Shoot was a marketplace website for connecting photographers with customers that want to book high quality photoshoot experiences.
August 2018 - April 2019
I was the Web Developer, and Technical Co-founder, and later the Product Designer. I was also in-charge of project management, deciding which features to focus on during each sprint periods. Yes that's a lot of hats but that's what it is like to run a startup. All major decisions would involve all the team members before being added to a sprint and executed.
I had dabbled in photography before. So had my partner. Like any college student we wanted to see how to earn money from it. We realized there wasn't a website we could just sign up for and upload our photos and get clients. Everything was very manual. So we looked into the photography industry in Houston.
Research showed that customers didn't always know how to find the right photographer. If you personally don't know one, you would most likely look up on Instagram or Google. People relied on word of mouth. We found out that the current booking process was a hassle i.e. not having all the options available to the customers, including the price. We decided to do something about it.
We took all we learned and went into action. We pitched our idea and got into a startup accelerator program called REDLabs, a joint partnership between University of Houston and Rice University.
We interviewed around 100 people in Houston; stopping people on campus grounds, going into cafes where we knew our target users would frequent, and reaching out to photographers and models we knew. Through further research and brainstorming, we knew the product had to be a dual-sided marketplace and had to be quick and easy for customers and photographers to accomplish their goals.
In order to create a product that delivered the most value:
We proved that the market wanted a product like Shoot and that it can serve even more people in more cities with the right team, tools, and funding.We experienced first-hand what it was like to build a business as a team, and what it meant to have a great impact on the lives of our customers.
We interviewed 100 potential customers in the Houston area.
Our initial research revealed that a lot of photographers did not have pricing information or any booking functionality on their website, or they didn't even have a website at all and relied only on Instagram.
This meant the customer had to juggle between different websites, call or email the photographer to get the information they need, only to realize that it didn’t meet their needs.We started approaching people in coffee shop, student centers, and other places near campus to find out who would pay for a service like Shoot. We narrowed it down to who our customers were:
- Women early in their career
- Male and female college students
These demographics understood just how important personal branding is, and how important it is to have a good photoshoot, both the photos and the experience.
We decided to include four categories. We had graduation, headshots, couples, and even professional photos. Our homepage shows four photographers from each of those categories. Clicking on "View More" took customers to the dedicated homepage.
We also saw that our initial assumption of Shoot being used on desktop was wrong and that most our customers were mostly college students who were discovering Shoot through Instagram. So the mobile site had to function perfectly and deliver flawless experience to our customers.
We wanted to keep this experience very simple. Our customers wanted to see the photographer's portfolio, the prices, and what they are getting for the price. Our photographers sent us their hourly rates, because that was how they operated. We worked with them and created packages that were beneficial to both parties
We didn't have a method for taking payment ON the website, however we were able to take booking requests. So I set up the form that will take the user's information, allowing them to select which package they want to book the photographer for, and what would be the date of the photoshoot. We had to be innovative with this and my partner Simbai handled all of this manually.
He would follow up with the photographer to check their availability and then confirm the photoshoot with the client. He followed up with both the photographers and customers to make sure everything was in order for the photoshoot, including advance payment. The booking confirmation emails were created using MailChimp.
We launched during the Spring college graduation season of 2019 at the University of Houston. It was a success! Marketing was done on campus through flyers, word of mouth, and social media, primarily Instagram. We were able to prove what we hypothesized, that the market wanted a product like Shoot, and that with more funding and the more team members, it could expand to cities all across the United States.
As with any venture, mistakes are bound to happen. Sometimes you see them while it's happening and you can't do anything about it. Here's what I personally learned.
Asking users more targeted questions.
We did 100 interviews but those were mostly for discovery. I had only scratched the surface of what it meant to conduct research.
Exploring other solutions.
I was too concerned with trying to be a good front-end developer and run a startup. I failed to explore other ways to build our website e.g. Webflow or No-Code solutions available at the time.
Should have said “no” more often.
Small UI change requests and such from my cofounders ate up a lot of my time. I accepted it because it didn’t seem like a big deal but those added up and it became very overwhelming.
UI design went downhill as we got to the end of the project.
We spent so much effort on the homepage and the profile and booking pages took a massive hit. It was very noticeable to me, but I couldn't do anything about it. The customers had no issue with how it looked and we were fine with that.
Going from wireframes to code.
In the begging, I skipped designing a high fidelity solution and testing it. It would have saved us the time that was wasted on redesigning the new cards.