to promote their other apps.