My grandparents were the inspiration for weGather. My grandmother had a wall of family photos that I walked by often. On that wall, I saw faces full of hopes and dreams before I ever existed. Every time I walked by that wall, I realized my story started before me. Yet I didn’t know many of the stories behind those old photos.

When my grandfather died, I wanted to celebrate the legacy he left behind. So I started scanning old photos of him — from his childhood to his military service, from marrying my grandmother to raising my mother. Then, I posted a photo and a story about him on Instagram and invited family and friends to do the same. In turn, they encouraged people in their networks to share. Soon, I learned things about my grandfather that I had never known before. And the celebration of my grandfather hasn’t ended there; more than 32,000 followers from around the globe contribute family photos and memories to our Instagram feed, @SaveFamilyPhotos.

Now my mission to help families keep their memories alive has become an app for iOS and Android called weGather.

What it does

weGather helps families capture the memories surrounding analog photos in a simple, social way. Rather than focusing on scanning and storage, weGather focuses on collecting memories using the power of crowdsourcing. weGather is narrowly-scoped, launching with a focused feature set that's optimized for mobile devices. weGather sets itself apart by being a dedicated space for hi-res images and the metadata — or memories — associated with each photograph. weGather was designed — from the first line of code — to prioritize metadata collection and preservation.

How we built it

We started by building a large following on Instagram and observing how they interacted with old family photos. Our assumption was that the power of nostalgia would engage people enough that they would comment on photos. That assumption proved to be correct; photos are powerful memory triggers. Our second assumption was that people preferred to preserve their photos one at a time. After a round of beta testing, we could not validate that assumption. We learned that users preferred to import their photos in batches, especially if they had them readily available in Dropbox or Google Photos. So we pivoted away from one-off photo sharing and enabled users to import groups of photos. This opened another exciting door – partnerships with scanning services who specialize in mass digitization. Those partnerships are key to our growth strategy.

Challenges we ran into

Our biggest challenge was finding the right team members who truly care about family history. We believe in building a great team, not just a great product. Great teams build great products! So after an extensive search, we are grateful to have a team of four wonderful developers and designers in Berlin, Germany. My husband, Andrew, serves as the head of product and technology, while I serve as head of marketing and business development.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • First and foremost, we're proud of our team's commitment to our users and to family history. Everyone checks their egos at the door; we work tirelessly to respond to user feedback.
  • Posting a family photo and story every day on Instagram since September 2013, and growing our community to over 32,000 loyal and engaged followers.
  • Creating valuable partnerships and technical integrations with scanning services
  • Appearing in international press such as GoodHouseKeeping, The New Yorker, Mashable, Cult of Mac, and GeekWire

What we learned

  • Family photos are universally appealing – across all ages and all cultures. They're the glue that holds our stories together across generations. Simply put, they're one of the best ways to trigger family storytelling!

  • Working with a team that is distributed across two continents and six timezones requires close communication and also in-person team-building. Thankfully, tools like Slack help us maintain close contact. Yet we also spent 3 months this summer in Berlin, working together as a united team. That time together was crucial to pushing v1.0 of weGather across the finish line.

What's next for weGather

Lots of iteration, followed by a monetization strategy that involves physical products and strategic partnerships with family history services. Oh, and another trip to Berlin soon!

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