Tag Archives: Photo booth

How Not to Ask For a Favour

I wrote a post for today, wanting to link to this article, but I realized it was on my old blog. It’s pretty good, so I decided to repost and save the new one for next week!

I am not ashamed of saying I’ve ask (and received) what I would assume is more than the average number of favours in my life. Through volunteering and working for charities, along with having a support network of people with many more skills than I have, I am never afraid to ask for something.

Conversely I have been asked to perform many favours, which have had varying levels of success. Owning a pretty cool service business and being known as someone who volunteers a fair amount has apparently allowed people to feel as though approaching me may benefit them one way or another. I always appreciate the interest, regardless of whether or not I help out, and make my appreciation clear to the asker.

Usually whether I am asking or being asked there is a mutual level of respect and if the answer is “yes” or “no” we part ways with pretty much the same relationship we had before. However, in the past couple weeks there have been a couple instances where I have really not appreciated the way which I was asked to do a favour. Here’s some background and a recount of them:

Charity

Operating a business focused on events leaves the door open to a fair number of charitable asks for in-kind service donations. It’s my policy that I will support one charity per year (the slot is filled and I don’t see it opening). It’s not like I’m not open to helping anything else out, but it would have to be something very dear to me.
I thought this was a good policy and have told other charities something to this effect, adding I will keep their information on file and contact them if anything changes, which I honestly will. Most seemed understanding of this and having worked in the industry (charity) I can assure you it’s not an uncommon response to get, if not on the polite side.

Recently I was approached by an individual from an event committee about doing an event. I sent them the above response and took down their information for my files. A week or so later I get a follow-up email asking if I would reconsider, thank you for asking, but no. This is when it got squirely.

The next message I had articles attached and a link to a video showing (without giving too much away) how much the people this charity supports needs the charity. I responded back saying that I never thought the cause wasn’t a good one, but I am currently not looking for any other cause to support. I can honestly say I did my best to be polite.

While I appreciate the passion for the cause, I don’t appreciate being harassed. If another message comes back I think that I’m forced to find a supervisor or someone else at the charity to bring into the situation, hoping they can mitigate it.

Personal Favours

A shorter story, again about the business, I was approached by someone I know to see if I would work an event for them. I want to point out that this is a for-profit event, where they are making money. Also I don’t know this person very well and haven’t spoken to them in months.

They asked (via text) if I would be willing to donate the photo booth for this event. I responded thanking them for the interest but declining, to which I received NOTHING. No, “Thanks anyway!” or “Oh well, hope you can still make it out,” or “K.” Complete radio silence.

This I find even more annoying than the previous situation, because at least charity lady proved that she is legitimately interested in my product. The no response proves to me that my decision was right, as they were just trying to use me.

As a somewhat related note, don’t try and sell me on setting up an event for free because it will be “good exposure.” Do you know what else is good exposure? Events that people pay me for.

I’m going to end this saying that 99.9% of the time when someone asks me for help it’s very nice, respectful and considerate. I appreciate it and get good feeling knowing I can provide some sort of benefit to a fellow human. I just wanted to throw these two stories out there to see if anyone else has had a similar experience and as a cautionary tale.

Product Planning

Confession time: The beginning of the company was pretty hasty. I wrote about our sorted history a little while ago, but to give you the cheat sheet for the purposes of this article, we basically took our first booking before we have a product and threw something together in about a week or so. Turns out it worked then and since, because we’ve not done over 100 events and don’t have a complaint yet.

Now it’s time for growth and we have to backtrack a bit. What I’m learning is a little planning goes a long way when it comes to product development. Not that what we had made isn’t perfectly fine for what we are using it for, but if we had thought through our growth process before hand we would likely be a bit further ahead from where we are now.

Since I truly hope to be a part of this process again, there are a few things that I have taken away from this experience that I will be sure to consider:

Determine the first iteration’s limitations.

As I said, the first version of the program is more than fine for what we’re using for it now, but it definitely has some limitations as soon as we want to do anything else. We probably would have known this when first building it, but honestly didn’t see the forest for the trees. We know what we wanted and didn’t think about what we may want in the future, which leads us to…

Have an improvement / growth plan.

Especially in the world of technology, as soon as your product is released the countdown has started to when it becomes obsolete. Knowing this, it is important to start working on the next version as soon as you can, and even better if you can plan a few versions ahead.

A common statement from Apple worshipers that the company already has the next 2 – 10 years worth of products in the pipeline. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true. Not only that, but companies like that can very purposefully phase update releases in order to maximize consumer engagement and purchase cycles.

For us, there are some things that need to happen before the company can really enter a strong growth phase, so that’s what we’re doing.

Know when to abandon.

This is a little more out there, because I don’t think we’re at this place yet. Saying that, the cycle be 5, 10, 100 or 1000 years, but eventually every product will reach the end of it’s life. Being able to predict and plan for this can mean continuing to capitalize on the market you hold before it’s too late, or be able to make the appropriate plans to ensure that the business continues beyond the flagship project.

Are We Too Trusting?

This may be slightly odd coming from me, considering Snap It is in the business of taking people’s photos and posting them online. I have to say, though, that being said I honestly try my best to protect privacy. At the very least inform everyone that their picture is being posted online.

The reason this has been top of mind for me for the greater part of a week, is for a situation relating to my business. The details aren’t important, the Cole’s Notes being that someone who was at an event I worked was inquiring as to why the photos aren’t available online for that particular event. Reason being, the person who booked/paid me asked for them not to be.

In this situation the caller understood there was nothing I could/would do about it and was going to speak with the individual who made the booking to see if their mind could be changed. Out of the experience, what stuck with me is that in a short amount of time it seems to have come to the point where our society has few inhibitions about putting personal things up online. To the point where when it isn’t put up, the person who decided to keep the photos private’s judgement is in question.

This got me thinking of what I can only assume is the Facebook effect. The practice of posting pictures online and letting our “friends” browse at their leisure. This seems to be the most efficient way of doing this (and the fact we need to find efficient ways to interact with “friends” deserves it’s own post) and thanks to years of it happening, more and more private items are being thrown onto the web without a second thought.

To me this is terrifying. Not only for myself, knowing that I have done and said things that should never make it to the internet, but for younger people. At least I was part of the last generation to grow up without social media, so I think twice before sharing certain things. For the kids that are getting Facebook at age 6, I have great concern.

I’m no developmental psychologist, but I would have to assume that the gravitation toward the computer being the primary point of “human” interaction is doing some crazy things to children’s social maturity. Even seeing things that younger family members are putting on Facebook (people who I would definitely classify as quite intelligent) has me worried for them.

The fact of the matter is most kids under the age of 16 (and even much older) aren’t worrying about the long term effects of their actions. They haven’t been properly taught that what gets put online is there forever and could have a major effect on their lives later on. Whether it’s a picture of them doing something illegal, bullying they’re taking part in, an off coloured joke, or any number of things, someone will find it later on.

All I know is that I’m glad that I don’t have to be making tough decisions on what to let one’s kids do and not do online. Even then, you are still at the mercy of their friends and what they put online. In the meantime I’m going to keep protecting the privacy of others when I can, and hope everyone else will do the same.

You’ve Got to Roll With It

Not to go into too many details, but there was a caution sent to a group of possible clients for my business. I think that the caution was done hastily and the issuer was uninformed, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

Regardless, I made the choice to address the, not completely invalid, concerns. My response can be found on my company’s website. It is at the bottom left corner.

I’m sure that things like this happen all the time and I’m a little tired of thinking and writing, so I’m going to keep it short. There’s always going to be obstacles, so get over it and solve the problem. Anything else is a waste of time and annoying. Boom.

Keeping Control

I’ve been struggling back and forth for a while now about a feature I want to add to the business. It’s nothing major, but has a better-than-average possibility of creating additional revenue, while still staying in line with our key value proposition. The only issue that I’m finding right now is that I don’t know to what extent this feature should be outsourced.

On the one hand, at some point it is going to need to be sent to a third party. Buying the equipment to create the final product would be expensive and sending it out to someone who knows what they’re doing is far more preferable. The questions are, at what point should the third party company be involved in the process and how much involvement do I have?

One the one side, there is a ease of allowing the vendor more access. There is less administration on our side, essentially letting them do all the organization. Is that a good thing, though? I’m not sure that a little bit of extra admin time is the worst thing in the world, if we are the ones controlling the flow of information and also don’t become too integrated with one supplier.

What this comes down to, for me and I’m sure others, is at what point the need to control outweighs the desire for convenience. In that last sentence I chose my wording very carefully, for this reason: Something being convenient is nice, but if we don’t have the level of control we are comfortable with it’s a deal-breaker.

While it has come to my attention multiple times in the past that I may be a bit of a control freak (just try and cook with me some time), I like to think that I’m not too far off from a great deal of other people. It’s human nature, though. We first learn to trust ourselves, so trusting someone else may take a leap of faith.

Unless it’s someone I know and respect, I have three rules about relying on others: 1) They are lazy. 2) They don’t understand me. 3) They don’t care about be. It sounds harsh, but often that seems to be the reality. If I think there is any chance that the person doing the work for me will have to take some extra initiative or take time to learn something, I tend to shy away from using their services.

While there are some people that those rules don’t apply to, they are few and far between. Even then, communicating what you need in the simplest terms possible and frequent follow ups is important. And at that point, have you even achieved more convenience?

While the debate will still wage on in my head, writing this post has actually done wonders in making my thoughts more clear. Since this addition lines up with our core mandate, it should be a core competency as well. Unless a third party can prove that they will serve our customers to the same level we hold ourselves to, then the convenience isn’t worth it.

Woe of the First Mover

It’s tough introducing a new product to a market. I’ve been part of it in a few different ways, as well as can see that happen every day from my office, as we share a floor with Peg City Car Co-op. No matter how you slice it, it is hard.

What may be even harder is when you are finally successful, seeing the people who come in as followers. Those who can waltz in and make slight changes to improve your product. Maybe they even don’t improve it. It could be an exact copy, but odds are you don’t have 100% market penetration at the time and they took advantage.

As a bit of an aside, recently I have found out that some of my competition has decided that looking through the events I have done and calling them to undercut me is a good idea. I have my own thoughts on price being your USP,but as much as I don’t think it’s a good long-term strategy, it is unfortunately effective in the near term. Good thing for me that my clients decided to stay with the winner!

Underhanded tactics like that are really what make me cringe. Not only are these people relying on you introducing the concept to the market, but they then move from figuratively following you moves, to literally trying to work with your clients. As much as I’m a “the pie is big enough to share” type of guy, things that like just get me angry.

Rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself, though, there are some things that you can do to keep your status as first mover and use it to your advantage. I have a few thoughts and are sure there are more:

  1. Serve your clients. Not only will this secure you as their provider, it will likely lead to some referrals. Especially in a business like mine, almost every event I do leads to another one.
  2. Improve your product past what they have done. Since you have already worked out the kinks in your process, you can start looking ahead. Rather than trying to compete head-to-head with the new company, get better and leave them in your dust.
  3. Don’t bash your competition. This one may be hard to do, but there is usually nothing worse than hearing one competitor bash another. The world is too small and things get back to people. Besides, do you really want to talk about them if you don’t have to?
  4. Plan your exit strategy while the getting’s good. If it’s looking like the competition is really heating up and you don’t want to put in the effort to beat them, then get out. Since the market is getting hot, hopefully you can cash out at the peak and watch all the other suckers rip one another apart.

Like I said, there are many other strategies, but those would be my go-to. The major take-away is that no company operates in a vacuum, so competition is inevitable. It is how we deal with that competition that makes us truly strong business owners.

The Snap It Memories Story

This is a departure from my usual format, in the sense that it is not some thinly-veiled story about something that happened in my life, rather it is an overt story. The other major difference is that this story is not being written because I’m mad or frustrated. Instead it is because it’s something that’s sort of neat that has happened in my life and I’m proud of it.

Snap It Memories is a company that I currently own and operate, along with Paulo Fernandes and James Eichele. After some prodding from Paulo (who is a huge fan of this blog, by the way), here is the story of how that came to be.

In the spring of 2010 I was graduating from Asper and didn’t quite know what I was going to do after school. My majors, which I have a real interest in, were marketing and entrepreneurship, which to an accounting major may as well be Unemployment Studies. None-the-less, not only was entrepreneurship one of my majors, but I also had (and have) a strong desire to own my own business.

As a sometimes planner and frequent attendee of large social events, I was always on the lookout for unique elements to add to an event. Enter the photo booth. While in Ontario for a conference I saw the set up that inspired Snap It and thought, “I can do that better.”

The only problem is that while I was in love with the idea, I don’t have the technical skills to pull it off. After exploring a few options, I was starting to get discouraged, because the booths available on the market were pretty expensive and I didn’t know if it was worth purchasing. Enter Paulo.

I had met Paulo, a graduate of computer engineering and current web / graphic designer, through a mutual friend a few months earlier. When talking to this friend about my idea he suggested that I contact Paulo and see if he had any interest in joining forces. After an initial meeting, Paulo was in and suggested that James (another computer engineer, who specializes in programming) join the conversation. From there the team was born.

Once word got out about us starting this business, we actually booked our first gig almost immediately! Definitely before we even knew exactly how we were going to pull-off the building of the booth. With a 2 week deadline (and me still in exams) we got to work on spec’ing out the booth, registering a company, programming software, building a brand and basically flying off the seat of our pants. Somehow we were able to pull it off (along with me graduating) and we set off to our first booking: My own university graduation.

After a few first time setup pains, we were ready to rock and released it to the masses. The result is that the booth was used more than 150 times over 4 hours (which, believe me, is a good stat) and was a huge success! We now had a business.

From there we have made some improvements, had some pains, and grown along the way. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been fun. Here are some quick “napkin stats”:

  • We have done over 80 events.
  • A conservative estimate would put that at around 360 hours of running time.
  • Over 45,000 photos have been taken in the booth.
  • About 1/3 of our business is repeat customers, in an industry that is not built for repeat customers (this is my favourite stat).
  • Well over half of new bookings have either seen the booth in action or were referred by a friend.

Since starting, we have continued to grow in the face of the concept losing some novelty and a growing competition base. Now we’re looking forward to implementing our future plans! We’re not done growing yet and I couldn’t ask for two better partners to do this with. Their skill, along with my luck, gives me an energy and optimism that there are more good things to come in the future.

Special Thanks:

There are some people who helped out during that start-up phase. They are…
Scott M – For introducing me and Paulo.
Matt F – For letting us use his basement / house / tools for the build and testing.
Mike G – For helping me with transport when I had no other options.

When Things Go Wrong

I had to get in a bit of a Zen place to write this post, I have to admit. A couple of weeks ago I don’t think I would have had the mental strength to talk about this. Now, though, I am ok to admit: My business isn’t perfect.

In the middle of February we had a few issues come up that had me more than a little stressed out. First, there was a hosting issue with our website at an inopportune moment. Nothing huge and it was all ok in a few days, but the timing was the worst. My amazing partners had to find a work-around and luckily did in time.

Then, there was an issue with the hard-drive of my computer. After a not-so-hot event where I was stressed beyond reason for the night, the next day, again, my partners and I had to come up with an alternate set-up  Thank goodness it worked and it’s good knowledge to have in the future, but was still not a fun 48 or so hours.

I am saying all of this, because this is honestly the two most major issues we have had with the business to date. I am glad to say that we overcame, but it was not fun and got me thinking. The first thing is we now have some backups in place that weren’t there before, which is awesome. The second thing is that there really isn’t any second line of defence if something goes wrong. In a small business like ours, the buck stops with us!

While ownership and control is a very liberating thing when it comes to decision making (who doesn’t want more autonomy?), on the flip side it is a little terrifying. There is no one else who’s fault it is if we don’t come up with a solution. What’s more, is we’re too small to have a good enough reputation that the business is invincible to a few unsatisfied customers. Thankfully it didn’t come to that, but Winnipeg’s too small a place to have your reputation brought into question.

Always trying to be the optimist, I am taking this as a learning experience. First, that asking for help is a good thing. I have a tendency to wait to do everything myself and never rely on others. If I had tried to do that this time, I would have failed miserably.

Second thing is that we need to have some more formal backups in place. It’s all well and good to be able to cobble something together that the customer doesn’t know is any different, I would prefer to use my Sundays in the future for something other than freaking out about whether or not it will work. While I now have a solid “informal” backup, I think it is prudent to put a better procedure in place.

Lastly, it was a bit of a confidence boost. The worst happened and we managed to overcome. Being able to say that reaffirms my belief in the business, the team and myself. At the end of the day, that may be the most important part of owning a business.

Keeping Your Mind Entrepreneurial

Before we get into this, I want to put a few things on the table. Number one being I don’t think I’m some amazingly accomplished entrepreneur. This isn’t a “I’m successful, here’s how you can be successful too,” type of thing, because I’m not successful. Yet.

The second thing is I don’t fully prescribe to the thought that things like entrepreneurship, leadership, sales, etc. are things that are inherently within us and can’t be taught. That’s just the talk of people who want to be special or those who are too lazy to learn about a subject having an excuse to give up. There are certain personality traits that are more suited for certain paths and if your personality lines up with your actions you will be happier in life, but that can be said about anything. In my opinion there is never anything stopping you from learning the same things that the “gifted” in a certain field know, the only thing holding you back from applying them is yourself.

Last thing is, the more that I work with different people the more I realize that the definition of entrepreneur is never anything that can be nailed down. Some think of successful billionaires, or a convenience store owner, or a lowly photo booth operator (sorry, I had to). A rough attempt at trying to convey my current definition (and it changes) is that an entrepreneur is “a person who is able to see an opportunity that most overlook and take the necessary action to capitalize on it.” I find it necessary to point out that my definition has nothing to do with owning a company, and firmly believe that most, if not all, organizations have entrepreneurship in them. And if an organization doesn’t, they should go out and get some.

All right, now that the preamble is done, on to the meat:

As I stated above, I believe that we can all learn to be, and benefit from being, a little more entrepreneurial. I don’t have all the answers, but this is something that I actively think about every day. I have come up with a few things that I try to do in order to keep my mind spinning in the right direction, so to speak. Playing sports all my life I know that practice makes you better, and that practice usually doesn’t mean being in a game situation. It’s working on individual skills that will serve you well when you get your big opportunity. Similarly with these exercises, I don’t have to rush out and actually take action or start a business. It’s just good to keep the mind sharp.

1. Is there a gap? Whenever I hear about some sort of change in the market or observe behaviour that is obviously frustrating, I try to think of the existing gaps that could be filled with a new product. I like doing this because it has me thinking of two opposite ends of spectrum. Thinking of how to ease change for people, or how to change their lives.

2. How can I monetize that? Hate to say it, but this is a big part in creation. I wish that I was an academic and was able to get huge grants for my ideas, but no such luck yet. Anything that I do has to make money and therefore I’m always trying to determine how money can be made. I find it very interesting because it’s really all about psychology more than anything.

3. How would someone else see it? I’m a consumer that represents a subset of one group (cheap mid-20s male) and therefore I’m not the ideal consumer for many successful products. Just because I’m not the ideal consumer for a particular product, it doesn’t mean I can’t invent / sell it. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a tough one for me (because I’m so egotistical), so it’s the one I try to focus on the most.

4. Write things down. I have a little book that is usually around me and when I have an idea about anything I write it down, so I can look at it later. This is for a few reasons. First is that I have a one-track mind. If I start thinking about something that I find interesting, I’ll never get anything done. Having the peace of mind that it’s written down lets me get back to the task at hand. Second, once you stop thinking about something consciously your subconscious takes over and I find often when I revisit something I wrote I have a number of new thoughts relating to it, without trying! Oh, and when I say I write everything down, I mean everything, not just ideas for businesses. If it distracts me more than 5 minutes, it gets in the book.

5. Having a creative outlet. This is something I have been thinking about more and more. My thought process is that our thoughts are constrained to thinking a certain way for most of the time. Having some sort of creative outlet lets you express yourself, as well as gets you thinking in a different way than the norm.

6. Do mindless work. You can thank home renos for this one, but I have been loving doing mindless things. When your hands are doing something that doesn’t require much thought, then your mind is free to wander without guilt. Walking, running and other exercises fall into this category for me, too.

At the end of the day, half of what entrepreneurship is about is perception. If you keep your lens in focus and in good shape, then opportunities won’t pass you by!