So you have an apparel product to sell online, but you need a photo that looks enticing. Unfortunately, that mobile upload to your Facebook page just isn’t going to cut it. And when you start to research options to get your product photographed professionally, the prices make you break out into a cold sweat.
Never fear! Genevieve LeMarchall’s company, Sadie, which recently made the second cut in OEN’s Angel Oregon Spring 2015 Investment Program, offers “crisp, clean, fashion forward product photography” for a fraction of the price you’d pay a professional for similar quality. And in the fashion and apparel industry, quality matters. Here’s more from Genevieve:
The spark that inspired the birth of your concept: I had just gotten back from a trip to the Amazon Rainforest, where I’d started my accessories line, Nayariva. I needed to command premium price points for the products, and a mutual friend told me to get in touch with Jeremy Kirby, whom I’d only met once before. While photographing Nayariva, I learned about Jeremy’s shared passion to help all the brands and designers out there who deserved great product photography, but didn’t have access to it.
The problem Sadie solves: Sadie solves the problem of bad photography that doesn’t make products look their best. We were both frustrated with having to turn away great clients because of budget constraints. We realized the system in place now to help designers in the fashion, apparel, and accessories industry launch and grow consisted of eCommerce platforms and little else. But a great eCommerce experience is as much about the photography as the website. Product photography is really complex, really expensive, and product photographers are hard to find.
How you came up with the name: We wanted Sadie to be a persona, sort of like Kate Spade. We think of Sadie as a sort of modern-day Audrey Hepburn. She is the stylish, friendly, knowledgeable, smart authority who everyone wants to be friends with. She’s entrepreneurial, spirited, and sophisticated. She knows fashion, she’s chic, she’s a little offbeat and quirky. Everyone wants to be her friend, take her out for happy hour, and pick her brain. That is who we want Sadie to become.
How you differentiate from your competition: Sadie does product photography for fashion, apparel, and accessories designers in a way that is very unique and rare. There is nobody else who can offer the quality and expertise for the price that Sadie can. There are very few other photography operation that can produce our level of quality on the volume that Sadie can. Most of the quick and dirty “Ship & Shoot”-type product photography studios won’t even do apparel or jewelry at all because of the styling and complexity. At least once a week, something happens behind the scenes here that blows me away, and that is pretty cool.
We’re also doing some early piloting and testing around machine-learning technology and exploring ways to make Sadie images “smart.” We’re not ready to come out and discuss that right now, but the idea is to produce an image that not only looks better, but is backed with analytics and tracking so we can prove it actually is better. The prospect of that is really exciting!
How you make money: Sadie sells product photography. Clients can get one-time quotes on our website, some clients are on annual plans, and we’re working really hard to roll out a low-cost monthly subscription model that I’m really excited about. We’ll be able to offer high-quality fashion product photography for as low as $39.99/month, which is totally unheard of in the industry. We’re starting to earn some targets on our back, which is both validating and cool.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is getting up every single day and doing something that you know will change your chosen slice of the world. Everything you do every day matters to something or someone, which is a lot of pressure.
The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: The true nature of people, warts and all, surfaces when you’re in a startup. Your team will see you at the best of times and the worst of times, and there are not a lot of places to hide. I’ve been blown away by how willing my team is to stand alongside me and continue to march on in the face of adversity. Sometimes I look them in the face and say, “I’ve got nothing,” and they’re like, “We’ve got your back. Let’s make a plan.” That’s a really cool thing.
Your biggest success: I think holding on and making it past year one is a huge success in and of itself. I know most startups fail in their first year, and we’re alive and kicking. So I call that a major success. One thing Jeremy and I recognized in one another early on is the level of grit and determination we both have. There’s no way a startup could make it without a tremendous amount of grit.
Notable failure story: When I woke up in our hotel room on the second day of MAGIC (the largest fashion tradeshow in the world), I was having a hard time breathing and my face was swollen so big, I looked like a sumo wrestler. I’d spent weeks (maybe even months) ignoring my personal needs, and then I met my limits, hit my wall, and imploded. So while I was at the hospital, my team had to pull it together and focus their efforts at the tradeshow without me. They definitely had stern words for me, and it was very humbling.
People had been telling me for months that I needed to keep my cup full, and I barely listened at all. When something like that happens, you have to listen.
What keeps you up at night: Lots of things. Right now, it’s sales and cash flow. Sales IS cash flow and cash is the lifeblood of a company. But I also worry a lot about my team and making sure they’re taken care of. I also worry a lot about resources, like finding the people that we are going to need moving forward. When I think too far ahead, I get overwhelmed. It’s going to happen baby-step by baby-step, and not without the right people in the boat. I spend a tremendous amount of idle thinking time considering what skillsets and people we’re going to need and how I’m going to find them.
The best entrepreneurial advice you have received: Phillis Campbell (JP Morgan Chairman for Pac NW and Nordstrom’s Board of Directors) once told me, “Always be ready.” She said for every opportunity she’d ever had, she was never “ready” for it when it came. You never will be ready for it when it comes, but you might as well get as ready as you can. When I find myself overwhelmed by things, I think of the Earl Nightingale quote, “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: When you’re planning your business, focus on the sales and marketing model as part of the revenue model. Too many people just think, “and then we’ll get customers and live happily ever after.” But it’s not like that. A few weeks ago I had a revelation: “There is no key, there are only stairs.” So don’t bank on finding a magical key, make a plan. I’d never recommend anybody take an “if you build it they will come” mentality to designing their product. Always start with the customer, even if you have nothing to show them. Create something for a real person, sell it to them, get feedback and iterate on that.
The #1 book you would recommend for a budding entrepreneur: The Alchemist by Paul Coelho and Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross.
The song that best describes your entrepreneurial journey: Depends on the day! On good days, “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. On the bad days, Tennessee Ford, “16 Tons.”
What wild success looks like: Sadie would become synonymous with product photography for eCommerce. We’d be operating photography studio “factories” all over the world, photographing hundreds of thousands of images a day for thousands of designers from small lines to enterprise retailers. Our team would come to work every day knowing that they are making a difference in helping make a designer become more successful.
Your favorite local business: I love Salt & Straw because it’s a totally brazen twist on ice cream, and they do every flavor right. Even if it’s not really your thing, you have to admit it’s always brilliant. I love it when people strip away all the assumptions about what something “should” be like and challenge it to make it better. I never would have thought of Arbequina olive oil ice cream, much less wanted to try it. But now it’s my favorite thing, and I’m sure there’s no way anybody could replicate it like Salt & Straw does.
What you wanted to be as a child when you grew up: I wanted to be an artist, a polar bear, an aeronautical engineer, and a journalist. I’m glad the polar bear thing didn’t work out for me.
Benefits/challenges of starting a business in Oregon: I think Oregon is a good place to start certain types of businesses. The biggest challenge in Oregon so far has been access to capital. And being in the fashion/apparel/accessories industry has been a challenge because in Portland when you say “designer” and “online retail,” people immediately think our target market is Etsy sellers. That probably has to do with the strong DIY movement here.
Other tidbits or fun facts to share: I was born in the Philippines, but I grew up in the Portland area and Jeremy is a 6th-generation Oregonian. So our roots to Portland are deep.
See work samples: