Lessons From Loupedeck on Making It in the Photo Industry
Over the last few years, the photography industry has been growing quite steadily. With the advent of new technologies and price-accessible equipment, more and more people are choosing the photography industry. Smartphones have also played a significant part in the influx of new photographers and creatives.
The limited barriers to entry and income potential make the industry very appealing for many people. The photography industry also appeals to people looking for more fulfillment in the work they do. There’s something quite wonderful about creating your own work of art.
Over the next few years, the photography industry is projected to go beyond $110 billion overall. The question is: how do photographers, from a financial perspective, make the most of this growing industry?
To try and answer this relatively important question, I met with a startup company called Loupedeck, which is based in Helsinki, Finland.
Full disclosure: My travel and accommodation to visit Loupedeck was paid for by the company.
Who Is Loupedeck?
If you haven’t already browsed through their website and “About Us” page here’s a brief overview of the company. Essentially Loupedeck is a hardware company that produces an editing console. Their current product the Loupedeck Plus offers you physical dials and buttons for Lightroom, Premiere Pro and even Capture One to some extent.
This is great for people who want a more tactile approach to editing images. In my experience, using hardware to edit tends to not only increase your productivity but also allows you to be more precise and effective. Loupedeck is a relatively new company that’s experienced a lot of success in a very short space of time. Understanding how they’ve managed this can, in my view, provide some extremely useful lessons for photographers.
The Success Story
Developing a successful business in any industry is no small feat. Developing a successful business in manufacturing and hardware presents its own unique challenges and what Loupedeck have achieved is nothing short of impressive. Like me, many of us who know of Loupedeck may be tempted to believe that they built their business on the back of a crowdfunding website. This isn’t entirely true and discussing this with their CEO Mikko Kesti, I was surprised to learn that websites like Indiegogo are mostly used to determine product viability.
Understanding if there is a market for the product you’re producing, is really important and crowdfunding websites are a fantastic way to realize this. Even before we start looking at the actual crowdfunding campaign, building a working prototype was the first step. The first prototype, which was essentially just a dial, was developed by ex Nokia engineers. The cost of this was around $3,300 which was paid for by Kesti. This was money that Kesti had earned and saved himself.
Developing the prototype was the first and fundamental requirement for the business to work. With this, Kesti sought help from a government organization called Business Finland. With a grant of around $57,000, Kesti could not only develop a fully working Loupedeck device that looks very similar to what we know now but he also had almost enough funds to market the product on Indiegogo. I say ‘almost’ because a further $18,000 was required in order to make the campaign a reality.
Kesti had to sell almost all of his assets including his car in order to raise this amount. With a family and a young child at the time, this was quite the risk to undertake. In essence, the stakes were very high at the time and failure would have been catastrophic for him and his family. The Indiegogo campaign required help and this came from a marketing company called Miltton, which is based in Finland.
This is also where he met one of the co-founders, Felix Hartwigsen who at the time was working for Miltton. The materials required for the Indiegogo campaign needed to be completed within 4 weeks, which is difficult, to say the least. Fortunately, with Miltton and Hartwigsen’s experience, this was completed and the campaign was a success.
What Indiegogo did for Loupedeck was prove the concept and demonstrated a market for the product. Although they had raised more than $400,000 on the platform, further funding was required and with the help of his mentor Janne Jormalainen, Loupedeck were able to raise this from investors. Although the money from Indiegogo was useful, the majority of it was already claimed for by the people who backed the campaign. That money was predominantly set aside to cover the cost of manufacturing those particular units.
The campaign itself put Kesti in a position where he was able to attract investors to his business. Investors like Jormalainen not only provided much needed financial assistance but, also provided a wealth of experience and know how to ensure the business was successful. Once the campaign had been completed, Kesti also offered a position to Hartwigsen because he recognized the need to have good people on board. Hartwigsen’s abilities when it comes to marketing were obviously crucial for the company.
Recently, Loupedeck moved to a new office location because the company has grown very quickly in the last two years. They’ve hired more staff, their initial device has been refined and, new products are currently in development. Loupedeck has come a long way since the initial prototype two and a half years ago.
What Can We Learn from This?
I find it to be pretty incredible how Loupedeck has gone from being just an idea in the mind of someone passionate about photography to being a successful and rapidly growing business. I’m really interested in the business side of photography and I think it’s valuable to understand the industry especially if you’re looking to develop your own business.
Kesti put everything he had into Loupedeck because he believed in it and It paid off. Belief is the first step — if you don’t believe in something yourself, then what’s the point? Lack of belief also prevents conviction or certainty about what you’re doing or what you want to do. This makes it difficult to plan effectively or put into motion any ideas you may have. A book that I strongly recommend that discusses this in detail is, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
For one reason or another many of us feel this inane desire to do everything by ourselves. Maybe it’s because we want all of the credit and all of the rewards. Or it could be because we don’t work well in a team, or can’t deal with other ways of doing things. I too have had to deal with this and it’s something I continue to work on because I understand just how ridiculous it is. Even if you are capable of doing everything yourself, the number of tasks you can complete in any given amount of time is still limited.
Kesti describes how Loupedeck would never have been successful without the team that made it happen. Individual expertise and experiences are always going to be relatively limited when compared to a team of experts. Working with people like Hartwigsen or Pauli Seppinen who is head of product development was and still is crucial for the business.
For us photographers and creatives, choosing who we work with can have an immense impact. Even for example who you choose to assist on a shoot, or which make-up artist you pick. The team you develop and get to know are extremely important and being able to pick the right people and cultivate that team can help produce incredible results.
Any excuse that you may feel tempted to use about why or how you can’t work with other people needs to be put to rest immediately. The benefits of having a good team of people far outweigh any of the potential negatives. Of course, this does not mean you start working with anyone and everyone. Being selective is important too and with time we can learn to be better at picking the best people for the job.
Having a business mentor was quite possibly the most valuable thing I’ve had to date. Kesti agrees with me on this too and strongly recommends having a mentor like what he has in Jormalainen. I personally recommend having a primary mentor that’s not in the same industry as you. This helps give a fresh perspective, new ways of doing things and, can help to develop ideas that you may not have previously thought of.
I’ve personally found it relatively easy to find mentors too. This is purely because many successful individuals actually enjoy mentoring and are actively looking for potential mentees. I’ve had several moments were simply asking someone for advice has turned into them becoming my mentor for a period of time. It’s not always long-term, but the wisdom and knowledge I’ve managed to gain from them have always been incredible. I’d also recommend a little vigilance when seeking out a mentor too although in my experience I haven’t had any negative outcomes so far.
Investing everything you have into a business can be extremely daunting. I imagine Kesti was on edge at the time when he sold almost everything to fund Loupedeck. The thing I notice here is that even with that fear and uncertainty, Kesti still went ahead with his plan.
Fear is something that we all feel and although I don’t personally recommend you invest everything you have into something. But if you feel strongly enough about it, maybe you should? If you’re really passionate about something and you’re letting fear cripple you, then I strongly recommend you start following someone called Gary Vaynerchuck. I also strongly recommend that you recognize the fact that fear may be holding you back.
For the most part, we’re afraid of failure or we’re afraid of how people will look at us if we fail. This is illogical because most people have little to no bearing on your life. Any decision we make that’s based on fear is probably the wrong one.
As discussed above, the photography industry is growing and Loupedeck as a company recognized this. From a macro perspective, the creative industry is a rather niche industry, however, this in itself provides certain benefits. A niche industry helps you focus your offerings and goals. This is why I think the photography industry is primed for photographers and other creatives to develop products and offer other services too.
Photographers have a unique perspective of the industry and workflow, therefore have an advantage when it comes to knowing what can help improve it. Kesti is a perfect example of someone who enjoyed photography and came up with a product that helps with common workflows. He, as a photographer, understood the need for a tactile way of editing and made it a reality.
The majority of the money being generated in the industry is not by photographers themselves but by companies that operate within the industry. For the most part, these are companies that sell products or services to photographers. This is not a bad thing by any means, it’s simply important to appreciate or understand. It also demonstrates the viability of the industry for anyone looking to develop a new product or offer new services. There are plenty of opportunities for fellow creatives to generate income in this growing industry.
Advice from Loupedeck
I always like to ask people for advice and the staff at Loupedeck were kind enough to offer some of their thoughts.
The main piece of advice I received from Kesti was about making sure you’re surrounded by talented and capable people. Picking the right people to work with essentially determines whether you’re successful or not. One of the main reasons so many crowdfunding projects fail is due to a lack of experience. Kesti understood he wasn’t experienced enough to develop a hardware manufacturing business, so therefore he found his mentor Jormalainen. Kesti also offered a position to Hatwigsen due to his experience in marketing. A company is nothing more than the people within it, and for that reason, it’s imperative you pick the right people.
The advice I received from Jormalainen was once again around people. As an angel investor, he gets the opportunity to discuss plenty of ideas with plenty of people and it’s not normally the idea that sparks his interest but the person themselves. The question Jormalainen asks himself is, can this individual execute this idea, can they make it happen? Ideas are worthless, execution is everything and the person is who makes it happen. Once again, the people you work with is extremely important.
The final bit of advice I received was from Hartwigsen. You may notice a theme here because all of the advice I received discussed people, individuals and teams more than anything else. Hartwigsen describes how pro-actively building networks of professional individuals and customers is extremely useful. I completely agree with this and have personally found it to be extremely useful and rewarding.
You can’t work with people you’re not aware of, or I should say it’s probably very difficult. I attend events that are specific to the business that I’m in. For example, flying out to Finland to meet Loupedeck only occurred because I met them at Photokina. Prior to attending Photokina and meeting them this year, I didn’t know anyone at the company. I’m now fortunate enough to have met some incredible people who I find to be very inspiring.
The main thing I took away from my discussion with Kesti was that he took advantage of all the resources and opportunities available to him. Even though he didn’t have the capital himself to develop this business, he put forward whatever he could and then used that to leverage other funding options. From the initial $3,300 that he put in from his own pocket to being able to raise almost $1.8 million from investors after the Indiegogo campaign.
This is incredible and I believe it should be something we not only celebrate but also learn from. There are plenty of opportunities within the photography industry and it’s important not to get bogged down by the negativity that circles around on occasions.
Some of you may shun the idea of doing anything other than photography but I strongly believe that it’s important to diversify. As a strategy, putting all of your eggs in one basket may work for someone like Warren Buffet, however, he’s considered by many as the exception to the rule. For the vast majority of us, diversifying your offerings is a much better option. We know the photography industry is changing and it will continue to change. Areas within the industry that offer great income potentials may dry up very quickly and if you’re not prepared, you’ll be left with a bunch of excuses.
Even Loupedeck is looking to diversify their offering. They don’t want to rely on a single product and therefore aim to provide more products to a wide range of creatives. For photographers, diversifying doesn’t need to mean that you start a manufacturing business. Diversifying may simply mean not to rely solely on photography as a way of generating income.
There are plenty of ways to diversify your offering without negating your brand message. For example, how many photographers sell prints of their artwork. This is a very obvious and subtle way to diversify what you offer. How many of us offer workshops or teach beginner photographers that want to learn? Ultimately, there are plenty of opportunities available and I think we should all take advantage of them.
If we don’t someone else will.