Last week, we published a story on Snappr, an Australian startup that uses an algorithm to match photographers with clients, making photo shoots “quick and snappy.” With rates starting at just $59, we expressed concerns that they’re driving prices down and devaluing photography. We caught up with Snappr CEO Matt Schiller to learn more about the company and discuss the depreciation of the photo industry. Here’s what he had to say.
Give me some background on Snappr. How did you come up with the idea, when did you launch, and what is the company’s current position?
We had the idea for Snappr from a previous startup called GownTown, an e-commerce startup here in Australia, which is me and the same co-founder of Snappr. As the name implies, we’re servicing the University and graduation market, and started off dealing with graduation gowns. We actually started it when we were still at University, and over time wanted to add more products to the offering. Photography was one of those, so we thought about the best way to offer photography to graduates that was different from the established market.
I’m not sure what it’s like in the U.S., but here the established graduation photography industry is very much mass production, with very old-school studio setups where students line up in front of a blue screen one after one, and have photos taken that are quite expensive. So we thought, ‘What about getting outside and in front of the landmarks on the University, getting outside of this mass production way of operating, and getting freelancers and connecting them with graduates to come and take photos wherever they want?’ We saw such huge success with that, both with customers being really happy and the freelancers really loving it, that after a few months we saw a much bigger opportunity outside of graduations. That’s when we had the idea for Snappr.
To answer your question of when it all kicked off: it’s actually a very new venture, and we’re only a couple months old. I think we might be at our 110th day now, and we launched in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. The first week or two, we were overwhelmed with more than 500 photographers applying to be on the platform without spending a cent on advertising. The unfortunate thing about this is that there were way too many photographers than we could possibly take on, so we had the luxury of picking the best guys of the bunch, bringing them to the platform, and putting a bunch of people on a waiting list who are very keen to join. But like any market place, we have to grow the supply in line with the demand, so we’re trying to bring photographers on at a similar pace to which we’re starting to generate business. On the customer side of things, we only started marketing the platform actively around a month ago. Now we’re really starting to invest in that, and drive the volume of bookings to photographers. It’s going well so far.
Speaking of marketing, what specific markets does Snappr target on both the photographer side and the client side?
We’re really going after what we think of as the under-serviced markets of photography at the moment. The big disrupter in the photography space, as I see it in the last 10 years, is the camera phone. What this means is that people have really started to think that they can do it all themselves—and professional photography with really high-end DSLR equipment has become a little undervalued. So we’re trying to go after the market that isn’t serviced by professional photography, and is poorly serviced by camera phones. The classic examples of this are small family/company events, like your grandma’s birthday or your small child’s birthday. And on the corporate side, a big focus is corporate headshots and LinkedIn photos. In current circumstances, we see these kind of customers ending up with a bit of a sub-standard output, so we’re trying to find photographers who are very suited to servicing this kind of demand.
We also didn’t want to build a platform in our first 100 days that caters to every photographer on the market—we think these create real opportunities to make new work for photographers lacking volume, who really need jobs sent their way, and need some stuff taken off their hands, such as the marketing, booking keeping, chasing after people for payment, and following up on leads and emails.
I think when our photographers sign up, they understand the market we’re going after. They get that we’re going after these new opportunities, and we’re attracting people who are really great at servicing this demand that we’re opening up.
Can you tell me more about the incentives photographers get from Snappr?
The first incentive is obviously the booking fee. Like most marketplaces, we pass 80 percent of booking fees straight on to photographers. But with that last 20 percent, they get an incredible amount of value. We’re basically becoming the back office for all of the photographers on our platform, and we’re doing it, in my opinion, so much better than they can do on their own. And I think they would all agree with that.
There’s also a lot of other elements to it, like having to deal with customer leads that come in. Realistically, maybe only about 10 percent of them would turn into an actual sale, yet photographers are spending real time communicating with them when they’re not operating on our platform. We’re also insuring them, which for many of the photographers I’ve spoken to, is a really tough thing for them to get on their own. It’s tricky to find the right product, to insure your photography operation, and it’s also quite expensive, particularly for those working part-time. Insurance companies often don’t take that into account, and we do all of that for them.
Our coverage includes public liability insurance up to $10 million, professional indemnity up to $5 million, and equipment damage insurance, which is something reasonably novel that I don’t think a lot of photographers would be able to get on their own. So if a photographer has an accident while they’re out doing a shoot and drops a lens or drops a camera, that’s covered by our policy and we don’t charge them anything to be a part of that. And it’s great for the customers as well—there’s actually a lot of corporate clients in Australia that aren’t allowed to book a job unless they’ve got some of these insurance products, particularly the public liability one. So for photographers who don’t have insurance of their own, we’re opening up that corporate market to them.
How did you come up with the pay scale for your photographers?
We did a lot of testing when we’re doing GownTown photography, and we’re continuing to test our pricing, but we knew it would have to be very competitive. We focused on testing how much demand there is for professional photography that’s being turned off by prices starting at $500. We think our pricing hits the mark, and as far as an hourly rate is concerned, it’s actually really competitive. So far, the feedback we’ve had is that our photographers are very happy with it, although I’m sure there are very experienced professionals with high-end equipment and specialized skills that look at Snappr and think the rates are much lower compared to what they’re able to charge in their other businesses.
But at the moment, we’re going after a very specific end of the market, and in the future we may add more premium tiers. In fact, we do plan to add more premium tiers that would allow a greater spectrum of photographers to come on board, and cater to a much greater range of shoot types. We think the pricing we have now achieves the goal of opening up volume for photographers, and opening up jobs that just weren’t there before.
Your site says photographers go through a rigorous interview process and that they are “top 10 percent photographers.” Can you explain that process and how you calculate that percentage?
Of all of the people who’ve applied to Snappr so far, we’ve only accepted those who we consider to be the top 10 percent of applicants. The process has a lot of elements: we do a review of their camera equipment and lens equipment (we only accept people who have a high-end DSLR built in the last five years), and typically the people who apply have a multitude of interchangeable lenses to suit a variety of different styles. But probably the most important part of the application process is the portfolio review. Photographers are required to link to an online portfolio exclusively of their own, or to upload photos that we can then review. That, at the end of the day, is the ultimate test for us. We, and the photographers on the team, have a very good idea of the standard we’re looking for. I should also add that it doesn’t just end at reviewing their past portfolio. For every job that’s done through Snappr, we’re looking at the quality of work coming through the platform, checking to make sure it meets the standards that customers expect, and also collecting customer feedback as well.
Jumping back to the process of applying—the other component is that we expect people to have done a minimum amount of paid work in the past. At this stage, we’re not accepting people who’ve never done paid photography before. And then the final component is an interview process that we’ve recently started. The feedback from customers is that they really want people to take fantastic photography, but also really want people who provide them with a great customer experience. Particularly when we’re dealing with events, sometimes people want a photographer who can really bring life to the party, and is really energetic and bubbly. So we do a phone interview with everyone we’ve shortlisted to get a really good idea of what they’ll be like on the customer service side of things.
So once a photographer is accepted, what’s the workflow like for completing a job and getting paid?
First, a booking comes through the platform, then our matching algorithm kicks in, which is really where the smarts are in the Snappr model. We’re trying to match the photographer who is best suited for each job, and for any one job there are a lot of photographers who could service it. But we try to find the photographer who not only has the best skills, but also the right proximity, because at the end of the day we want to save photographers time on travel so they can spend more time behind the camera. And once [the algorithm] kicks in, we know that photographer will be available. Unlike a lot of directories, we ask our photographers when they would like to work—when we send a photographer a job, I think more than 95 percent of the time they take it, which is very different from every other online service or directory for photography at the moment.
Then, [the photographer] will get the customer’s contact details and what they’ve provided as far as what they’re looking for in terms of style, the type of shoot, and who will be there on the shoot day. The photographer will turn up to the shoot, finish the shoot, and for post production, the only thing we provide as part of the package—without customers paying extra—is simple Lightroom image enhancement.
Photo delivery is also done through the Snappr platform, giving photographers a standardized workflow for passing the photos on to us. We check the quality, upload them to the platform, and create a custom-hosted, password protected gallery for the client. At that point, the client has the option not only to download the photos, but also to buy a range of print products through our online store. We do everything from small 4×6-inch prints all the way up to huge canvases. It’s very popular for things like family photo shoots, and we pass on a percentage of that revenue to the photographers, which they think of as another great incentive to take really awesome photos.
What percentage do photographers get on the prints?
They get 20 percent of the revenue, so not 20 percent of the profit. We cover all the costs of fulfilling the prints including the postage and the printing itself.
One photographer I spoke to who’s used Snappr said it was required to upload 60 shots per hour of shooting. Is that true?
It’s not a strict requirement, but we do recommend it to photographers as a guideline for a standard type of shoot. Let’s say we’re dealing with a two-hour corporate event, we like to get somewhere between 100 to 150 photos for the customer to choose from. We don’t rigorously enforce that because we realize that not all shoots are the same, for example, a product shoot is a very different as you’re spending a lot of time setting up and perfecting the shot for each individual product. So it’s not a strict rule, and we treat everything on a case by case basis.
However, in most cases we do try to get up to one shot a minute, because ultimately the more photos the customers have to choose from, the more likely they are to find something that really strikes a chord with them. Really, it’s for the benefit of the photographer, as it encourages the customers to buy prints. And like with any art form, things are very subjective. If you look at two similar shots, the photographer may think one is the best while the customer may think the other one is the best, so it’s always good to have a lot to choose from.
Can you explain why three featured “Snappr photographers” I found through your Instagram said they’d never worked on a job through Snappr?
Were the people you reached out to on the Snappr platform?
Well, on the Snappr site all you provide are photographers’ first names, last initials, and no contact info. So I found them through your Instagram account.
If you’d like, I can follow up with those particular people and give you an answer, because I’m not sure who exactly who you’ve spoken to.
To sum things up, what are your plans for growth in the coming months and years? Do you have any intention of expanding to the US?
At the moment, we’re only just getting started in Australia. We’re only scraping the surface of this under-serviced market, and starting to bring out jobs where professional photography jobs didn’t previously exist. And like any marketplace, it relies heavily on the network effect in small areas, referrals, customers spreading good word about the product, and photographers spreading good word as well. We’re very focused on three cities at the moment—Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane—and we’re still doing a lot testing as well. We’re testing our product, which areas of the market are the most under-serviced, and other things surrounding the business model like pricing. We’re also trying to work out the best way to expand the type of shoots we go after, as far as adding more premium options to the platform. For the time being, we’re really focused on owning the Australia market, but if things go well here, we’ll definitely look to expand overseas.
Moments later, Schiller called me back to answer the question of why three “Snappr photographers” claimed to have never worked with the company.
“I just spoke with our office manager, and he thinks that, without knowing the names of the people, that those were people accepted to the platform but haven’t finished their on-boarding yet, so they haven’t been given a job,” he said.