Category Archives: Business

My First Customer Interview

I did my first customer interview recently. I met a professional photographer and talked to him for an hour!

First, this is how I arranged this meeting. I tried to call kindergarten photographers before with disastrous results. People were convinced that I was an telemarketer from India trying to sell them something.

So I changed the tactics. I asked one of my friends if she had her children photographed in kindergarten. As it turns out yes, a photographer came to day care and took photos of her son. Even better she agreed to help me to get an appointment with that photographer. Together we devised a plan.

My friend knew the head of day care centre so she called her and asked about photographer. The manager told her the photographer’s name and also gave his number. She told my friend to mention her name when talking with R. Armed with that my friend called R. and explained that we have an online service for photographers and that we need his help. And R. graciously agreed to meet me for a coffee.

R. explained to me that he mainly does preschool and kindergarten jobs. He also does lots of dance studios. He plans to expand to primary schools. He has his own printing lab. He has 5 photographers working for him.

R. has high turnover. In the last two months he processed 35,000 photos.

R. was using SmugMug but now he is transitioning to a custom WordPress website that was developed for him. SmugMug was good but didn’t let R. to sell photos and print them at his lab. It allows using their lab only. So he was using SmugMug to let people view photos. For ordering, he asked parents to write down photo numbers and send to him by email which was cumbersome.

When selling photos to parents hard copy is important. R. creates proof sheets and gives them to parents. It serves as a reminder (parents put it on the fridge). Web gallery is just an additional component. R. said that one day all sales will be digital in Australia but not now.

One year R. tried to sell photos using web gallery only. It was a disaster – only 30% percent of parents ended up buying photos. Next year he changed back to hard copy with much better results.

R. used to sell photos by printing 5×7 album and giving it parents. It worked well and most parents would buy the album to keep it. Recently though people started scanning photos and returning them back without buying.

For bank deposits it is important to reconcile payments because there are so many of them. Parents should put order number as the reference.

It would be great if each child would get an unique password but it is hard to categorise photos. R. has a custom desktop application that helps him to categorise by dragging photos from the list to children faces on the right.

R. knows a software developer that helps him. He works on facial recognition. It would help greatly for ballet photos where each child stands still facing camera and is properly lit.

R. has an idea of storing photos in the cloud. This would serve as a backup storage.

This was great, I’m going to try to get more customer interviews next.

Links

My Current Struggle with Fotrel

I started Fotrel back in 2008. Fotrel is a web gallery with shopping cart for wedding photographers.

The idea is that a photographer makes photos available for viewing on the web after the wedding. Guests view photos. Some of them buy prints. The photographer makes money by keeping margin.

Results so far: I have 30 clients. Fotrel brings about $400 per month. Not bad but not great either.

What I find is that wedding photographers are not really excited about the whole idea. I have no proof, this is just my gut feeling.

Also, 10 of my clients didn’t upload anything in the last 3 months. So they pay for my system but don’t use it. 20 of my clients didn’t get any sales in the last 3 months.

It looks like Fotrel doesn’t solve the real pain for photographers. I’m yet to find this pain point.

What to do?

I have an idea: change Fotrel to make it useful for kids photographers. I had a couple of clients who took pictures of kids at kindergartens. And they were getting a lot of orders.

Also, few kids photographers looked at Fotrel but didn’t start using it because it didn’t have features that they wanted.

One piece of advice I got is to speak to 50 kids photographers before adding those missing features.

The next question is how to reach kids photographers? I tried cold calling – that didn’t work because people were convinced I was trying to sell them something because of my accent. Now I’m thinking of other ways to reach kids photographers.

Progress so far

I have started working on my own business in December 2008. Here’s the progress so far.

Idea

Idea is very simple:  web gallery with shopping cart for wedding photographers. For more details see my older post.

Pricing

Fotrel is a web application. My clients use it as a service. The whole software-as-a-service model has a great appeal to me. I can make money while I sleep. There is no pain of acquiring new clients.

I’ve set the price to $95 per month right from the beginning. I didn’t want my product to look cheap. On the other hand it is flat price. I don’t like the idea of charging commission for this kind of service. For some reason it feels like putting my hands in client’s pocket. After all, my expenses are exactly the same regardless of how many orders my client gets.

Then, after reading Jay Abraham’s book I got an idea: charge $95 per month only if photographer has sales in that month. This creates a safety net for my clients: if my product doesn’t bring profit to them at least they are not losing money on it. This should be especially appealing to small (one-person) studios. Also, when you have sales paying $95 feels like giving away part of the profit, not parting with your own money. So far people like this idea. It certainly makes it easier to say yes rather than no.

Clients

Not everyone pays me each month because of the pricing structure. So it is somewhat hard to tell if someone is my customer. A photographer could sign up for my service just to try it out and then never come back. I define my client as someone who has uploaded at least one wedding or portrait gallery in past 3 months.

At the moment I have 15 clients.

Profits

Profits chart

On average, I get $300 per month.

Expenses

You might be wondering why I have those red months with negative profit.

  • I hired web designer twice.
  • I sponsored few AIPP mentoring sessions.

Hosting is the biggest part of my expenses at the moment – about $150 per month. I’m using Amazon EC2 and Softsys Hosting.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m happy with my progress. For now, my focus is on preventing those red bars from appearing again.

P.S. You can take a look at my product here: Fotrel.

Idea for my business

Idea for my business is quite simple: web gallery for wedding photographers. Here’s how it works:

  1. Photographer uploads photos after the wedding.
  2. Friends and relatives view photos. Some of them order reprints generating extra money for photographer.
  3. Photographer pays me a monthly fee.

How did I come up with this idea? I was looking for an idea for my own software product for a long a time. Then, in one of the books I read an interview with Joel Spolsky where he recommended creating a niche product. As an example he suggested creating a photo manager specifically for wedding photographers instead of photo manager for everybody. And I thought to myself: heck, that’s not a bad idea, I’ll try to execute it.

Surely, there are other products that do the same thing. This doesn’t stop me. If my execution is at least half-good, I should get some clients. I’m aiming at creating a small Italian restaurant on the web, not a global chain of fast food franchises.

I Want to Start My Own Business

Hi, my name is Pavel and I want to quit my day job.

Where am I now

At the moment I’m working full time as software developer.

Where do I want to go

I have had an idea of starting my own business for quite some time. I decided to build my business on the side. I’m going to work on it part-time. My goal is to grow my business to the level where it could support me and my family. At that stage I’ll be able to quit my day job.

I have a lot of distance to cover. I need at least $5,000 per month to quit my day job:

  • $1,900 – home mortgage
  • $2,000 – living expenses (food, electricity, gas etc)
  • $1,000 – just in case (buffer)

Fortunately we don’t have any credit card debt.

I definitely don’t want to take any investments. I want to bootstrap my way up. My business should pay for itself.

I will post updates about my actions here, on this blog. Hopefully this will prevent somebody from making the same stupid mistakes as I do.

With this blog I’ll try to answer this question: “Is it possible to start home-based business on the side, without quitting day job?”.

Onward!