I co-wrote the Intelligent Fanatics (IF) books with @iancassel
I decided my lowest risk, longest duration, highest returns wouldn’t be found investing in IFs.
They’d be found running my own business.
👇 is a deep 🤿 into how my business started & how the first year went.
This initial thread will be long. Subsequent updates will be weekly and much shorter.
I’ll be calling this series Can I Build This
First, Some Context:
In 2019, I was desperate.
Writing books doesn’t make much money. The IF community we had wasn’t making enough money.
Very little cash flow and little direction was scary. Especially when you have a wife and kid to feed.
To be honest, I was extremely depressed.
I was at my lowest of lows.
There were some dark things going through my head.
It’s virtually impossible to do anything in this head space.
San Francisco 49’s legendary coach Bill Walsh had some advice that helped me:
With the help of a therapist, friends and tons of patience from my wife, I allowed myself to recover. Then I planned on my next steps forward.
So when I say I decided to start a business, it’s more accurate to say I was forced into it.
I mean no one wants to hire someone with a music degree and a bunch of failed startups on their resume.
Nor did I want a “normal” job.
I wasn’t going to give up.
Finding The Right Business
The hardest thing was figuring what business to start.
Richard Branson joked that “Business opportunities are like busses, there’s always another one coming.”
There are so many opportunities out there. Like a radio, one just needs to tune into the right frequency to see all the opportunities right under their nose.
So I tuned in.
My wife had just become a realtor.
I noticed no photographers in my area were strictly focused on the real estate market.
Most agents were using their phones to take pictures.
Initially, I thought I could help give my wife an edge with her marketing - photos, videos, drone & 3D tours.
I believed that would help my wife win more listings. So I wouldn’t offer my services to anyone else.
My therapist, who is also a business coach, poo pooed that idea.
Offer it to everyone or you’ll immediately bring in competition.
As a musician I was well aware of the distaste artists have for business.
Artists, photographers included, don’t want to “sell out”. They care about doing everything themselves. Art for arts sake. Making money is a plus.
And you wonder why artists are poor?
Since I knew nothing about photography, I didn’t have that baggage. I could look at it strictly as a business person.
What a perfect place to operate! No one wants to be IN business.
In my market there were no business minded real estate photographers, but in other places there were.
So I learned everything about their model:
- Low price - work on volume
- High quality
- Fast turnaround
I wanted people to love my service. So I need to provide insanely good customer service. Do things that don’t scale.
Why have people love your service? Well, Brian Chesky of Airbnb recounted Paul Graham’s advice they received when starting:
I lived on YouTube. I learned the basics of photography and videography.
A guy on YouTube has a crash course on the exam to become a drone pilot.
Seriously, we live in the coolest times!
I bought ~$15,000 in equipment and practiced, practiced, practiced.
Thanks $XPEL for funding me :)
I also spent a TON of time making a great website and booking platform.
Immersion Factory was born.
First Customer & Beyond
I went to the largest realtor in my area. I offered to do all of my services for free for their most expensive property.
The realtor was happy and started to hire me to do other shoots.
Since I live in a big college town, there are tons of rentals. So I joined the association for landlords. I became a sponsor.
I presented in front of 40 landlords. My pitch centered around virtual tours. Their target market, millennials, live online. So this would be perfect marketing for them, especially those that live internationally.
Same thing from realtors.
It was a pretty hard sell.
Then COVID happened. I couldn’t work for 1.5 months. I was so eager to get back out to work as my services promote social distancing.
When I was able to work again I started to get contacted by a few people.
Luck does prefer the prepared. Customers could book online. I already had my process down. I was always on time. I could deliver next day.
I under promised & over delivered.
One customer turned into 4, turned into 10, and so on.
“So and so said you are phenomenal,” is usually what I hear from new customer.
Word of mouth drives my business.
The wonderful thing about this business is the amount of extra time I have to do what I want. I’m starting a business called Inspīr 3D Wallart soon. I still have time for family.
$82,552.62 in revenues (includes 1.5 months of $0 revenue)
- 68 customers
- 88% of customers >2 bookings
- 92% customers acquired via word of mouth
- 8% customers acquired via marketing
- 550 hours spent doing work
It has literally just been me so far. Now it is time to scale.
The real estate photographer market is ridiculously fragmented.
My goal is to replicate my model in other markets and dominate a much larger portion of the overall market.
Can I Build This ☝️
Keys to success:
- Maintaining culture in a decentralized fashion
- Incentivizing operators appropriately
- Teaching & Leading