Milton Jackson, CEO, Wedding + Portrait Photographer for PicSpotr for Photographers discussed what it’s like to launch a startup and provided advice for others who are starting out.
Innovation Destination Hartford: When and why did you launch your startup?
MILTON JACKSON: I started my inroads into photography in 2012 doing professional headshots and creative sessions for educators and independent musicians. At the time, I had very few clients and could manage most of my schedule using one of my design sketchbooks. It was easy. Then my client base grew to 10, then 15, then 20 clients and all of a sudden I had a problem.
After searching the web and signing up for trial after trial of existing “small business management software,” I found that they lacked the simplicity and ease I was aiming for. I reached out to other photographers for recommendations. The response was minimal and typically prefaced with: I’ve gotten this to work for me, but it’s not ideal.
In January 2014, I decided to create PicSpotr for Photographers, a solution that would work for photographers across the country regardless of industry or specialty. After a number of months, I realized that the audience for PicSpotr was really photographers just like me—guys and gals who work nights and weekends to start, grow, and improve their photography business. Professionals who we like to call “weekend warriors.”
IDH: How did you develop the business concept?
MJ: I tapped into a core group of photographers for help in understanding how different photographers work to validate our idea. I brought in new partners, Chris Turner (Chief Technical Officer) of Bristol who would help build the backend of the application and Kyle Hamilton (Chief Design Officer) of Stratford to drive the design. Based on the feedback of our photographers, we made key decisions about design, pricing, customer targets, marketing, and messaging.
After spending a little over a year building the app, we launched our beta in August of 2015. After a number of social media campaigns, we were able to acquire more than 100 photographers who helped beta test PicSpotr and provided quality feedback.
We launched our product to market in August of 2016 and are now marketing and growing our user base. Since then, we’ve expanded the app to support photographers in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and France.
IDH: Why does someone want/need to use your software solution?
MJ: Our goal was to create a simple, sexy, and inexpensive solution that photographers can use at home, in their studio, or on the go. To date, our customers are using more complex and significantly more expensive systems that don’t provide the quick satisfaction of the “weekend warrior” photographer.
Our solution provides a quick way for photographers to on-board new clients, send and sign agreements, create and send invoices, and schedule and manage their shoot schedules.
IDH: What’s the biggest challenge your company has faced as a startup?
MJ: The biggest challenge is not building the solution, it’s getting the word out. Our great solution means nothing if we can’t spread the message to other photographers.
We’ve tried now traditional avenues like Google search/AdWords and social advertising. Our startup is fully bootstrapped so marketing dollars are small. The most success has come from native social marketing (posting, using relevant hashtags, and engaging with fans and users), reddit advertising, and word of mouth.
IDH: Any tips or advice about what it’s like to launch a startup?
MJ: Time blocking is crucial. I started PicSpotr when I was changing my full-time job, planning a wedding, having a baby, and growing a business. In the past, I would take on freelance web and print design projects, photography gigs, speaking engagements, etc. I learned to be more disciplined with my time, but more importantly, I learned to say no to distractions that would take me away from PicSpotr and my family.
Less than 10% of the things you try will work. This is one of the best and most inspiring pieces of advice I recently received. PicSpotr has really tested my ability to stay in the trenches and to keep pushing forward. We try different designs, messages, marketing techniques, etc. Some fall flat on their faces and a small percentage will move the needle ever so slightly. My advice: Focus on what moves the needle.
You won’t be successful by yourself. Even if it’s something as simple as bouncing an idea, our journey would not be where it is without our small team. Being a lone ranger allows you to do a lot of things but never allows you to be successful at any of them. Our team is focused on specific areas and that helps us move the needle.
Learn more about PicSpotr for Photographers at www.picspotr.com.