Ross Chanin, founder and CEO of Artifact, discussed the story behind the founding of the company, its growth strategy and his entrepreneur journey.





Peter Ho It’s our pleasure today to have Ross Chanin, founder and CEO of Artifact on the program. Ross is a serial entrepreneur. He has founded and exited multiple startups. In addition to this extensive experience in scaling technology companies, Ross also served on the speech writing staff of a major presidential campaign.  Ross, welcome to the show.
Ross Chanin  It’s great to be here, Peter.
Peter Ho  So, Ross, tell us about Artifact. What is the story of the company? How do you get the idea?
Ross Chanin  Artifact started out of the place of deep personal loss for myself. So a number of years ago my grandfather passed.  We’re very close, and there was a particular chapter of his life, for some silly family reasons that we never got into the kind of depth. He was a labor organizer back in the 1950s. After college and was called before the House of American affairs for his labor organizing activities during the era of McCarthy, or in the red scare in the US and remain politically active in different ways, and throughout his life. This particular chapter is not something I kind of got at.  And after he had passed, I asked myself, why was that? And as a founder who, you know, if I have a problem I think about is problem specific to me.  No, this problem is probably specific to many people. I started asking questions of myself like, why I hadn’t done this, and talking to friends and family and folks in the tech community and outside of it like you would, and at some very basic level. I didn’t have the space to access those stories with him. And so what do we do at Artifact? So we’re building the home for your family stories. The way we make that possible is, we set up your family members with friends and family. It’s your family members with our network of professional interviewers to capture family stories, and we have a very elegant, organized, and authentic way of doing that for each family.  And then we edit those recorded conversations, those interviews for lack of a better term, down to what we call studio quality, personal podcasts. These are roughly, 20 min long per chapter, to which you can add as unlimited photos very soon video as well to that kind of narrative.  And for me, you know that space, like you know, at the why haven’t I done this with my grandfather? Was it the space really wasn’t available to me? And then the next step you go through as a founder is what is that like? What would that answer be? And initially, you know, talk with friends like is it an async thing, or like  you know, we might ask my grandfather, or some series of questions, and he responds with the voice prompt or like, write them down and like in async communication definitely works because it’s help create narrative.  I wasn’t really convinced of those things or so couple of companies that do those types of things. They’re candidly not venture businesses. And for me, I’m going to found something. I want this to be something that we can make available to hundreds and millions, if not billions of people, and so was catching up with my now co-founder, George Quraishi. George is an editor and journalist by trade. And so I asked him if this is something we could do in an interview setting.  We’re catching up over a beer a couple of years ago now, and George was just like basically stop me and he said, I know 50 people who would do this like right now and listed off some number of names just to kind of prove this point. Within 48 hours, we facilitated the first Artifact, and my aunt’s birthday was coming up. We spoke with her best friend from her childhood grew up together, her best friend from her college years, and then her best friend from the raising the families together in suburban New Jersey. Those get edited down, and when we shared that with her and with the family. The impact of what we had created was way up high in there. From Georgia and my perspective, like the difficulty of executing on this, we could do this again. The delta, between the impact of the output and what we saw as like the ability to replicate this, the ease of the input was not something I had experience in my career, but not even close. That’s the kernel of a particular, very personal anecdotal experience. You’ve talked to friends and family about this space that we’re creating this kind of conversation space facilitated by a professional.  We started doing those for more friends and family and it kind of gets to a point where your folk friends in the tech community are like: what are you going to call this? I have a prior relationship with one of our 2 technical co-founders going back many years and through that, you know. That’s Martin. Here we are.
Peter Ho  Yeah, that’s very interesting. Thanks for the background story. From what I understand, I definitely can relate to the benefit and the value to the end customers. The value to the end customers are  extremely high, and it’s difficult to price it, because in some way some of these stories or recordings may be priceless. Obviously, there are some technology and there are some coordination involved. But to your point, the difference of the input to the output value to the end user is very big.
Ross Chanin It’s just because, like having done this before right, it’s not my first company.  I have some data points, and also other friends, and, you know, in advisor/investor. You have to pay attention to these things like. That was the reaction which was super incredible and you know we could do that again, and you have to pay attention to these things when you can’t be surely data driven at such an early stage.
Peter Ho How does it get done? I mean, how do you actually implement and execute it?  So you mentioned there are professionals who handle the recording. So are they DJs or they sound engineers? What go behind the scene to make this happen?
Ross Chanin Yeah, it’s a great question. When we started, it was pretty janky! First of all, professional interviewers are primarily moonlighting journalists. There also can be podcast host or actor/actress. In some cases, we have a couple of comedians on the platform that fit particular types of interviews. Those who are our pros. In addition to that, we have editors and the sound engineers who polish each episode. The way this happens now, though, is through our platform. For the supply side, our professional interviewers, they simply upload their calendar. We go through a basic training and they basically make their time available. And the recording occurs through our reporting suite. That’s entirely cloud based, and they can choose to support the edit, or actually just push that off to a separate pipeline where an editor picks it up. We have built out a scalable marketplace based approach for our supply side that makes it really seamless for them which really powers the fundamentals of the product experience itself. So, by way of example, if we had significant interviewer churn, an interview comes on an interview with the Artifact for a month or 2, and then like this is not a good experience.  Or I’m not paid well, or these different things. That’s a that you know still worth for, for our product does not work right. We’ve had tremendous stickiness. We could do a 6 to 10 month look back. It’s like a 90% retention rate or higher.  And it’s because of that I think the technology investment we’ve made in that pipeline. Folks are obviously treated well. The last thing I’d say on this run the supply side of our business is: these are many cases our journalists who have adversarial conversation, sometimes with a local political official we are trying to understand why a policy change has occurred, and that’s the work of journalism. In this case, they are talking to folks who want to share their story, and need help,  and so able to use that skill in a very kind of warm and friendly environment, and it’s something that they really enjoy.
Peter Ho How much do you and consumer pay for one episode or episodes of the product?  How do you price it?
Ross Chanin  That’s a great question. Yeah. So we’ve just rolled out a subscription or membership offering for our family stories. We have 2 core kinds of Artifacts. We’ll talk about family stories first, and so right now, you know one off Artifact. We do some pricing, we do price analysis on a regular basis, so things will change a little bit. If you were to buy a single interview which yields a particular episode or chapter. That’s $149. As a subscriber, if you’re going to sign up to say, hey, I want to nominate a family member to capture at least one chapter of their life story each year. That’s $129 if you’re going to do 2 interviews per year. With any family member that’s $119, 3 or more is $109. We’re offering this experience that is accessible price point for families.  To be clear when I say a chapter, we think about a life story. Everyone’s life is unique and it’s different. There are arcs in that story. So the first chapter might be, you first learn more about your family heritage. The second chapter might be we’ll talk about your childhood and your kind of teen years. A third chapter is your coming of age and then a fourth and or fifth chapter would be family life for family life and career. And we have this kind of very easy approach for families to go through. But again it can get to a very deep level of narrative and humor and also seriousness in the in the conversations themselves.
Peter Ho Yeah, it makes sense. And one thing I can relate to. I have not done anything, you know, like this before. But one thing I can relate is when I take my family to JC Penny years ago to take my family pictures. I can’t remember how difficult it is to get my daughter dressed up and send them to the studio. In this day and age, most people don’t do this anymore, because everyone has a phone and everyone has multiple cameras and the like.  But one of the things that we found is having everyone in a room and having, you know, everyone kind of dressed up and take pictures is super valuable.  I cannot remember how much we pay for it, maybe hundreds of dollars?  When you mentioned to me one episode costs, you said, $149, that seems to relate to me directly.  It is obviously a different experience. I mean picture is more superficial, but it’s still very valuable, right? But you know that’s the connection that I can make to what you guys are doing.
Ross Chanin That’s what we call our family storage Artifact where it’s like a you know it’s a 30 to 40 min conversation with you know, with a parent or sibling, or a grandparent, that we edit down this kind of 20 min personal podcast.  And then, we also have a subscription product. We call this my child personal podcast, and this is for parents of young kids like talking about their child as they grow up. In this case parents will talk to their interviewer once a year. Seasonally, meaning, you know, every 3 months, or even some cases monthly. We have 3 different packages and then that price points much lower, because yeah, it’s a shorter conversation that the parents are having.  Yeah, it tends to be less intensive because you’re not capturing entire full life story. We’re working with different pricing. We’ll be rolling out some interesting price in there very soon, where you’ll be able to be  a subscriber for as little as $4 a month.
Peter Ho  That’s great. And the addressable market, Ross, is the family of the United States? I mean, how should we think about the addressable market in your business?
Ross Chanin Yeah. So we facilitated interviews at this point in 15 to 20 countries, just in terms of where a guest might be located. We support interviews today in English, Spanish and French. We’ve done a number of interviews in Mandarin just like testing things. To be clear, our go to market and focus is in the US and it is in English. But when I allude to those international/organic component of Artifact is also what we see is a lot of upside in what we’re building because our interviewers can be anywhere in the world.  And in fact, that makes for a better product. That’s not labor arbitrage. That’s the opposite of it, in fact. So, by way of example, if we launch and focus go to market in Lagos Nigeria, right in that that region of Nigeria. I want to have local podcast [professionals]. There’s journalism platform that that enhances the product. And so yes, our focus is 100% in the US, in English, keep it simple, like any early to grow stage company should. But we would localize and internationalize very well, and obviously that comes with additional overhead. As you want to make sure you have quality controls. You go into new languages and these different things, but definitely out there, and there’s the demand in that, that’s not really a question.
Peter Ho Do you also work with enterprise? I mean, I can see there might be a similar product, or maybe variation of the product for maybe company branding type stories. Do you do that as well or do you only focus on the consumer side?
Ross Chanin It’s interesting. We’ve done a little bit of work on the company side for kind of you might call like, you know. You know your customer testimonials and these different things. I think, when you get into like the kind of interviews for brand purposes, there’s a lot more like customer customization and cooks in the kitchen. What I say when you get that it doesn’t really scale like as a that’s more like for an in-house, or like kind of consulting based production team, where we do see, however, like enterprise, opportunity, are in ways in which the kind of like the character of the interview might be like pretty consistent across, like a portfolio of enter of enterprise. Clients so great example of this might be like. In every high school in America there are sports and extracurricular activities. Each sport and activity has a natural arc to their season or their preparation for the school play.  and so those are, you know effectively enterprise relationships with the school, or, like you know, with the youth you sports or activities program where that’s for your relationship and like that’s attractive to Artifact, because we could provide a really great product at, like the seemingly impossible prices by virtue of the backbone, the technology architecture that we built to like that kind of customer. So that’s very interesting, but the kind of one off like, hey? I want you to do this special brand thing for a launch of the X products. That’s not. That’s not interesting to us.
Peter Ho  Got it. Who are your competitors? Are there companies that are doing something similar to what you’re doing?
Ross Chanin  Yeah, the way we think about the competitive landscape and that that generally. And then very specifically, there’s no one doing at level scale. The Artifact is doing our work, doing what we’re doing with it. So in terms of like interviewing.  setting up like family members for with your professional interview with these conversations, and bringing that into this this podcast setting, so I’ll say that there.  in terms of how we think about the competitive landscape. We think about kind of Google photos and apple photos kind of on one side of this, like mmm easy, low, no friction, memory creation, leaving like a you like a Marco Polo as well these really cool companies over here not, you know, narrative. It kind of gets stitched, but not really narrative.  And then the other end of that are like your genealogical platforms, like a my heritage, or like an ancestry, or like a family search that are like, you know, primarily grabbing facts of people who passed away and giving you, you know, a clear kind of semblance of your ancestry and your family history in that way.  There’s not much in the middle right that supports that that narrative creation.  And that’s where we see Artifact and the opportunity in terms of our family stories product against the art of using already Artifact to capture life stories and family members. There’s a really great company, also YC company called Storyworth, that basically will ask a parent a series of questions over email. And at the end of the year the book gets created out of those answers. I think it’s a great product.  I think that we want to have a longer term relationship with our customers in terms of They can add chapters over time. We could they bring it? We could bring in additional family members, etc. But storyworth is a really cool product, a great product.  And then on the on the child type of side of things where we’re talking with parents of young children about their kids as they grow up, and kind of capturing that narrative like what you know. Johnny’s about to go to preschool. Here’s his favorite things right now here, like the ridiculous things that he’s saying. And here’s what we did he spent with our last weekend. These things that kind of you. You forget, we think that, like there are some photo booking companies that do things roughly analogous to us with. You know what you know. Shutterfly does great work. The company called chatbooks does great work, but nothing again directly on point to what we’re doing.
Peter Ho Got it, and what are the key drivers [in successfully raising capital]. I know you raised a round of funding a few months ago. Your business is pretty unique. I mean it’s not a typical, flashy SaaS, fintech kind of business. What are the drivers that make it successful in the fundraising, and what the challenges that you have to overcome to get the money you need to grow the business?
Ross Chanin  Yeah, I mean, I think, for us. So we’ve been lucky since we launched Artifact in the summer fall of 2020 we’ve had like, you know we get what I call it, or like word of mouth-based initial growth, right? So we with the company’s grown. We’re serving 10,000 plus families. We’ve grown 2X here over years since we launched the business, and so there there’s initial backbone of just pure, like word of mouth, because Artifacts are inherently They’re not social in the way that, like a post as a post goes, or you know the tweet goes viral or an Instagram post or TikTok video goes to the viral. It’s not what Artifact is, but like a family member or friend experience the Artifact. Yeah, they tell 5 to 10 people, right? And so that has that. You know that that product led growth for, like you really what you refer to, that as that natural loop of has helped us when we have invested behind that in terms of our email drips, and how we reengage customers and engaging listeners to Artifacts. So every Artifact that that gets created, as like you know, 5 to 10 listeners, and, like those listeners, are obviously potential customers. So it’s guys that built in. So that’s one component and the other area to kind of further do that is like. Then you want to start laying on. Paid social, paid search these different things for a product like ours, you know search is less interesting. Paid search initially because we because it’s a new product. There’s not a built in kind of like scalable like basically like search, you know, search volume, so it’s like you could spend time on that. That’s more like brand protection and would be more or less like a not a great use of time right now, but it’s more on the organic loops I mentioned to you. We’ve been had that the good fortune of gathering some really fantastic press, and like when I was all in. Call it called relevant press as well, which I can, I can see about as opposed to secure, you know. Getting covered, you haven’t covered in like Fortune Magazine or something. It’s not clear that, like that’s where customers are, and then starting to invest. Now in some of the paid social, so
Peter Ho And would you also do some partnership with company like, or some companies that have complimentary offering?
Ross Chanin  Yeah, I said, there’s also a channel step as well that will be Speak will be making some announcements in the coming weeks and months about. That’s definitely starting to Bro for sure. That’s a great. That’s there are obvious channels for Artifact. And we’re talking with this obvious channels.
Peter Ho  Got it. And how do you prioritize the use of funds right now? The products in the market. There are people using it. People love the product. What are you focusing on? Go to market? I mean, your products basically mature. Are you at a good place already, or still basically we refining the product?
Ross Chanin Where are you in in the core experience? It’s a great question of here, the core experience. Right of act is very sound. That being said, you’re always can be building things on top of the product to improve it. And you know our the way, how we allocate the you know.  and allocate revenue, and also investments we have revenue, so that that’s obviously is like You have your costs a good sold that obviously a derivative of your revenue that speaks for itself.  Then there’s product, engineering design. And then there’s marketing right, and that this is nothing, nothing complex or fancy, for, you know, for a growing technology company.
Peter Ho Are there certain KPIs you look at to gauge the success of your product and the company? CSAT?
Ross Chanin Every single interview yields an opportunity for guests to provide the guest star based feedback system. We watch it very closely. It’s helped us. can tickets continuously, iterate, and improve the products. We’re like customer lead and driven company. And so that’s like, you know. I’m happy. You highlighted that it’s kind of a number one in terms of If the if the core experience is not incredible. You don’t tell your friends, which is like the best kind of growth for us, because that growth is literally free, just the product itself, doing work.  And so and then when we look at by, grow a lot of growth, obviously you want to look at like your K factor. Right? So for every Artifact that gets created, how many Artifacts can you trap to that Artifact that we’re created right? And then who is doing that our buyers buying again our guests buying our you know, being the folks who are in an interview guest, our listeners buying those are obviously for those or metrics that we track. And then, on your paid side, you have, like the classic kind of LTV lifetime value of the customer at a cat ratio and then built within that. Obviously, you’re looking at CAC, if you know, for amongst different channels, and you’re looking at lifetime value as well. And so for Artifact we kind of have 2 forms of lifetime value that are evolving. There is like the lifetime value of the customer that comes in and buys one or 2 interviews initially, but then continues to buy like on an incremental basis. And now, as you launch the subscription offerings and kind of test the subscription offerings out as well. There’s that some more naturally straightforward, like LTV.
Peter Ho For a subscriber, what is the natural  point for them to come back? I mean, for a subscription, do they come back like once a month, the way I think about maybe every Christmas, or maybe every mother’s day or something like that?
Ross Chanin Yeah, it’s a great question. Yeah. So we think about like a family stories based membership or subscription is like, yeah, once a year, nominated family member, or add to Dad’s at that next. That’s next chapter, right? Maybe that’s at the maybe that’s add like a family reunion. Maybe it’s around the holiday like maybe it’s followers there, totally to exactly your point. And then that’s on our family stories, kind of subscription based product where we’re capturing again life stories of parents and grandparents, and older siblings, and such for the for, my child, You know parents are wanting to interview in some cases annually talking about their child in some cases monthly, and some cases seasonally, and so we have packages that were fleet. Reflect those cadences.
Peter Ho Got it so, Ross, this is not your first startup. If I understand correctly, you actually have worked on several startups before this.  And with SVB going down, first of all, are you guys impacted? I’m not sure if you got cash in SVB or not. And then, secondly, I mean, what do you think about what happened with SVB and the whole debacle.
Ross Chanin  Yeah, I mean, I think so. Artifact is impacted right as we’re. You know, thousands of other companies. So that’s kind of so Yes, and so. And to be clear for you, for folks listening. The impact was like we’re a depositor right where you know we have cash some of the amount of cash in a money market account. So in in a check account we’re not doing exotic things.  You know we’ve raised 5 million dollars to date like we’re not doing exotic things with your with your cash holdings of that. You know that amount of money in frankly, nor should founders be worrying about that. It’s a poor use of founder time. It’s like a cost. Innovation effectively in terms of Sb. Itself. Like you know, I can’t speak to the high level like kind of almost, like lock up of securities in like that. The bank kind of played with to kind of create, yield and a low interest Environment, You know that’s a money management issue at a very high level for a bank.  What I can speak to is that is, I think there are many incredible people at SVB. That are not. We’re not like, you know, dealing with those types of issues. And that SVB, you know, on this is a broken record at this point from folks in the early stage, you know, tech or innovation, ecosystem has played in a central role  right? And the glue that that supporting startups with different forms of financing when others weren’t around. And I think that’s going to be a loss. It’s also an opportunity for, like SVB’s new parent to kind of act quickly. And for even folks like First Republic who’s been negatively impacted to start, to be even more involved than first Republic already has been in this ecosystem, and then, of course, even the larger banks of the regional banks. So there’s opportunity right that exists there in terms of what occurred. Yeah, it’s. It’s a run of the bank. I think there are different ways that can be handled and the without the. In this case the fed stepping in again to not save the bank, to protect depositors, and also to shore up a larger financial risk, I think was pretty essential.  And I think that you know in this case that the Federal Government that could rejoin effectively.
Peter Ho  Yeah, no, that that’s fair upon. I mean SVB has done a lot of good things to the community and you actually are right in pointing out that there are bad decisions made at the top and certain group of people. But I mean that doesn’t, you know, negate the fact that there has been really good to the community for the last 30 years, or even longer. And there’s a lesson for the financial institutions as well as startups and all the community members here.  Now, Ross, I mean what I what things are keeping you up at night right now. Obviously, the macro environment is quite different. In fiscal year 23  interest rates are high and companies starting to lay off folks.  How does it impact what you are doing?
Ross Chanin  Yeah, I mean, I we’ve built Artifact efficiently, and that’s my kind of ethos as a founder. So we don’t get over our skins in terms of our burn, or when we get profitable, like we’re like we, we. This is how I build, I build businesses, and so I. We are not ourselves like today, I would say impact. But by the Macro environment we have the resources, the team, the finance, the financing to make this to make Artifact really scale. And I mean we can make available to millions and millions of people. So that’s on us right. And so I actually like I don’t actually like have trouble sleeping, because I know that we have the team and the resources and the opportunity in front of us, and I feel lucky for it actually.  So I sleep well and get up early, because and again also like these things like when you try to scale it like that next level. Maybe it works, and maybe it doesn’t. That’s the that’s the nature of the beast that’s the thing that growth early in gross age companies are right, and I think, having comfort in that on. If in that in those question marks, and that and that uncertainty is not always easy to achieve. But if but that’s like that’s the goal that I think you know folks operating and building businesses, you know, if they could keep that close. It’s very helpful for me personally
Peter Ho That’s a great point and this is just about as much time as we have today. But I’m going to wrap with one final question, Ross.  This is not your first start up. Are there things that you learnt from your earlier experience that you find especially useful to what you’re doing today, that make you sleep better to the point you made earlier?
Ross Chanin I think so. It’s a very interesting question. They look. You learn many things along the way. I think the most important thing is you. It’s one thing to put something potentially powerful or meaningful into the world. and it’s another thing to do that in such a way that the bit like a business, and the business model can really scale.  And those 2 things do need to come together.  And I think earlier in my career I would want to like fight against that like when I say, oh, this is like amazing in this thing, and like, does it have to be this way and like it this point in my career. It’s an acknowledgment that actually the appropriate model is very much like the water in the air. That idea needs to breathe and they’re not. And so, you know, one is not to fit, you know not, you know, having just one of those 2 things. The actual like impactful thing in the model is not. It’s not sufficient. They both are. And so I don’t fight that anymore. I yeah, I accept that, and kind of like work within those ecosystems.  And so, you know not. All revenue is created equal in in any company.
Peter Ho Great. Thanks again, Ross. It has been a pleasure to have you on the show today, and I think the product is awesome and I’m certainly going to try it very soon, and so for all the listeners. The product is called Artifact, and I think everyone, every family can have the stories, you know done by professionals, and I think they’re really, to the family,  priceless. Thanks again, Ross.
Ross Chanin  Yeah, come, visit us at that’s h e y And Peter really appreciate you having me on the show. It’s been a pleasure.
Peter Ho  Thank you.





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