SocialFly Photobooths – Texas
Where did the IDEA come from?
In 2011 we had just left Hawaii and were living in Austin. Our friend Kris, who is ex-military, worked on the side for this little photobooth company doing weddings & other events. One day he needed help, and asked my wife if she could come to a wedding and help him out. She agreed, went to this wedding, and came back that night screaming at me “WE HAVE TO DO A PHOTOBOOTH! THERE WAS A CRAZY LONG LINE FOR PEOPLE WANTING TO GET IN THIS BOOTH!”
So like any other idea we talk about, I jumped on the computer and started looking up the competition. I realized that the majority of the booths were all tiny, had crappy cameras, printers that took over a minute to print, and were just ugly. I opened up Illustrator, and started sketching out what we could do to improve on the outside structure of the booth. Then I started researching small commercial printers, touchscreen computers, and any open source photobooth software we could start with.
First PROTOTYPE booth
I figured out the size of the booth, how we could transport it, found a small commercial printer that would print in less than 10 seconds, and even found some photobooth software that looked pretty good that we could purchase to get us started. Our first booth we had a carpenter around the corner from my house build us for $700. It was bulky, heavy as hell, but it was built really well. (So well that a year later it was in a car accident where it flipped inside of a trailer, and didn’t even have a scratch on it) So we had a booth, I created some simple white vinyl graphics since we know the majority of our audience would be for weddings ($450), we bought some photobooth software for $500, commercial printer was $1200, and the and we were ready to roll.
Obviously I built us a website, Chris setup some adwords for us, but we knew we needed to let the people know we existed and we were different than the competition. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect cause the next week was the Austin Bridal Show. We quickly signed up and got a booth for the event. We were all a bit worried, cause this was new territory for us, and there had to be at least 5 other photobooth companies at this event.
Something really amazing presented itself about an hour into this event. People realized that we had a bigger booth, our touchscreen software had effects, we had a pretty wallpaper background inside the booth, and our printer was super fast. Everyone commented on it, when they would take a free photo. We gave people a signup form, everytime someone took a photo, and here’s where it gets crazy.
That next week our phone rang off the hook. We were booked up nearly for the whole year from this event. But we kept getting more calls, so we realized we were gonna have to build another booth. This time I wanted to do it the right way. I had aluminum laser cut, our logos cnc’d out to reveal the lighting, pieces of the booth connected smoother, all of the welds were on the inside of the booth so from the outside it was completely smooth.
Things are GREAT right?
Not quite. So we’re rockin and rollin. We have 2 photobooths, me and Doan would go to 1 event, while Kris would go to another event. We were making money but there was a MAJOR MAJOR MISTAKE we made. See we decided from the beginning, cause we all liked driving, that we would service the entire state of Texas. We were STUPID!
For an event in Dallas or Houston sometimes we would have to leave at 10am…drive there…get to the event early to setup….work the event…then break down and load up….then drive all the way back home. Sometimes we worked 14 hour days. It was, say it with me, STUPID. We were making money, only having to work on the weekends so it shouldn’t have effected us quite like it did. But it was extremely draining.
During that year we moved from Austin to Dallas, so things got even crazier when we’d have to go from Dallas to Houston and back in a night.
Why didn’t you just HIRE people?
We tried. But how many people that are somewhat pretty, know how to talk about the business so that we can get referrals, that can also back a 6 foot trailer into a blind spot at a wedding venue? It doesn’t exist. Well I’m sure it does, but we couldn’t find anyone. We hired a guy that seemed great. Had worked at a photobooth company before, knew how to drive a trailer, but after his event our booth was just trashed. He didn’t take it apart correctly, stuffed it into the trailer, scratching and breaking things with every bump he hit on the way home.
What went WRONG?
Well this is where the stories you read about partners butting heads after a business starts growing comes into play. I was tired of doing events, hate drunk people getting in my face, and people treating you like your time didn’t matter. So I was looking to move our booths into a different direction – Bars or places where they didn’t move – Possibly selling our software to SEGA (yeah SEGA is still around), but he was perfectly find continuing to run the business. On top of that we had done a good job of creating a quality product that we could charge more for, but he wanted to constantly do these super cheap jobs cause it looked like we were making money. But when you take into account the gas, food, our time we were losing money on cheap small events.
Where is the company NOW?
It’s sitting in my friends garage We came to an agreement where we would split the assets (at this time we had 4 booths & 2 enclosed trailers), and he would work the remaining events we had booked. What ended up happening is that, he didn’t end up showing up for events (we had to deal with calls & give people back their money), he didn’t end up paying our internal bills (credit cards, gas cards, etc), and he still took half of our product.
Not that I care, cause I was done with that business. I used to always hate when people said that Money didn’t Matter, but this was one of those times I could care less about making money. I just wanted to have a life and be happy.
What did you LEARN?
So I learned a few things.
1) Go to events to market your product, let people play with it and touch it. They will instantly know what they are paying for and can compare yours to others.
2) Vinyl Wrapping your car WORKS – People would call us as they are driving next to us, or wait for us outside in the Walmart parking lot to ask about the product.
3) Choose your partners wisely. If the goal, work ethic, and even style of work is totally different than it’s NOT GONNA WORK.
4) Most importantly – START GHETTO! We bought some software anyone could use, had a ghetto wooden booth that looked pretty with vinyl, and were renting a Uhaul trailer for our first events to get us started. It doesn’t have to be perfect to make yo