Q&A with A Beautiful Mess’s Emma Chapman

A Beautiful Mess is much more than the blog 417-landers Emma Chapman and Elsie Larson launched in 2010. The lifestyle company encompasses two best-selling photo apps, several books, a cookbook due this November and more. Chapman shares the details of the duo’s latest projects and how passion and patience go hand in hand.

Biz 417: Your latest app, A Color Story, has more than 4 million downloads. What was your inspiration? 
Emma Chapman: A Color Story, at its heart, is a filter app. It’s very much about being able to press one button [to make] your photo look the way you want—obviously, people will press a lot of buttons and tweak it, and you can do that, too. But the point of it is to let people make their photos look very cohesive on their grid on Instagram or if they want to print them or [if] they want to bring in Facebook. We wanted to do something that we saw people wanted but just didn’t yet have a tool for it.

Biz: Why were you interested in writing a cookbook? 
EC: I’ve wanted to do a cookbook for a long time. I think almost every food blogger wants to write a cookbook. But this cookbook is not just about the recipes; it has a concept behind it. The title of the book is Weekday Weekend. So it’s about eating healthy five days a week, and then enjoying life on the weekends. It sort of has a challenge along with recipes.

Biz: For someone looking to turn their passion into a job, what advice can you offer? 
EC: For someone starting down that path, keep in mind it might take some time. It took us many years until we were really profitable doing something that we love. And that’s hard because then you have a lot of years where you’re just scraping by. But the journey is worthwhile. I’d also say there are some things in life that maybe should stay a passion. Don’t feel like that makes them less important than business things. You can’t always discover those things unless you constantly are willing to be passionate. So that would be my No. 1 piece of advice: If you want to do something that you’re passionate about for a living, you need to be a passionate person first.

Biz: Once A Beautiful Mess was up and running, how did you and Elsie determine what came next?
EC: We started to really think more about how do you monetize creating content. Because really what a blog is is a lot of articles, information, photos, somewhat entertainment, I guess. How do we make money at giving something away for free? [We] started exploring different avenues. We started selling courses online. We tried to do products; we used to do a handmade fashion line. We started creating products around the content that we do. Eventually, we also got a book deal. We also did a personal app [Editor’s note: Chapman is referring to the company’s first app, A Beautiful Mess, which is also a photo filtering program]. Most of our product ideas come from things that we wanted, and they just didn’t exist yet. Like [A Beautiful Mess] the app—that was something we really wanted to use. It just wasn’t out there, so we made it. It’s walking that line between profitability and passion that our audience wants.

Biz: What challenges have you faced in growing the company, and how have you overcome them?
EC: I didn’t go to school for business, so I feel like the whole thing is pretty challenging. Almost every week, I learn something I didn’t know. I think expanding beyond just Elsie and I and finding the right people to join our team was always challenging. Get a good accountant, because taxes are confusing but obviously necessary. Also, don’t be afraid to invest in new avenues of your business. A lot of times it’s tough to invest in something that you don’t know what the profitability is going to be. It’s very scary, but as a business owner you have to be thinking about that all of the time. But also, if you are too scared to try something new, you might not find the next new thing that’s going to be great for your business.

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