Splento

Photography On Demand after Realising the Process was Outdated

Roman Grigoriev

15,000 Customers To Date (Including Google, Facebook and Gucci)

Roman Grigoriev

I have a mind that never switches off - so when I realised just how poor the photography experience was for both photographers and clients, I saw an opportunity.

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When I founded Splento it was initially in the travel photography industry, but that failed. We quickly had to learn to pivot, and swiftly moved to consumer photography. Although that was a more stable market, the unit economics did not deliver the return, and so we chose not to further invest into this business model for the time being.

Our next pivot was to business photography and videography, and that has been a sweet spot for us: from sports to events, food to property, there are millions of businesses who look to sell online and all of this needs to be visualised.

Our offering - to drive businesses forward with seamless end-to-end photography and videography, all managed on an easy app - has been well received. To date, we have served over 15,000 customers in 400+ cities worldwide, and received $2m of funding in just over two years of operations. Through our investment rounds, I have attracted global leaders as investors, board members, and advisors, including Tej Lalvani (Vitabiotics, Dragons Den), Konstantin Kalabin (TripAdvisor), Rob Dembitz (Cannes Lion), Ray Rafiq-Omar (Unmortgage) and many others.

Who is your target demographic?

Any business that wants to sell online can benefit from Splento. It really is that broad, and that has its benefits as well as its drawbacks.

On the plus side, worldwide on average only 10% of transactions are completed online. That means that 90% of the world can benefit from our service and gain access to new markets. Our audiences know their own industries inside out and we know ours. When we come together, we can transform the way their own businesses operate, supporting them in a model that increases their revenue.

On the downside, the whole world is our oyster! It’s tempting to go in all directions all the time because you can see the opportunities there, and you must be strategic in the way you work.

One of the things that always makes me smile is the variety of our customers. Today, it could be that small coffee shop you pass on your commute every morning. Tomorrow, Google or the Royal Family.

When we delivered photography at the world-renowned London Tech Week, every event had its own requirements and expectations. Google wanted great content delivered the same day - that was their main requirement. CogX, on the other hand, wanted 30 photographers across dozens of venues with photos collated on one digital interface, but with hundreds of individual galleries for each speaker.

We delivered to both Google and CogX and many others that week, and we delivered our best. The week proved just how flexible our offering is.

As for the funniest request - we could write a whole book of unusual requests and funny stories happening during our photoshoots, but nothing comes close to this. A young deeply religious couple asked for a quote to photograph not just their wedding ceremony, but also their first wedding night. As our motto is ‘always going the extra mile for our customers’ that was a tough call! What would you have done?

How did you fund the idea initially?

I strongly believe that it’s easier than ever to launch a tech startup these days and not expensive at all. So I always say to people I mentor and to friends who enquire about embarking on a startup journey - you have to do the first round yourself. Only once you’ve proven you can get a minimum viable team (MVT) to build your minimum viable product (MVP), then you need external funding to build a minimum viable business (MVB) and even more funds to scale.

So after we got our MVP together and built an MVP using my savings and loans, we set off on the path to raise external funds. In the early stages - fundraising was a big focus for us. We actually started some of those early conversations right after the six month stage, because I know it was going to be a very labour intensive process, and one that would likely take a long time.

And I was right. The whole process from first meeting to signing the paperwork took eighteen months, and I’m glad looking back that we decided to start everything so early!

When building the team, I and the senior team looked for passion. Skills you can teach, but attitude and a desire to learn are traits you must have from the outset.

Working in a start-up is like nothing else. You all have to be eager to pitch in, pivot your own jobs within the team, move around to fill the gaps, and work funny hours if that’s what is needed.

The rewards are incredible. There’s nothing as fulfilling as seeing something you’ve built succeed.

Had you any experience in startups before Splento?

I had founded and led six companies before I founded Splento, sitting on the Board of two of them whilst launching Splento here in London. Each one has been a success in its own way, propelling me forward to the position I am now.

Curiosity and relentless hunger push me to always ask myself what else I could be doing. It’s why I speak three languages, run marathons for fun (!), andreadat least 40 books a year through audiobooks to ensure I’m continuously learning.

I’m fortunate to have family and friends who understand my passion for entrepreneurship and creativity, and I ensure to prioritise them as much as I can. For me, that means putting my laptop and books aside to ensure they receive my quality time - for other people, that will mean something else, like not watching TV or scrolling through social media.

What have you learned since starting the business?

No business gets it right the first time. We have pivoted so much that we’ve actually created a ‘pivoting framework’, and we use this to launch new business models internally in the company. That’s why I always encourage the team at Splento to bring all their ideas to the table. They could all go wrong. They could all be right! They could be kind of wrong but lead to better things. But if you never try something new, you’re never going to learn.

The moments when our scaling growth has really accelerated is when we’ve been challenged to do something different by a client. Whether that’s bringing in a new feature, looking after them in a different way, or delivering even quicker than our promised 48 hour turnaround (as fast as an hour for fully edited photos!), those moments have been tough but given us the catalyst to grow.

End goal? It’s like happiness. It’s not the result, it’s the process. My end goal is not “to make a lot of money and retire”. I get out of bed every morning to work alongside an amazing team of like-minded entrepreneurial spirits to solve pressing problems for the largest possible number of people.

And the end goal for Splento is to delight our customers day in, day out.

My advice for someone just starting out is very simple: ideas are worthless, execution is everything. Execution is all about focus. And focus is all about prioritisation. Once you know what your priorities are, you can focus on the things that matter.

What’s stopping us from being 3x bigger? Time. By the end of the year we will be 5-10 times bigger.

What do you have in place to protect yourself from competition?

Ten years ago, the idea that absolutely anyone could have a high quality camera in their pocket, wherever they want, was absurd. Now people get upset if they cannot get the right crispness in the photos they take on their phones!

That’s what is so fascinating about Splento. We’re not going to try and corner the market of photography in the way that someone might have attempted all those years ago. What we offer is something so much more than photography.

For our photographers and videographers, it’s the freedom to focus on their creativity while we take care of the admin and invoice changing, asone of our photographers spoke about on BBC Radio 4’s live show, Money Box.

For our customers, it’s the ability to hire a photographer at the tap of a button, one skilled and talented who offers a fixed price for the work that you can immediately budget into your plans.

What apps do you use every day to run the business?

Beyond our own Splento app (!), we use Telegram as the easiest way to communicate around the business. This is particularly helpful when we’re in multiple locations, or have a quick idea we want to share with the team before we forget it!

We also use the full Google Suite (Drive, Mail, Calendar), AirTable for our internal project planning, and SeedLegals for contracts and legal documents.

What are your favorite books and podcasts?

I absolutely love reading, and I ensure to prioritise it even if I cannot be sitting down in an armchair. Listening to audiobooks enables me to learn on the go. I even wrote a blog about all the books that I ‘read’ when I’m running, which you can read here. I believe in reading so much that I even created a list of my favourite books and put them into a MUST-READ list for my team which you can find here. Some of my favourites includeGrain Brainby David Perlmutter,How to Be the Startup Heroby Tim Draper, andGames People Playby Eric Berne. My favourite podcasts are ‘Masters of Scale’ and ‘The Tim Ferris Show’.

What is next for Splento?

Our recent investment round has empowered us to really dedicate some time to developing some exciting things. Although still in the works, I can reveal that we’re working on a VIP service, a stock image site to compete with the big names, a training platform, a CRM designed especially for photographers, and even a magazine.

In five years, we’ll be the number one professional visual content creation company in the world, or as we say, a visual fuel major.

Would I ever sell? No. The world is moving from offline to online and someone needs to visualise this tectonic shift. There are only a handful of companies doing it, but eventually there will be 2 or 3 visual fuel major companies, just as successful and integral to the world economy as Exxon Mobil, BP, and Chevron are in the ‘carbon fuel’ world.

We believe that our customer centric approach - always going the extra mile for our customers - is the right one. Our large competitors have different goals and strategies, and we see customers complaining about their service - and that cannot be good long term.

We’d prefer to go our independent way and fulfil our mission of helping the world move from offline to online by visualising it.

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