Meet Natascha Schirmuli, Co-Founder of PureRef

Each week, Female CoFounder features a female founder in the community. Follow along each week and learn from different founders and their journeys.

FcF: Tell us about yourself?

Natascha: My name is Natascha and I currently work in the Swedish games industry as an artist. I've always been the creative nerdy type, drawing was my biggest hobby growing up, followed closely by playing video games. When the time came to start thinking about a career, I combined my hobbies and went to a university in the snowy north of Sweden to become a game artist. This line of work is also what led me to the reason I'm writing this article, my side project: PureRef!

FcF: What is PureRef?

Natascha:  PureRef is a small but powerful digital tool made for artists. It's a minimalistic image viewer designed to help you keep your inspiration close while still staying out of your way when working. Add images from anywhere and use it to make moodboards, keep your reference in place when painting or creating 3D models, jot down notes and save your document for later.

- Above: PureRef -

FcF: What has been the biggest challenge for you when building PureRef and how did you overcome it?

Natascha: The biggest struggle both my co-founder and I have, is time. What started out as a hobby project has grown to a company, and it is still growing.  We're still working on finding the perfect balance but right now we have a set time when we both work on PureRef, and I have a set time when I have to STOP working on it. It's too easy to never stop working when you are passionate about something. There is always more to be done but we do believe it is very important to balance work and free time to have a healthy body and mind.

FcF: How did you come up with PureRef?

Natascha: I was fresh out of university in 2012, a few weeks into my first job in the games industry. I was looking for reference images of a kitchen appliance I was supposed to recreate in 3D. I found a few good images from different angles and there were a lot of little details like bolts to keep in mind. I found myself switching between tabs in the browser while working to compare my model to the reference. I realized how frustrating and inefficient that workflow was.

I searched online for some kind of program that could just let me see all my reference images at once at the same time as I worked. Ideally while also staying out of my workspace, but that would just be a plus. I found nothing. That's when the idea emerged and I thought: an application like that can't be too difficult to make. I wrote to a friend from university, Viktor, who had recently shown me a minimalistic music player he had made. I told him about my idea and the very next day, he sent me the very first version of PureRef.

FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue this idea?

Natascha: The very first step for us was actually doing market testing without even knowing it! Seeing how PureRef spread outside our circle of friends made me realize it had the potential to be more than a cool little thing we made just for ourselves. I wanted to try giving a go at creating a serious business and managed to convince Viktor, who was initially skeptical and felt it might not be worth the trouble.

The next step, knowing absolutely nothing about running a business and fresh out of school, was us wanting to make sure we did everything correctly, legally. We were lucky there was a completely free start-up advisor center in the town we went to school. I booked a meeting and we got a mentor there that helped us set up a company and put everything in order tax-wise. 

After that, we took a few months to build a web page where people could download PureRef, and from enquiries of how to support us from the excited early adopters, we also set up a PayPal where people could donate to the development. Our target audience was at the time just 3D artists, so we made a post on one of the biggest forums, and from there PureRef took off!

FcF: How did you meeting your Co-Founder? What do you look for in a Co-Founder?

Natascha: As the product came first, and the company later, it was a natural progression that Viktor and I are co-founders together. We went to the same University and had already worked on projects in school before so we knew how we worked together, which I think is super important if you take the step to create a business together.

I believe the best collaboration comes from your skills complementing each other. Viktor's programming skills are a given, but his "we can do anything" attitude is a good contrast to my more conservative development approach.

FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea or side project idea?

Natascha: I've seen a lot of entrepreneurs who tell you how they quit their job, sacrificed sleep and their social life and poured all their life savings into their start-up. My advice is that you really don't have to do that. It doesn't have to be huge. If you're scared to start, try out your idea, just a little bit, first. If you're super confident in your idea, try it out first anyway. Make sure you have an audience before you take the leap. Take your time, but do it!

FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?

Natascha: Being in that awkward phase before we can scale, I had just started to look for other women with similar experiences or experience in scaling companies. By chance I found a post about the Female CoFounder slack in the Women in tech group on Facebook. I joined and immediately got inspired by all the stories posted! It's just such a positive community and I hope to continue being inspired and expanding my network for possible collaborations in the future!

FcF: How can people contact you?

Natascha: Reach me at natascha@pureref.com or in DMs (Slack her in our channel @Natascha), you can also try out PureRef for free at www.pureref.com and I would love to hear any feedback or ideas you have!

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