We interviewed Nikolay Nankov, co-founder of Trigraphy, to ask how a team of two friends turned their photo editing manipulation into a success story with more than 700k+ downloads worldwide. Nikolay talks about how Prisma brought photo manipulation apps to the public, the surprising overnight interest in Trigraphy when it first launched, and the lessons that he and his co-founder Martin Ivanov learned on the way.

What motivated you to create Trigraphy? How did you come up with the idea?

I was looking for an app to create low-poly images [editor’s note: low poly is a polygon mesh in 3D computer graphics that has a relatively small number of polygons]. I checked out a couple of them and thought to myself that I could make a better one. There wasn’t a particular problem or a lot of thinking behind the first version.

It was after I woke up the next day with about 10k downloads that it got me thinking.

Which came first? Getting to meet your co-founder (Martin Ivanov) or coming up with the idea for Trigraphy?

We’ve known each other for a long time. We first met working on a project for one of the then-first skyscraper projects in Sofia, Bulgaria (which didn’t get build). Since then we have done a lot of projects for clients and two unsuccessful ones for ourselves.

Today, Trigraphy is a powerful app for editing digital art. Did you start with that idea or did you have to pivot until you got there?

Trigraphy started as a one-feature app—you could only do triangles. It took three or four days to built it and, as we already had launched two apps before that, I wasn’t expecting big boom on day one. Actually, I was expecting it to start making “just enough to pay the rent.” So you could guess my surprise when I woke up to 10k+ downloads for only one night.


Your app has 700k+ downloads. How did you get to this number?

The growth of the app is entirely organic. So far, we have spent only €3-€4k testing ads just to understand that they are not a viable growth channel for our current business model.

Our growth pattern is very inconsistent, as we were first testing premium, than freemium, then we went back to premium again—and we finally switched to freemium. The most download spikes we get are from switching from premium to freemium or getting occasionally featured as “Best New” around different country stores. The most quality traffic we tend to get is from articles in media outlets like Smashing Magazine, Forbes, Phone Arena, and others.

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Tell us more about your users. Which user metric are you tracking every day? What are your user base’s demographics and what insights do you get from them?

Our markets in terms of revenue are China, the United States and Japan. The majority of our users (35 percent) come from China, 23 percent come from the US, 12 percent from Japan, and the rest are mainly from other asian countries. Most of our users use the app to post on social networks. We also have users using the app professionally for selling on Society6, Yoox, Etsy, or even creating other items and exhibitions.

We have users using the app professionally for selling on Society6, Etsy, or even creating other items and exhibitions.

What is the technology stack behind Trigraphy? Judging from today, would you have made any other choices if you started coding now?

Right now, the app is only available for iOS. The first version was written on Flash AIR. Now it is written on Swift 3. It took some time to make it because I had to switch to Mac and learn Swift and Apple’s SDK for iOS. All our UI components are custom made. We also use Amazon S3 and Cloudfront for the additional 4K assets and our in-app feed.

If I had to start coding Trigraphy from scratch, I would first do some performance tests to see if we could use multi-platform technology to achieve the same outcome.


Let’s talk about resources. How much have you invested, money, time, or resource wise, in Trigraphy so far?

I don’t know how much time we have spent on the app so far. In the beginning, it was our spare time. As it gradually started making enough money and it was shaping more as a real product, I switched to full-time. Martin is working on it part-time.

We haven’t spent a lot of money. The most we are spending now is for an ASO tool [editor’s note: ASO means App Store Optimization, or the practice of improving an app’s visibility in app stores]. Trigraphy were first using Sensor Tower, but now they use Mobile Action for an ASO tool], Amazon, and our support system, which totals at about $200 per month. The largest money investment we have done so far was to buy ads on Instagram, only to find out that they didn’t work for us. :)

Can you go into details about Trigraphy’s revenue models? How much revenue are you generating and what are your plans for the future?

Our business model is freemium because we are selling effects as in-app purchases. We have also tested a premium model, but it was a failure for us. Since putting the app online, we have seen as low as $0 per day to as much as over $2,000+ per day.

We are now experimenting with giving users the ability to buy their own products like t-shirts or print art.

We are now experimenting with giving users the ability to buy their own products like t-shirts or print art. And we are collecting data for our next project, which will be part of the Trigraphy brand as the apps business is very saturated and Trigraphy will not be able to generate much more revenue than what it currently is.

It seems like a lot of startups have been trying to go into digital art lately. How do you look at or interact with your competition?

There have always been apps for creating some kind of digital art on your phone. Compared to photo manipulation or beautification apps, these apps are less popular. With the introduction of Tensor Flow to the public [editor’s note: TensorFlow is an open source software library for machine learning developed by Google], there were a lot of apps for style transfer well before Prisma; but they were generally unknown. The media coverage of Prisma brought that category of more artistic apps to the general public. But this is slowly fading as these apps are just not meant for the general public.

In this market, as in any other, to be big you need a lot of cash or a lot of luck, so that you can be at the right time and at the right place. As with any other product, it’s not important to be the first it your market, but to remain the last. :) We are looking at other apps and what they are doing to flock users to their products. So far, we haven’t seen any that is highly-successful in guerilla marketing.


What were your hardest challenges on the way? How did you manage to overcome them?

The first challenge was to make Trigraphy 2.0. Version two of our app was very ambitious compared to the first one. The design took us a lot of user interface iterations until it finally came to be what we wanted it to look and feel like. This is actually my first native iOS app and it took months to start it from scratch.

Our second challenge was the memory on users’ mobile devices and the speed of our early algorithms. That was because everything is executed on the mobile device itself. From day one, we wanted the app to be able to export at 4k. It took us some time to make that stable. The next challenge was the most obvious of all—how to make Trigraphy earn enough money, so that it can turn into a full-time project. It took us one year and a half to get there, a lot of testing, and a lot of months of barely earning anything.

What is your biggest failure and respectively your biggest accomplishment till now?

I think that our biggest mistake was that we started to think about marketing and sales way past the app’s launch. It took me a while to see that marketing is extremely important.

The second failure, I think, is that we started to get user feedback and to ask questions very late in Trigraphy’s life cycle. On the bright side, though, we now have a large audience to ask. :)

We were obsessed with making a very, very good product. Rookie’s mistake. That mistake is what we are the most proud of.

We were obsessed with making a very, very good product. Rookie’s mistake. That mistake is what we are the most proud of. We made one very, very good product that is now used by about 100k users every month.

Where can we go to learn more?

Official website
App Store

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