It is safe to say that Amit Gupta is a fan of photography; though obsessive fan would be more prudent. Amit is the founder of Photojojo, a digital venture which is breaking the mould when it comes to photography, not exactly a store, not exactly a content website. He has quite literally changed the face of recreational photography. What Photojojo offers is a collection of innovative gadgets designed to, in Amit's own words "bring the fun back to photography" giving ordinary people the opportunity to explore the creative hinterland of photographic beauty.
This is not the first digital venture which Amit has been involved with, at university he set up a venture-backed company called the Daily Jolt, soon after he became one of the founding members, along with Catherine Hickey, Noah Weiss, Phoebe Espiritu and Michelle Sriwongtong, of ChangeThis, a company which nurtures and disseminates inspirational ideas, through innovative means. However, it is with Photojojo that Amit has truly found his creative voice; stripping away the ubiquitous streak of formality that most companies adhere to, and embracing a unique sense of approachability, Amit has transformed the very foundation of what we should expect from an online business.
I got the opportunity to chat with Amit about, amongst other things, the wealth of ideas that have gone in to making Photojojo a leader in the field of digital entrepreneurship....
First of all, what do you make of this resurgence of interest in photography?
I think it's wonderful!
We first started to see a marked increase in interest in photography 5-6 years ago when digital cameras really went mainstream. The freedom from film - knowing you could take as many photos as you wanted and not pay anything extra - and the rapid decrease in the cost of cameras of very high quality caused a ton of new people to enter the field, as pros, amateurs, or just folks who liked taking photos.
This second wave is even more exciting, and it coincides with a similar change in camera technology - phones with cameras built in that are finally good enough for everyday use. That hardware improvement, plus all the simple photo editing and sharing software that's emerged as a result of it, has really lowered the barriers to producing great photographs, and even more importantly, to getting your photography seen by others. We're going through an important inflection point - almost everyone you know will soon have an extremely high quality camera in their pockets, at all times. That fundamentally changes our relationship to photography - recording our daily life events has become a fundamental part of experiencing them.
How do you approach a project such as this?
I always like to start small. With Photojojo, we started as a simple newsletter with fun photo tips, ideas, and inspiration for anyone who likes taking photos. That's it. No start-up capital required, no fancy website, just the bare minimum to let us start building an audience and find our voice. If you make something good, no matter how small, people tell their friends about it, and that's how we grew.
What is the foundation concept of Photojojo?
We started at that first fundamental shifting point I described above - when the cost of digital cameras had finally gone low enough that just about anyone could afford to have one. Recognizing that this was going to change how we used the device, and seeing my friends starting to take hundreds or even thousands of photos a year, I realized there was an opportunity to give people ideas for what to do with those photos after they'd taken them. That's why Photojojo was born.
How is Photojojo different from other online ventures of this kind?
We're not simply a store, or just an online content site with a blog, Twitter, and Tumblr. We stand for finding the fun in photography, and we try to do that in a lot of different ways and combine a lot of mediums. For us, that means we publish a lot of content to our email newsletter, to our Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. But we also run an amazing online store that collects our favourite photo accessories from all over the world, and we recently opened a physical pop-up shop of the same here in San Francisco. Similarly, we host real-world events like photo safaris and craft nights. We want to exist anywhere online where our fans spend time, but we think it's important to hang out with our audience offline, too! The two feed each other.
Do you think other online companies could learn a thing or two from Photojojo?
Sure, and we've got a lot to learn from others. I'm a big fan of companies that take a casual, human tone on their website and their interactions with customers, and that's definitely something we try to do everywhere, whether it's site copy or interactions with customer service.
I'm also a fan of making everyday things fun - we try to find little ways to bring joy to our customers all the time - from sea monsters on our order status page, to toy dinosaurs we include with each order, to encouraging every customer service person to do something uniquely awesome for our customers every so often (singing gorilla package deliveries are not unheard-of.) Among other companies, I loved how Uber let you order ice cream trucks through their app a few months ago, and I think it's awesome how Warby Parker has a pair of frames designed with the Where's Waldo folks.
Do you think the key to Photojojo's success has been its absence of formality and the inclusion of the customer as part of the company?
It's absolutely been a big factor. We've relied entirely on word of mouth to grow these past six years, and without a great product that people love, that just doesn't work. From the very beginning - when we worked hard to make our email newsletters sound like an email to a friend - we've been focused on making things fun, light hearted, and friendly.
What's your vision for the future of Photojojo?
2013 will be the year we take a fresh new look at our editorial. I think there's a lot of unexplored territory when it comes to editorial online - we're still figuring out how to bring the lavish spreads and article-by-article design from the magazine world online, while preserving the things that make online content unique. We've also been gradually making changes to address the changing habits of our customers, serving more products for iPhone and Android photographers, for example. We'll see a lot more of that. Finally, I'm really interested to see how our SF pop-up shop does. I think melding the online and offline experience, the way we've melded editorial and commerce, is a really interesting area to explore, and if it's successful, I'd love to see us do similar semi-permanent shops in larger cities where we've grown a significant fan base.