Photography is an expensive pursuit. As new gear develops and technological standards rise, photographers live in the midst of a perpetual arms race. To remain competitive, photographers must continually invest in better glass, higher megapixel counts, and cutting-edge gadgetry that seems to be emerging on a daily basis.

This is why Philip and Melissa Niu, co-founders of startup, Parachut, saw an opportunity to help photographers benefit from access to new gear without committing to a static personal inventory or crippling prices. Parachut offers the best of both worlds—the chance to remain technologically competitive within an affordable pricing structure.  

“We saw a need and we attacked it,” Melissa explained. “We saw the growth of companies like Rent the Runway and their ‘unlimited’ swaps option. Imagine being able to virtually walk into your own warehouse and access what you need, shipped where you need it, for as long as you need it, and return it whenever you need to swap it for something new.”        

To achieve this, Parachut subscribers receive a monthly “Chut Drop” of gear selected from its massive online warehouse, with several tiers of membership options that determine the maximum dollar value of gear allowed per drop. The introductory $99/month level offers up to $750 in gear while the highest tier of $499/month provides up to $7,500 of gear. Subscribers can swap out gear as needed, and subscriptions are month-to-month, allowing photographers to access gear specific to their current needs. There’s also no commitment to maintain a subscription level, so on assignment-heavy months, photographers can select a higher value subscription, then easily pause or reduce their subscription level when things slow down.

“Our culture is driven by these three words: relationships, trust, and creativity.”

In Philip’s previous career leading an international marketing team, he witnessed first-hand how complicated facilitating gear rentals for multiple photographers can be. With rates varying across multiple companies and influenced duration, item value, and shipping location, planning and orchestrating shoot logistics was a nightmare with no realistic alternative. Melissa, on the other hand, a photographer, writer and editor, saw her peers struggling to maintain relevant gear inventories. She noticed her colleagues were cyclically selling and buying gear online to keep up with new advancements—an increasingly losing proposition as gear devalues over time.  

This why the duo decided to rock the established system, favoring flexibility, accessibility, and creativity over all else. As a “relationship driven company,” Parachut offers subscribers not only access to gear, but access to a personal photography expert as well.  

“Each member is assigned a dedicated Parachut Pro that they can text anytime for technical help, recommendations, or specific needs,” they said. “Our Pros get to know their members on an individual basis to really understand their history and individual creative needs. Our Pros are the best at what they do and want each member to feel that they always have someone there to lean on for help.”

In addition to the value of relationships, the founders of Parachut also designed their product around company culture. “Our culture is driven by these three words: relationships, trust, and creativity. Trust is the backbone to a well solidified relationship,” Melissa said. “First and foremost, we want people on our team to know that we trust their talents, therefore allowing them to work and create freely without feeling like someone is looking over their shoulder. Whether you’re a member, a partner, or an employee, you’re so important to us. Each person that comes into the Parachut culture should thrive on trusting our brand and our Pros, thrive on feeling valued, and in turn be completely fulfilled and creative.”  

In order to maintain that standard of trust, subscription is available only by joining a waitlist, in which Parachut vets potential members. “Through several factors,” Philip said, “we verify that potential members are real people and have the ability to contribute to our community and exercise good judgement when using our gear.” It’s a strategy that cuts down on fraud, reduces risks to inventory, and ensures that each member receives the best possible care and attention.   

As the startup continues to expand beyond its current team of eight Salt Lake City-based employees, they’re eyeing expansion into other cities for additional gear hubs, promising faster gear swaps and greater convenience for their members. Philip and Melissa are excited about what they’ve achieved so far, and for the future of their company.  

“We’re building the processes and infrastructure to ensure that access to the tools you need is finally available no matter where you live in the world,” they said. “It’s really exciting to do something in an industry that has never been done before. We get to wake up every morning and forge a new path with new challenges and new problems to solve.”


This story was originally published in “The Fitness Issue” of Resource Magazine. Visit the Resource Shop to pick up a copy.