Tracey Pickett has a background not to be taken lightly. The former corporate and intellectual property attorney had landed a dream job at a Fortune 5 healthcare technology company after graduating UGA Law School at the top of her class. But at night and on the weekends, she lived out her entrepreneurial dreams as the founder of Eboticon, a design startup that aims to produce culturally-relevant emoji-like images.
A cross between emojis, gifs, and memes, with personalizations available for niche social and cultural groups, Eboticon started to pick up steam in 2015 (around the same time the market for Bitmojis blew up). With users across the U.S. and 70 countries, Pickett realized she was on to something. Eboticon apps eventually reached #2 Paid App Overall and #1 Paid Social Networking App in the Apple App Store.
Always-entrepreneurial, in 2016 Pickett launched a second startup to produce a uniquely-designed fashionable rain hat that protects women’s hair from the elements. Hairbrella was launched on Kickstarter in December 2016. Around that time, Pickett quit her corporate attorney day job and entered startup world for good.
Now Pickett is full-time hustling on both of her startup ventures. She took a break from saving the world one witty mobile character at a time to talk to Hype about how she’s bringing a new dynamic to texting, what she has in store this year, and what you need to think about if, you too, are thinking about going off on your own.
Describe your background. How did you become an entrepreneur?
I’m a native of Atlanta, daughter of pastors, and from a family full of business owners. I constantly had product and business ideas through high school and college, but I also wanted to be a lawyer. I figured I needed to get law school out of the way first, but I wrote a letter to myself while applying for law school promising myself that I wouldn’t forfeit my passion for entrepreneurship once I finished law school. I started Eboticon 1.5 years after starting to practice and left my job at McKesson on my 5th anniversary to keep that promise to myself and pursue entrepreneurship full-time.
How did it feel to quit your job to pursue your ventures full time?
I was very excited. Strangely, I wasn’t nervous or fearful because I prepared for the transition and knew that it was the right time to leave.
Give us the details on both of your companies. When were they founded? Number of employees?
Emoticon was founded in 2012 and is a team of 10 with five contractors and five co-founders/partners. Hairbrella was founded last year and is a team of 6; five contractors and me!
Funding or bootstrapped?
Both companies are bootstrapped. We’re seeking funding.
Describe the idea behind Eboticon. Who are your customers?
The idea behind Eboticon was to create culturally dynamic and culturally relevant emojis to enhance our users’ ability to express themselves in digital communications. This product is necessary because texting is now the dominant means of communication for Americans under 50; however, it lacks the paralinguistic cues that account for 93 percent of effective communication (content only makes up 7 percent). My current customers are African-Americans, mostly women ages 24-55.
What is Eboticon’s revenue model?
Freemium. Free core app with upsales for themed emoji packs.
How did the product change over time?
We started with the core eboticon app (offering of 12 “ebojis”) at 99 cents. We used that money to fund the Android app and expand the library to over 100 emojis. In 2015, we transitioned to the freemium model and introduced themed in-app purchase packs for our users. In 2016, the iMessage store was introduced and we published seven sticker packs in addition to our iOS packs. Also in 2016, we launched our first influencer pack in partnership with Karlton Humes (an Instagram star and Eboticon ambassador) which shot us to #2 Paid App Overall in the app store, second only to Kevin Hart and beating Minecraft, Kimmoji, and Ellen’s Exploji App.
This year, we are expanding our library to offer two additional skin tone options, enabling a broader audience to use our urban/pop culture inspired emojis. Lastly, we recently landed a partnership with Getty Images to develop “Femmoji” – a new sticker app mobilizing the conversation around women’s rights and equality in the digital space.
Our biggest obstacle over time has been figuring out how to appeal to a more diverse customer base without alienating our current customer base.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to quit their “day jobs” and dedicate themselves full time to their venture?
Do all you can to validate your idea, build a team and get sustained traction before leaving. And reserve your nights, weekends, holidays and PTO days to work on your idea — they are a necessary sacrifice for a period of time before you can fully transition.
Finance-wise, pay off your debt, and save at least 6-12 months of income before making the jump. If you want to be a homeowner, ideally you’d do that before making the jump. A home could be a valuable investment that could help fund your business if family, friends, and venture capital are not immediately available.