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Mextures – how a photo editing app went viral

We interviewed Merek Davis, of Mextures, to talk about how his layering photo app went viral.

Mextures Logo

What’s your name, your background and what business do you run?

My name is Merek Davis. I’m originally a photographer from Arizona. For 10 years, I was also a video director for an e-commerce business and handled all in-house videos with them.

My photography niche is entertainer/musicians and landscape/travel photography. I’m currently running two other companies besides my photo business: Mextures – a layering photo editing app for iOS, and Vellum – a hand-curated wallpaper app for iOS (soon Android!).

We also have a stock photography site – Mextures Collective. Our community is incredible and they donate photos for free use, and we run bi-weekly photo challenges. I rarely shoot anymore as these two Apps have become my full-time job.

How did you come up with the idea?

Mextures was the result of a mistake. I created a lot of textures to use with my personal work and had been selling them for a year or so. I had made a new set ‘grainy/gritty’ and put it up for sale – it ultimately failed with only a handful of copies sold over a couple of weeks.

I was talking with some buddies one night telling them what happened and I asked them to try the textures on their phones. They both ended up liking it so I decided to release it on Instagram to get feedback. I decided to release them for free in a square format (remember those Instagram days?)

The name ‘Mextures’ was a joke made by one of my friends. He kept using it over and over, and the name eventually just stuck.

I was pretty nervous about launching something on Instagram because, at the time, no one had ever tried to do marketing like that. Not only that, I wasn’t really confident in the product. I had been using them on my own pictures on IG for a while, but they were my babies and they had failed once already. I wasn’t sure how mobile photographers would react. So I released them and that night, I had 24 downloads. I still think back to that moment of having a whopping 24 downloads that night, and how excited I was.

Over the next couple of weeks, they went viral and I released two more mobile texture packs which generated a total of 180k downloads.

“They were my babies and they had failed once already. I wasn’t sure how mobile photographers would react. Over the next couple of weeks they went viral…(and) generated a total of 180k downloads”

Is there anything in your past that led to opening the business?

I had a background in eCommerce and with my photography background, the pivot to creating products for creative people just made sense.

What was the process of designing, manufacturing and bringing your first product or service to market?

I realized that the process that people were going through to use textures was a daunting process; downloading, importing, and finding apps that they could use.

I began sketching up app ideas with the UI and UX planned out as to what would make this soon-to-be imagined app an easy process.

Fast. Quick. Non-destructive. Non-linear. iPhone App.

I had a friend who was a designer and asked him to help with the layout. I found a developer on Twitter and we launched the app.

A few years later, we launched Vellum, the wallpaper app, after seeing that the content in existing wallpaper apps didn’t feel curated, clean, or unique. It was also a test for us to use a new backend that we were incorporating with Mextures.

Describe the process of launching the business and any issues you had at the beginning

The fear of putting something out there is terrifying.

How do you get people interested?  

When I originally released my free texture pack on Instagram, I used a Shopify store and created a free product so I could gather emails.  After a couple of months, I had a pretty substantial email list that I’d be able to market to. 

The second pack I released didn’t do so well, which is why I released the third pack, and thankfully that resonated with users. Photography trends and styles change so fast, and I didn’t understand just how fast they change. I was constantly needing to pivot and change my marketing speak.

What strategies or marketing channels do you most rely on?

We relied on guerilla marketing on Instagram. The users who got the free textures were posting their edits on Instagram and hashtagging it with this weird word – #mextures. People became interested and wanted to see what it was about then they would come, download the pack (and give us their email address in exchange) and then they’d post. I then used email marketing campaigns to reach out about the new packs and ultimately the new app.

With Vellum, since it’s a free app, we try and keep our marketing costs low. We try and reach out to YouTubers and other visual influencers.

We’ve had Marques K. Brownlee (MKBHD on YouTube) talk about us and that was our single best day for downloads. We partner with digital artists and showcase their work in the app, and in turn, they talk about us. We also use email marketing to keep people interested, as well as in-app notifications when launching new packs.

What platform, tools or software do you use for your business?

  • Right now, we are using Firebase as our app backend
  • We are an all-remote company and need everything tracked digitally so we use Trello, Github, Slack and Meistertask for project management
  • We use Helpscout for customer services
  • We use Framer for our website and app design
  • Photoshop and Lightroom for creating new digital assets
  • We use Squarespace for our websites/online stores
  • Ghost for our in-app blogs
  • WordPress for Mextures Collective

(Editor – if you’re looking for more great Ecommerce resources, then check this out)

What does the next 12 months look like for your business, and for yourself, professionally?

We’re launching Vellum on Android, as well as another new wallpaper app with a completely different target market.

We’re also rebuilding the Mextures App from the ground up with new features. And releasing a new Photoshop extension that makes working with the textures and presets on Desktop even easier.

For myself, I’m learning 3D (well, trying to learn 😃) and working on a few personal projects – The Floralogist – a educational website for indoor gardening and Shuttercliq – an educational blog for photographers getting into the business.

What have you learned through this process that you didn’t know or think was important beforehand?

Listen to your customers religiously. Be ready to pivot, and act on those pivots quickly. Last, but by no means, least – never be afraid to try new things and learn new methods. Pushing yourself as an individual and doing scary things is just as important as doing that as a business.

“never be afraid to try new things and learn new methods. Pushing yourself as an individual…is just as important as doing that as a business”

Mextures Products

What did you wish you knew before starting?

Just how much work goes into building an app! It’s hundreds of hours of developing, and then countless hours testing, and then re-iterating, and then adding new features. I never sleep.

What resources would you recommend for others looking to start a business?

Oh man, I have a large reading list!

The last one is a great read for helping to focus and stay grounded and peaceful during those early stages of starting a business.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own ecommerce business?

It’s not as important to have things just perfect before launch as it is to launch a product that you are passionate about.

If your potential customers see your love and passion for what you are sharing, they will follow. During those first few months, or years, of fine-tuning your product, listen to every customer praise, criticism, and suggestion. Those are worth more than their weight in gold. 

Often we have blinders on and are looking straight ahead and do not see the problems of our product. Your customers do and will be your biggest ally. Fight for your customer’s happiness and they will be your biggest champions and best marketing team.

“Listen to every customer praise, criticism and suggestion. Those are worth more than their weight in gold”

Where can we go to learn more about you and your business?

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