These two cousins hope to build a business as unforgettable as the infographics it creates
A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But it shouldn’t cost a thousand dollars.
At least that’s the view of Jennifer Benz and Nick Tamm, the founders of Zanifesto. Their tool makes creating data-rich, visually compelling infographics — those charts and diagrams so popular on social media — simple enough that non-designers can make them in minutes.
“A friend of mine had told me how much it costs to pay a professional designer to create an infographic — it was a lot,” Jennifer says. “As an entrepreneur, my interest was piqued. It seemed like a great opportunity.”
So Jennifer set to work, putting her ideas on paper and then reaching out to her cousin Nick to see if he would be interested in helping. He was.
“I had a mock-up that I sketched out in about 60 seconds,” Jennifer says. “From there, I was like ‘How do you do this?’ I knew, with Nick’s expertise, that if he could just focus on building the tool, we could get it out there and get a little feedback.”
The two started out working remotely: Jennifer from Boise, Nick from his home in New Mexico. But they quickly realized that they could get more done when they could work together. Nick relocated to Boise and the two continued the project.
For Nick, Zanifesto would be a full-time gig. But Jennifer was (and is) more than happy in her day job as a project manager for Clearwater Analytics.
“I treated it very seriously. We had a plan, but it was clearly a side project,” Jennifer says.
“Because it is a side project, the resource restraint is time. You have limited time. It makes you think of ways to be really efficient.”
After a few months, the two had an initial version of Zanifesto. They launched, but had low expectations. So low, in fact, that Jennifer didn’t bother to do much testing before making the site public. Her plan was simply to have Nick make the site available online and then test it — before users had a chance to discover the new service.
“We didn’t expect anyone to come,” Jennifer says. “But we had some people start to sign up and use it before I had even tested.”
A few months later, one happy user submitted Zanifesto to Product Hunt, an online directory of up-and-coming tech companies, that’s all the rage with the startup set. It was just the boost they needed.
“Product Hunt gave us a lot of users,” Jennifer says. “We could see how users were using the product and adapt it appropriately.”
The two continued their work. Nick spent his days hacking away, adding features and functionality. Jennifer spent any free time she had — she was pregnant at the time — talking to users and experimenting with new ways to attract customers.
“You can spend a lot of time and a lot of money setting the foundation for when you have a million users, but I need to spend my energy trying to get those million users.”
While the company is still counting its users in the hundreds, not millions, growth continues steadily as a result of Jennifer’s commitment to learning the ins and outs of sales and marketing.
“Marketing is totally different than product management,” Jennifer says. “You read [in the tech press] about people who get a million users in just a few months, but the reality for most of us is much harder. I’m learning to be patient, but tempering that patience with still being ambitious and courageous.”
For Jennifer, Zanifesto is just one in a string of side projects that she sees as critical to leading an interesting life. It’s something she says she learned early on as a child of a technologist in San Jose, California.
“I think people grow up surrounded by people who think just having a job is normal,” she says. “I grew up in Silicon Valley. My dad has always done projects. He even hired me to do a few projects. I think I’m the way I am because of my family and where I grew up.”
With users from as far away as Iran, the company continues to see user growth. More importantly, the two are achieving their shared personal aim for the project: fun.
“For me, it’s all about fun,” Jennifer says. “It’s neat to be doing this on our own. We can make all of our own decisions.”
“If we fail, it’s 100% us. If we succeed, it’s us. I like that.”
Note: Create your own infographics at Zanifesto.com.
Photography by Chris Ennis