Andrew: Hey, they’re freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Up until recently, I was doing this all from San Francisco and then we moved to Austin, which has been a nice transition as we’re moving from Airbnb to Airbnb.
People are hearing different atmospheres and my guests are seeing different backdrops today, though. I’m outside of our current place because, uh, our kid’s teacher has. And so they can’t get a replacement teacher in. And so the kids will have been off school. The class is completely closed and we decided to bring them over to our house.
So my son has some company and Keren, they went wild. They started going into the neighbor’s yards picking up all. It’s just been,
Keren: Can only imagine.
Andrew: So like there’s so much energy there. And we finally checked in with their parents and said, can we just do a video? And all the parents said, if that’s what it takes, yes.
Please just do a video. And so I just left the house and I’m letting them watch a video and I’m sitting outside. What’s actually beautiful out. And I’m going to do this more often. Just sit out here a lot more.
Keren: You’re lucky that you can be outside. It’s so cold where I am. So I’m a little jealous.
Andrew: Where are you now?
Keren: I’m just outside New York city, uh, in.
Andrew: Cool. That’s where, uh, I grew up. That’s where I spent a large amount of my time and yes, I, I hear you about the inability to be outside. My sister said, why don’t you come back to New York? And I said, last night, we were just sitting as we were doing FaceTime. I was sitting by a fire outdoors in the middle of winter.
I that’s why I’m not going back to New York.
Keren: it sounds so good. So jealous.
Andrew: Uh, but I’m Keren, I’m super impressed with what you’ve been doing, um, with the loop. The way that I understand it is I see the photography is obviously a bigger and bigger part of how products communicate online, where. What I’ve noticed though, is that a lot of people are either using the same drawing images today, instead of photography, the ones that notion like popularized.
And so they’re all kind of copying that, or they’re using the same stock photography sites and you’ve worked for some, so not to put them down. I think they have their place, but if I understand it right, what the loop does is say. How do we get something that’s more customized? And if you can’t get out there into the rest of the world to take those more customized photos, we’ll get you a photographers to shoot the photos that are on brand that will make your brand look right and feel connected.
And we’ll send it over to you. That’s the way it works. Right.
Keren: Yeah, exactly. We are helping brands and a lot of large enterprises get custom content that’s on brand that feels unique. As their brand values, their colors, their look, and feel that really connects with their audience and their users because stock photography has its place. But often there’s a there’s you need more than that.
You need something to feel really special and to help you stand out. And the way to do that is to create custom content for your brand, with professionals. So that’s another important thing to call out is all the photographers in the loop are professional experience photographers. This is not their first rodeo.
Andrew: So I’d like to get an example, but first I should say this interview is sponsored by, uh, Gusto, the company that I signed up for to pay my team and by lemon, the company where anyone can go and hire developers, I’ll talk about those later, but maybe you can talk about Peloton, you and I discussed how they’re a client of yours.
Why do they need you? They’ve got, they’ve got photographers. Don’t they? They could hire them.
Keren: So yeah, you know, Peloton and a lot of these companies can go number of ways in terms of getting, uh, content for their brand hiring photographers, using influencer agencies, but brands like Peloton come to the loop because they want high quality content. Of their members of people around the country or around the world, that really feels unique in his own brand and shows their product in use.
So whether it’s a product Peloton or store restaurant for sweet green, we will send our professional photographers wherever they need to be, or have them create content at home for those brands. So it feels localized, unique, and custom to each brand.
Andrew: You know, and so I use a competitor of Peloton and what they do is they encourage their. To take photos, which is kind of cool. I like seeing people’s homes, but lady, these places are a mess. I don’t understand how a human being could take a, an adult man could take a photo of what, what they call their pain cave, which I dig with.
Like fricking laundry everywhere. Don’t you feel like any sense of embarrassment about like I’m seeing your Schmidt’s in your house and this is why you’re showing off with
Keren: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting that you say that because. People thought at first. Oh, it’s really cool. Like, let’s just have our users, um, take pictures of their homes. Yeah. But, but what you get is the dirty cat litter box or, um, you get laundry on the floor or laundry, uh, you know, on, on a piece of equipment.
You’re not getting that really beautiful, um, yet attainable image that the brands now want. So where they wanted that previously, they thought it was cool. And it was cheap and it was free. Now they’re realizing there’s a need for that professional content. So how do you get the professionals in those homes?
How do you get people out there taking that professional content that doesn’t cut off a product that really shows it in beautiful light, having a professional do it means that you’re going to get, it’s going to be styled. Well, it’s going to be composed. Well, the lighting is going to be good and it’s really going to highlight the product.
Andrew: And pick up your freaking socks, but a bit. And we’re talking about like home photos you do beyond that, right? If somebody just needs a photo internationally or needs a photo with a specific backdrop or specific, uh, design they want to, okay. So let me understand how you got here, because you did work for one of those photography stock photography sites.
You actually worked for like the granddaddy of the whole thing, Corbus, which I didn’t realize until you talked to our producer that was created by bill gates.
Keren: Yes. So I worked for Corbus back in the day. It was one of my first jobs when I moved up to New York and it was really exciting. It was owned by bill gates, um, which meant that there was a lot of money flowing around and you could do some really interesting. Uh, but in the end, Corvus didn’t make it as the agency is consolidated.
It was bought by a company in China, VCG, and now all of that content has actually, um, comes through Getty images. So, you know, a lot of the projects and the content that I worked on back in the day is actually available through Getty. And, you know, it’s, it’s really, it’s really interesting to think about what stock photography did and how much it changed the photo industry.
And then what we’re trying to do today, which is I think a fresh, a more modern take on at all.
Andrew: I remember when the internet was just getting, going as a consumer product there, people didn’t use photography at all. They use clip art because that was available free with so much of their apps. And So, if you look at the early internet websites, they, they were clip art and bad gifts. And then Getty started making their stuff available online, but they were expensive.
One photo might be $75. On the other hand, it’s $75 instead of hundreds of dollars for a photographer. So that was big. And Corbus was one of the companies that was helping to bring this about when you were there, what were you doing for them?
Keren: So, yeah, that’s really interesting. I mean, $75 is actually cheap for one of those images. Back in the day you might pay. To five, $10,000 for an image of clouds. People always talked about that because it was so hard to come by those images. And it would be so hard to hire a photographer, especially in different parts of the country, different parts of the world.
So in the heyday of the stock industry, images were going for tens of
Andrew: When are we talking about here? This is the nineties or.
Keren: The nineties. Yeah. And I, I graduated from college. I started my career in 2001, and that was right at the time where, um, everything was moving from slides. We would be sent transparencies that you’d look at on a light box to select the images or catalogs of images that was being switched over to digital.
So that might be another conversation one
Andrew: talking about going back a little further in your career. This was when you were working in national geographic, is that right?
Keren: at national geographic,
Andrew: tell people how you ended up getting the job in national geographic? That is So freaking inspiring.
Keren: So like many young photographers. I had a dream of working at national geographic, frankly. I didn’t know that many places where you could go work. And, you know, be supported by a company, be supported by a magazine in the photo space. So as a young graduate with a photo degree at a BFA in photography, and I did a BA in American culture from the university of Michigan, where do you go with those degrees?
I just dreamt of national geographic. I didn’t know what that meant, but I wanted to get there and I did everything I could to find a path there. So when I graduated from college, well, where a lot of my friends were going off and working in finance, working in banking, going to law school, I knew I wanted to, to be in the photography industry.
I wasn’t sure how to do it. So national geographic, that was the place for me. I found a one 800 number. This was before, before websites existed, where they’d list all the different jobs and you can have insight and understand the job descriptions that didn’t exist. There was no website for national geographic jobs, but there was a one 800 number and they had a hotline where they would list out all of the available jobs.
I would call that maybe weekly and listened to the different jobs. Nothing was the right fit for me. I figured out somehow, I don’t remember how, but I figured out the different extensions. So I would call that one 800 number and then play around with different extensions. And I would land at different peoples on different people’s phones.
They’d answer. I’d tell them that I was graduating college or I had just graduated and I was looking for a job at national geographic. And to my surprise, people were very friendly and they would talk to me and encourage me. And, and one call led to another call led to another call. I did this quite often.
Uh, eventually I found out that there was a photo. There was an editorial assistant job reporting into the editor and chief for what at the time was called national geographic world later became national geographic. So I applied for that job at the same time that they received my resume. I had asked one of my professors from the university of Michigan to send in a letter of recommendation.
So the other achieve on the same day, he got my resume and a letter of recommendation from a professor. I got a phone call. I flew up there to integrate. And I didn’t get the job, but it makes sense. I was not right for an editorial assistant job, but I met the whole team. And three months later when they needed a photo assistant, I was right for that job.
They called me and I got the job.
Andrew: Wow. I love that persistence. I love that persistence was the job. Did it live up to everything that you hoped it would.
Keren: It was unbelievable. I was in awe every day, walking into that historic building, um, working with the team that I worked with. Writing and elevators with the photographers. I know people like to see celebrities and you get nervous around celebrities. To me, the photographers at national geographic, where my celebrities were, the people that I wanted to meet, the people who I would get nervous riding in an elevator with, and I would work up the courage to talk to them.
It was an unbelievable training ground for me. I was there for four, almost five years and I learned as much as I possibly could and took on every opportunity to be involved and to pitch in any time.
Andrew: Okay. So then you ended up, uh, Corbus then Shutterstock. And these are places where, where photography, stock, photography specifically was getting cheaper and cheaper. How did you realize this is not enough? This is not right. What did you notice that made you say I’ve got to go and start my own company here.
Keren: Yeah, I think after a certain point of time, and I worked at national geographic where photography is really valued, the images, the creators of that content are really valued. I worked for Martha Stewart, where it was all about the image, all about the visuals, all about gorgeous photography. Um, and then as I worked for sock companies, there was a race to the bottom.
With how much somebody would pay for an image and in an industry where they’re saturated with content. So many people creating so much content, you don’t have to pay a lot for that type of content. Uh, but I felt like the creators of that content weren’t valued, they weren’t getting their due. And so what happened and what I was noticing at all of those agencies, It’s companies were springing up that were doing nothing but creating content for stock.
So they had figured out exactly how much content they needed to create on a daily basis on a weekly basis, what types of models to use. They would study the algorithms, understand when they had to upload that content and they were making money at stock creators.
Andrew: We so like there’d be companies that were just living on the Shutterstock platform, hiring photographers, And saying, we are noticing right now that I don’t know. I guess these days it might be face masks in public spaces. In laundromats, in nail salons are popular, go shoot a bunch of those we’ll list them.
And they made money doing that kind of gaming, not gaming the system, but working the system.
Keren: Working the system and, and totally legit, like nothing’s the matter with that. And I would be the person who would often go out and find those companies because those companies were the ones who could create thousands of images at a time, tens of thousands of images over the course of the year.
And those are the companies who are making the money within the stock agencies. So I noticed that. But I always felt a connection to working with individual photographers and helping individual photographers, generate income. And the people who were making money in stock were not the individual photographers.
They were these larger companies.
Andrew: So I looked at those and those larger companies. Do they, do they come across as an individual, like with a face and a name or did they come
Keren: really, it depends on the platform that, that they’re on. They really depends on how they present themselves. Usually. I mean, they’re transparent and you can tell that it’s a company, but sometimes it’ll be a person’s name. It really depends.
Andrew: How much money were they making these.
Keren: You know, these companies can be making tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, if not more, um, across various platforms.
So it’s not just having your content on Shutterstock or Getty. It’s having your content on all of the U S platforms and the international platforms and you multiply that. And then they start to get other photographers supporting those companies. You know, it’s a machine, it’s a machine.
Andrew: Bravo to them for noticing that this was a need in the world and finding a way to capitalize and jump in on it. Okay. And then you were saying, look, this is not the wreckly with the photographer. Can you tell that when something is directly from a photographer, can you tell that.
there’s a different spirit at different?
Can you, as a, as an expert,
Keren: Yes. you definitely can. And especially, I mean, a lot of these companies that are supplying content to the stock industry or Eastern European companies where they can get models for less, where they can, you know, have big warehouses create big studios, they can, they can really build out this machine and it’s cost-effective for them.
Um, Mean, I’ve trained my eye over the years and I’ve looked at so much of this content that I can tell when it’s being created specifically for stock and listen, there is a need for it. You know, traveling for shutter soccer for various jobs, I would travel and I would, you know, come across. In particular, coming across a image on a catalog at a beauty, a pharmacy that was selling beauty products in Spain and recognizing the image, knowing it was from the stock image library at Shutterstock.
Like I knew that image, I knew the creator, so I would train my eye to see these different images. I can look, I worked with, um, a woman who ran a company in the UK and she created, um, she, she called it like the, the hug. It was like a person on top of somebody else. That giving them a backwards hug with a smile.
When I walk into the local CVS here, I see one of her images. I know those pictures because those pictures sell those pictures, make a lot of money. So as you’re somebody in that, in the sock industry, you’re creating for the images that, you know, sell you, study your numbers and you keep creating that content.
It’s a machine and I get it.
Andrew: And as an average user, we don’t, we don’t notice it. as average consumers or occasionally it comes across as something that seems familiar or seems hack, or maybe the most egregious as you might see something like a European plug. When they’re trying to show a coffeemaker in, in, uh, in America, a coffee morning scene in your house in America, and that feels off.
Okay. So you noticed it, how did you know that brands would care? How did you know the end consumers like me who don’t notice much? We’re just passing by Walgreens. We don’t notice. Anything how’d, you know, that we would care enough that there should be about.
Keren: You know, I w when I was at Shutterstock, I created, um, a collection called offset. It was for higher end content cause Shutterstock at the time was really known for lower quality, less expensive content, which. You know, they’ve made an incredible business off that, but they wanted to reach a different clientele, a different audience.
And so when I came in, I helped build a collection called offset, which was really a higher end content content that hadn’t been out there to be licensed before. And as I was going on the sales calls, I would go on the sales calls. I would help train the sales team. I would hear the customer’s needs. I would hear what they want.
I would see the response from the photographers. And I just started to think of. Community. I started to think about brand representation. I started to think about branded content and what that means, and I understood that there was a need for all of this. Um, and so when I left Shutterstock, I had an idea of what it is that I wanted to create, that I realized was missing elsewhere.
Andrew: do you have an example of something that a client said or a conversation that stuck in your mind that made you realize there’s more that’s needed here?
Keren: Um, I th I think from the client perspective, hearing the need for content that was unique, that was special to them because what you would often see is a bank pick any bank in the. Would use an image from stock photography and then they’d find out their competitor was using that exact same image. Right.
So you realize, okay, there is a need one for exclusive content. Um, but two there’s a need for just more content that feels unique to that brand. And I think, again, you know, we’re talking about the content being created for, um, Exercise equipment. Right. And being messy when you’re inside a user’s home. But at the time that’s how they were getting the content.
And I think for a lot of these agencies at the time, they’re getting stock content because it was inexpensive and they could get a lot of it, but they were realizing the need for having custom content that felt more specific to their brand. So I knew that there was always a need for it. It was just a question of how do I get from where I am to that, to be creating that.
Andrew: okay. All right. I want to find out how you did that. I should quickly say that this interview is sponsored by Gusto. It’s the company that I’m using to pay my people. So frankly, I’ll tell you that the people on my team are all 10 99 they’re contractors. I just need an easy way to pay them. And Gusto makes it super easy to do that.
And for them to get paid and to see how much you’re getting paid. But it also works for people who have full-time employees. W2, especially if you’ve got people who are not all localized in the same city, if you need support, Gusto will do all that. It’s inexpensive. It works well. If you’re at all curious, I urge you to go to gusto.com/mixergy.
When use that URL, they’ll let you try it for free. One of the first things you get, as soon as you just enter your contact information, if you give them permission to, they will even schedule a phone call with you. And I’ve got my phone call scheduled with them for tomorrow so that I can make sure that I get that I’m doing everything right.
And I love that there’s a human being. If I could want it to just call them up right now, I could do it. But I prefer to schedule things so that I, um, I can plan out my day better. And so if you’re curious at all, if you want a good way to pay your people, if you want a good way to give them benefits that.
they deserve go to gusto.com/mixergy, M I X E R G Y.
I’m grateful to them for sponsoring. So how did you come up with the idea of like this marketplace approach?
Keren: Yeah. So one of the things that I would hear from photographers at when I was at tender sock was. How incredible it was when I was building off that how incredible it was that they were generating income. And at that point, a lot of income and how it was life-changing money for them. And I really connected with that notion of building something that could then be that impactful to an individual.
So I F I felt like that this is, this is my calling. This is what I want to do. We also started the loop as a community for women photographers. So throughout my career, everywhere I worked, I felt a deep connection to the women creators I was working with. And they were the ones who were always there for me and sending gifts when I had my kids and checking in on me, when I left Shutterstock.
Wanting to know what I was doing next. So I started calling those photographers to see what they thought about joining this idea that I had of community and of custom content and kind of putting those feelers out there. And soon I had 40 people signed up who wanted to support what I was thinking I was going to build, but I wasn’t quite sure.
Andrew: connections, relationships that you’d built up over the years with photographers. Okay. And so they would be willing to be on the plan. It was a great idea by the way, to go to a platform like this, instead of say an agency or, um, I don’t know what.
Keren: There’s there’s artists reps out there who represent photographers. There’s hundreds of them who represent hi. W
Andrew: sitting outside. The one downside is I wonder if someone’s got a beehive around here, because there are bees in this backyard a lot and you could see
Keren: over your head.
Andrew: And I’m such a wuss when it comes to bees or at least distracted by every little thing. And the B is definitely pulling my attention towards it.
And I wanted to acknowledge it.
Keren: Well, if
Andrew: be the best studio.
Keren: if you need to get up and get away from them, be I support that.
Andrew: Oh, you just keep going. I will be here with my earphones on and, uh,
Keren: Um, I, yeah, I, I really wanted it to be a platform. I, you know, my, my career up until I worked at Shutterstock was not a tech focused career. I was working for these large institutions where tech was not there for forte. Right. And then at Shutterstock, I got the bug for building,
Keren: with developers, working with product managers, working with marketing teams, product marketing teams, really understanding what it was.
To build a product. Had I not had that experience? I wouldn’t have known, I wouldn’t have known how to do this. So I set out with that in mind. I didn’t want to build something that already existed. I didn’t want to build a traditional stock agency. I was leaving one. I didn’t want to create an artist rep um, agency.
Tons of them existed. I wanted to do something unique. I wanted to bring these women photographers together. I wanted to build community a community does not exist for professional creators. Let alone women professional creators, often communities that do exist for photographers are predominantly amateur photographers and the women’s voices tend to get drowned out of the conversation.
So it was really. To me to give them a place to come and be, and be supportive. Um, and I wanted to help them generate income. And I saw the best way to do that was building a platform. But how do you build it? That’s what I had to figure out.
Andrew: Were you doing this as a community? First, when I look at your, like, as soon as I Google you, the first thing that comes up as a Wikipedia entry, and it lists you as an online community ahead of anything else that you do, did it start as a community first and then build into this platform?
Keren: I would say we were doing both simultaneously. I think both were really important and I saw the need for both. And I think as you know, there’s a lot of talk about web 3.0 and what that means. And to me, it’s, it’s really about community and it’s about content at the same time and building platforms for it.
So. I didn’t see one or the other as being more dominant. I saw that I, the need for both, I needed to have both sides of that marketplace going to fuel the other without the community of photographers. I wasn’t going to get the brands on board and without the brands on board, I wasn’t going to get the community of photographers I wanted to build.
Andrew: did the community look like in the beginning?
Keren: say that again. What
Andrew: what was, what did.
the community look like? Or what was the community? The beginning? Um, I’m actually just trying to look you up by the way, in, um, uh, internet archive. People know, I love looking at internet archive of companies that I talked to. I don’t see what it, did.
It have a different name back when you launched?
Keren: No. So it was the loop and it was a basic landing page. It was just a marketing page, but we started with a slack community. So we had all of our photographers in slack talking to one another communicating, and we would just add them and welcome them. Uh, and a lot of it was done by email. We were using WhatsApp.
We were using text message, whatever we needed to do to connect to the photographer.
Andrew: So this was just standard apps. It wasn’t like you had a message board on your side or no, you’re just, this is not the business you’re in. You’re not trying to recreate Reddit. You’re just saying we want to help you talk to each other. Got it. Okay. And so you had them in the network and then it was time to go out and get clients.
And SoundCloud was your first client. How’d you get SoundCloud?
Keren: Through our network. So I think what’s one of the amazing things about my career in the places I’ve worked is I’ve just met such wonderful, intelligent, brilliant people everywhere I’ve gone and I’ve kept those relationships. It’s been really important to me. I’m a networker, I believe in building strong relationships.
And those are the people I turn to. And those are the people who helped open doors. So a friend said, Hey, a good friend of mine, um, is the head of content at SoundCloud. Let me introduce you. And they took a chance on us. They were the first customer to come on board. They paid us and we had, I want to say five photographers across the country shooting, um, DJs and sound mixers in their basements, just creating content with our friends.
And it was a hit, they SoundCloud ended up buying more content than their contract
Andrew: To do what, what did They do with it?
Keren: it was used on their website. It was used in social media, wherever they needed images. It was for, I think at the time it was for a marketing campaign.
Andrew: Uh, they wanted to give a flavor for what SoundCloud was about. It wasn’t like cover art or anything. It was just, this is what we’re about. This is who makes SoundCloud.
Keren: It’s back to that initial conversation of users and people using a product. How do you photograph them? How do you illustrate who your users and members are, especially if you don’t have a connection to photographers across the country? I think that is the hardest thing that so many of the brands we talk to, um, have to deal with is how do they store.
Photographers everywhere right now, we’re doing a lot of work for Sweetgreen. They’re a wonderful, wonderful client. We love working with the team and it’s the same issue. Like how do you photograph all of these store openings? How do you cover it all across the country and always have a photographer to do it?
You’re not going to fly somebody to all these different places, especially during COVID. Right. So that’s where we come in with professional photographers. I want to say we’re in 70 cities across the U S 44 countries around the world. We have the photographers. Curated marketplace of photographers for you to tap it.
Andrew: I did. Wow. I guess it must’ve been years ago. See that people are trying to create this type of network without the vetted photographers. And it was like, anyone can shoot photos right now. Let’s just make it so that they could price their own work at whatever price they want. So if Andrew is a good iPhone photographer and someone just needs a $5 shot, Andrew wants experience, let them go and do it.
They were building a marketplace that would go down almost to my level of photography. And I do feel like they were doing themselves a disservice because anyone who wanted this type of custom stuff was, or at least the people who are really willing to pay for did not. Andrew photographing. They wanted quality work.
That would, that was on par with what they were doing, uh, themselves. You know what, so we keep talking about your personal network. You were the director of photography at Martha Stewart living, right? I feel like we’re just saying you worked at these companies without saying the significance of your role there. does it.
mean to be the director of photography at Martha Stewart living.
Keren: So I was the director of photography at Martha Stewart Levine in the merchandise department. So she had the magazines and then she had all of her merchandise. And I think at the time that I was there, there are 16 different lines of product. So I would work with a team, um, after the products were created, whether it was products for Michael’s food, for Costco, there were rugs, Safa, Vail rugs.
There was a line of furniture. Created. And then my team would oversee the photography of that content. So we would go out and we would shoot it. We’d find the right photographers, photograph the bed linens for Macy’s and Kmart. Um, so I brought in all the photographers. So I was inundated on a regular basis from the, the reps of these photographers who would send me their portfolios.
So I was constantly building that network because I was reviewing portfolios and hiring. I was hiring all the photography.
Andrew: When you’re working with her company and then also with Macy’s, do they each have the equivalent of style sheets or style guides, which is what writers would have they do.
Keren: Martha very much. So, so Martha was an incredible training ground while also say that’s where I met my husband. He was a product designer at Martha, and we often talk about the fact that. were working with some of the most incredible creative minds? Uh, I learned so much from Martha. I was exposed to so much, not only from Martha herself, um, but from gal Howie, who was the chief creative officer, they had a vision of the brand and how it needed to be captured.
Andrew: How do they communicate that to you? How, yeah. How do they communicate to you? Here’s what the brand is so that when you’re out there, or maybe you’re a new photographer out there trying to shoot bed linens, you know, this is a Martha Stewart brand photo, and this is off, but great
Keren: Yeah, and I could still pinpoint exactly, um, the definition of that. Visually, if you were to show me images, we would create mood boards. So there’s something called swipe and it would be, um, inspiration that would be pulled. What had been done in the past, the direction we wanted to go. And that is what the photographer would be walked through in a pre-production meeting.
So they understood the natural light. They understood how it came in, how it. Shined on the product, how it made the product, really, you know, the, the hero of the image, how important that is. And I think that exact notion is what is often lost in influencer created content, how to make a product sing. And it’s something that professional photographers really not to knock influencers because there is a place for it.
But I think that that’s really, when you’re doing product photography, it’s not about. An image with a product in it. It’s about how you hone in on that product, how that product is made to look special and entice somebody to want to buy it. It’s in all of that really matters and how the image is compose and how it is lit.
And that’s something that a professional under.
Andrew: I feel like Martha Stewart, I used to read so much about her because I was in awe of her. She is underappreciated because she’s, she was an entrepreneur in the homemaker space and people who admire entrepreneurs don’t care about the homemaker space. But if they paid attention at all, they would have seen, she made herself into a juggernaut.
And the things that you used to do in the early days, like beyond both radio and television, with the same thing that people would knock her for. If they were looking from a distance, if they took a moment, they would see the genius of it. Yes. It’s the same recipe or the same experience I’m sharing on radio as I am on television, different audience, different way of communicating it.
And this is relevant right?
now to both of them. And if you don’t look at both with the idea that you’re trying to judge me, you would see that there is a brilliance there. And think even the fact that you called the company, Martha Stewart, Omnia media was like, right. She wanted to be everywhere. And I feel she was underappreciated, but boy, I. used to read so much about her as a kid because she’s impressive.
Keren: Yeah, and I think she’s making it come back with Snoop, you know, she’s everywhere now. And I was in a hotel recently and, um, turned on the TV and there was Martha is selling something. I mean, it’s just amazing how many different products she has touched and her creative eye and the team that works for her.
Um, Kevin Sharkey included. Just how, how brilliant it is, how, how creative it is and inspiration on. I think a lot of photographers look up to that, look up to that look and that feel, um, you saw it come across on, on an editorial, on covers of magazines that were influenced by the Martha luck, for sure. So that was a great place for me to really learn.
It was hard. It’s a hard place to work, but I learned a lot from that.
Andrew: When you created the loop, the, what did the first version of the site look like? What did It do?
Keren: It didn’t do much. Um, I, the first version of the site was really just a landing page. And over time I worked with a product designer to build it out a little bit more, to tell more about the brand story, but. I I’m a non-technical founder, which I think is an important thing to call out because there is a difference between technical and non-technical founders and your knowledge and your skillset and what you’re able to achieve, especially when it comes to raising money.
So I needed to find developers who could work with me. Initially. It was a WordPress site, um, who could help me build that out so we could get our messaging across. So we had something. So these brands would trust us. And now over time, we have developers on the team who are building out the app. Um, and it’s a much different experience today than what it was in 29.
Andrew: Do you remember what your cut was in the beginning? What was the expectation you had? You would bring clients, you would charge them. Is that how it worked? And then you’d say, this is what we’re, we’re paying to do this work.
Keren: Yeah, exactly. And because we’re working with enterprise customers, um, and because the needs change, it changes as we’re working with different photographers. Um, What the model looks like in terms of what the cut is. We actually charge an admin fee to the brands so that they have access to us. And if we’re involved in production, if we’re involved in more, that also changes.
And then we, our goal is to get the photographers as much money as we possibly can for every job they do with us.
Andrew: Loop is what does loop mean? It’s that thing that we use to receive, or that people used to use to see photos?
Keren: Yeah, exactly. So loop traditionally, spelled L O E P E is what you look through to look at negative. So I mentioned earlier on, in our conversation that we would use a light box at national geographic and look at transparencies and we’d use a loop to look through, um, to see the image and to decide if that image was going to go into the magazine or not.
And all the photographers were we’re shooting transparency as well, and you’ve used a loop. So. One of the first things. I think one of my bosses at national geographic gave me was a loop and I still have that loop. So as I was thinking of names for the business and kind of going down what was available, what domain I could get, um, I landed on, on loop and it just made sense to me, especially with the, to use.
I liked the look, I liked the feel, um, and it was symbolic to what I was trying to build in terms of a community and that circle and bringing people to.
Andrew: It always looks like an upside down shot glass that they were using to see
Keren: that’s one way of thinking about it.
Andrew: on a, on a light box. Um, I should say my interview is sponsored by, uh, lemon.io. Anyone out there who needs to hire developers should go to lemon.io/mixergy. Even if you don’t hire from them, you should just get a quote from them, talk to their people, see if it’s a good fit.
If you use my URL for the. Four weeks of working with the developer that they connect you with, you’re going to get a 15% discount, but I’m not even saying, go and hire from them. I’m saying go and talk to them. You should absolutely keep them in the mix. lemon.io. And frankly, I just love the, they’ve got a fun name and they’ve got a fun brand.
And I think as you, as you go through it, you’ll either vibe with them and say, Perfect. This is exactly who I was looking for, or you won’t, but I’ll tell you this. You’re going to get a response from them super fast, and you’re going to get somebody who’s a great developer. Even if you don’t think it’s a right fit for you, you should at least start a conversation with them and get to know them.
If you’re hiring developers, lemon.io/mixergy. Um, when, when you talked about how you got your first customer Shutterstock, that was word of mouth. How did you get the next batch of customers?
Keren: So our first customer is SoundCloud. I
Andrew: Oh SoundCloud, excuse me. Right.
Keren: No, it’s fine.
Andrew: Going through my
Keren: of it was networking. A lot of it was networking. That’s how we met Peloton. Um, and then I, one of the strongest salespeople I’ve ever worked with, um, and I’ve worked closely with different sales teams, but one of the strongest salespeople I ever worked with at Shutterstock, she had moved.
Somewhere else. And I told her about this idea. We were friends and she said, you know, the time is just not right for me right now. And you can’t pay me, which was true. I couldn’t afford to pay her, you know, even with the, getting the customer of some club that wasn’t enough to really grow the team. So I kept pursuing her, kept telling her what I was building, kept giving her updates, um, as we grill.
And then finally she said, okay, I’m here. So she’s been with us for a couple of years running sales, and she does all outside sales. So she’s constantly reaching out to enterprises, um, and, and pitching them on the concept on what we’re doing. And the brands are responding incredibly well.
Andrew: What’s the process to sell to brands, to work with them.
Keren: So. The key is obviously to get them on the call on a call and to, and to explain to them, especially with these large enterprises, um, we want to get on a phone call with them and tell them why they want to work with us. Uh, and more importantly, explain to them how we can help them. And I think today, especially because our name is out there more, they kind of understand what we’re doing and why it’s beneficial to work with us.
Uh, It’s different enterprise to enterprise than it would be necessarily with smaller e-comm businesses. Uh, we specifically have gone out, um, working directly with these enterprises because they’re often the ones who have the bigger budgets, which allow more photographers to be involved in the process.
So that’s really important to us too, is, you know, with a goal of getting as many craters. Paid as we possibly can and putting more money in the hands and the pockets of our creators. We want to work with customers who understand the value of what we bring, um, and who understand why they’re going to pay more for it.
You’re not paying 25 cents for a stock image, right. Which is what stock images costs, or there’s free stock sites. You’re paying more because you’re getting content on brand that’s quality content by professionals.
Andrew: What does It cost to send someone over to a house? And photograph.
Keren: It really depends on the needs. On who’s involved. We’re doing everything from cookbooks to shooting product, to telling lifestyle stories. So it could be anywhere from a couple thousand. A hundred thousand plus for the projects that we’re currently doing, it really depends on the needs, the ongoing relationship, um, how often the companies are working with us and, and what the usage is, how they’re going to be using those images also is a factor in the.
Andrew: You told our producer that the other great hire you made was a UX designer. Why, what was the impact?
Keren: I think as a non-technical founder, um, I needed somebody who understood product who understood, uh, what it needed to look like and what that user experience would be. So bringing a product designer on as early as I possibly could. Meant that visually the brand looked and felt the way we needed it to, to entice people, to even be interested in us.
Um, and this particular hire. She’s just incredible. I often say that she is like the ideal first startup hire our skills, compliment each other. She knows a lot of things that I don’t know. And I think that’s key when you’re hiring at the stage. Higher for your weaknesses higher for people who can compliment your skill set and frankly who know more than you.
Um, and so she brought to the loop, just a different way of thinking that I really needed to help us get to that next place.
Andrew: You told our producer that raising money was difficult so far, we’ve talked about the bootstrap part of the story. Did you literally have a venture capitalist? Say we only invest in wealthy white.
Keren: I’ve heard a lot
Andrew: loud? And then why, what was this thing?
Keren: well, so a little out of context, I’ll put it in context for you. I think people don’t really don’t people don’t think, and they often say what’s on their mind without thinking, or they think they’re patting themselves on the back and they’re actually doing something good.
So this particular investor who I met with quite early on in the process was proving to me that they recognized that. His VC tended to invest and wealthy white men because they had gone to good schools. They came from wealthy families. They could afford to not work while they got their business going.
Um, and that’s just who they tend to, to invest in. Uh, and they kind of had proved proven that concept. So his point to me was he had office hours for everybody else who didn’t fit into that category. Kind of saying to me, you could come to our office hours.
Andrew: not saying this is our policy saying this is a problem And I’m here to adjust it,
Keren: And I’m going to do it.
Andrew: that even my firm
Keren: I’m going to do it with office hours. But what I said to him is I don’t want to be part of your office hours. I just want you to invest in me. I don’t want the charity office hours. I want you to meet with me and treat me like you’re treating those other founders and I want to prove to you why I can do that and why it’s worth you investing in me.
Um, he was not in the long run, one of my investors and that’s okay. Uh, but it was eye opening to me because. There is, um, and we know this, we know where the VC dollars are going and they predominantly go to men. Um, and the male founded companies, they seldom go to, um, solo founder, solo women, founder, nontechnical women, founder companies.
Like this is all known there’s data, supporting all of this. But I realized at that point that this was going to be a hard road for me. Uh, and that I was. I was going to go through with it, but it wasn’t going to be an easy path. And I don’t think any of the paths that I’ve ever taken have been easy.
Andrew: When you finally raised money, was it. Like COVID kept photographers and being able to travel all over the world was that, that it was after all that
Keren: Yeah, exactly. So we raised this, um, the end of the summer, um, That experience. I mean, I will say I also had COVID I had long haul COVID I
Andrew: I heard you had long hold COVID and kids at home.
Keren: two small kids. I had a son in kindergarten doing kindergarten, virtually at our dining room table.
Andrew: That’s the worst.
Keren: it was madness. It was absolute madness,
Andrew: What was your long-haul COVID like before we get into the, the upside of it.
what, what happens?
Keren: It. I mean, it was, it was horrible. It was like, you couldn’t, you couldn’t wake up or shake COVID it just kept going. So I developed asthma. I had bronchitis multiple times not to get into those health issues, but. It was honestly, it was horrible. So I’m actually at exactly one year yesterday to the date that all four of us, my entire family, my husband and our two little kids got COVID.
Um, you know, it’s been a year and it was a long road to come back from that. And I joke now with our lead investor, Sarah Adler, I joke with her that. I had long haul COVID during our calls. There are some calls when I know I did not appear to her that I was completely there, but I, um, got her interested enough and she believed in me enough that she went through with the investment, but there were, you know, it was hard to get out of bed.
It was, it was hard to do the things that I needed to do, but at the same time, the business was taking off because all of these enterprises. I had to shut down production. They couldn’t shoot content. So they came to us and needed our help. And we had kept our, you know, our heads down and had been building.
And we had photographers all over the world who could help them, who could stop in, they could send products or tell the photographers what was needed. And our products were, or photographers would create at home. They would create in place. And that was a beautiful thing. And it made us, um, you know, made the brands really.
On on us for those reasons. So it was ironic that at the same time that the business was really excelling and moving quickly, I also felt the worst that I’ve ever felt in my life. Um, simultaneously it was, it was a lot to deal with, but, uh, you know, I just kept pushing through it all.
Andrew: You said to her producer fear drove you in that period to find a solution fear of white.
Keren: Well, I, you know, I, I think the fear of. It not working the fear of me not getting where I wanted it to go. I knew that I could do it. I knew what was possible. I knew that we had product market fit. I knew that brands were interested in it, but just the fear of suddenly you have people dependent on you suddenly you’re paying salaries.
Suddenly you have photographers. I mean, I had a photographer call me this morning and say like, Hey, what do you have coming in my way? And I want to talk, um, All of that. You know, it, it changes you when you are, uh, an employee at a corporation. Everything doesn’t depend on you succeeding, right? You, you can take that week on vacation.
You can shut off. You can, if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And there’s other people who help you figure it out. I didn’t have that. I didn’t have that feeling. And I, you know, it’ll be a while before I do. I just felt people were dependent on me and I want, I didn’t want anything to fail. I wanted to push through it.
Andrew: I think you told our producer that you didn’t feel. The revealing revenue. Can you give us a sense of how big the business is now?
Keren: Uh, yeah, we, I mean, we, we surpass the standards that you have to be on the podcast. Um, we’re, it’s a healthy business. We’re doing well. We are growing and scaling really
Andrew: Millions in revenue on the platform
Keren: Say that again.
Andrew: millions done in revenue
Keren: yeah. Yeah. We’re, it’s, it’s an exciting time and, and the brands are really, um, you know, they’re, they’re coming to us and they’re excited to be working.
Andrew: It’s damn impressive. Um, and the idea was sitting right there, but I, I feel like you hit it at the right time and you had the relationships to make this happen. You know, one other thing, I gotta say that when I was looking you up, I wanted to see where your photos were. There was a photo in the New York times of just a woman exercising and the photo credit says Sarah Gilman, the loop.
Does that mean that you’re photographing for the New York times too, to show how people are exercising?
Keren: So that, that instance, that was an image that we shot for Peloton, that they gave to the New
Andrew: that they made available and it was an article about Peloton, but even though Peloton is not included in here, it was included in the article. Got it. And you then get photo credit for it.
Keren: Yeah. And you know, that’s the goal, right? We, and we want to do editorial work, went into more of it. Um, we also really believe in support and the companies that we’re working with. And I think that’s also a beautiful thing is that the companies are coming to us. They value our community, they value what we’re doing and they want high quality content quickly.
Right. So they’re checking all the boxes and I think that’s important that. Our photographers are excited. We did, we’ve done a lot of work for the Sierra club. Our photographers are excited to work for the Sierra club. I think that’s there’s value in bringing people the work that they want to be doing.
Andrew: And then these are photos that just look right in the New York times. It feels like such a New York times photo
Keren: I love it. I love it. And actually, you know, what’s interesting about that. Photographer’s Sarah. She was my assistant at Martha Stewart when I was a photo director. So she’s now gone on, she has a career as a photographer. I’m in Montana and we had her shoot that image and she shot a lot of content. Yeah, it’s exciting.
And then I think, you know, it goes dumper and bridges, right? Have good relationships, strong relations, show, empathy, care about people. And those are the same people who come back and support you when you’re doing something like this.
Andrew: Especially with you, boy, you’ve got a deep network. All right. Beside is the loop. And I’m grateful to you for doing this.
interview and to the audience for being there. And I should also say thank you to the sponsors. Go to lemon.io/mixer G or gusto.com/mixergy. Thanks so much.
Keren: Thank you. Thanks for having me.