This Veteran Bootstrapped His Startup To Nearly 3 Million Users–Here’s How

In 2009, Alex Schult, a U.S. Army Veteran and serial entrepreneur, wanted to improve his photography skills. The problem? The resources he found were either too expensive, too time-consuming or both. That led to an idea that has since developed into one of the largest online photography communities in the world, PhotographyTalk, commanding nearly 3 million users today and over a million visitors per month.

I had a chat with Alex about his path to digital success and the lessons entrepreneurs can glean from his journey, all while bootstrapping and never raising outside funding. Where applicable, integrate any of the 7 following tips into your entrepreneurial endeavors and you might find a smoother path to customer retention, loyalty, and eventual profits.

Tip 1: Understand Your Value/Benefit Ratio

Startup founders often think they need to prove product/market fit and gain traction before pricing their product or service. Know the value your company provides and the benefits your users receive if you want to understand the importance of appropriate pricing.

In late 2014, at the request of users for more lessons, we officially made the move from a ‘free and open to all’ platform, to a beta freemium model. During the last 3 years as we continuously added lessons and resources to our PhotographyTalk ON Demand platform we tested price points of our annual subscription and it’s elasticity.”

Tip 2: Start, Commit, and Invest in Iterative Content

Regardless of the product or service, customers need to be given a reason to come back. Start somewhere, continue to tweak, and build off of any foundation — iterating will be part of the journey.

In 2014, PhotographyTalk had a mere 40 lessons, but by 2017, we had well over 600 premium lessons, a huge library of success interviews, photoshop and lightroom tutorials, execution plans, and much more.  As we were testing price elasticity, the value benefit ratio remained balanced as we continued adding assets.”

Tip 3: Grow Strategically by Focusing on Customer Experience

Have a deep understanding of your target customer’s needs and focus on delivering a product/service that exceeds their expectations.

We went out and created our own rule book, armed with strategies that we felt would benefit our clientele while also optimizing the company for growth.”

Tip 4: Customer Service Doesn’t End After the Sale

Customer acquisition is only the first step in building a successful startup. Reduce your churn rate and increase your CLV (customer lifetime value) by continuing to serve the needs of your customers long after they’ve purchased your product or service.

PhotographyTalk can’t guarantee that you’ll never fail. But what we can guarantee is that we’ll be there to help you learn, brush you off when you fall down, encourage you to get back in the game, and empower you to take your best shot.”

Tip 5: Build Consumer Trust to Build a Reputable Business

If you want to build a future-proof business, consumer confidence and trust needs to be at the center of everything you do.

Many business owners cringe at the thought of giving away their best, but I see this as a way to calibrate your compass, build trust, and give photographers a taste of what they can expect.”

Schult continued,

At its core, any business must have mechanics built on trust. That’s why it was so important for me to assemble a team that are experts in their fields, but also have that photography know-how that adds that deep value to each and every product we create. Their expertise has gained the trust of millions.”

Tip 6: Develop a Deep Understanding of Your Audience

Wantrepreneurs are flush with ideas. True entrepreneurs build businesses around the pain points of their audience. Find a problem, develop a detailed understanding of your audience, and offer a superb solution if you want to build a successful business.

Early on, we did survey after survey after survey asking photographers what they wanted and needed to get better. We asked about their pain points, what they were interested in, and so forth, and used that as a framework to build the site.”

Schult Added,

While many brands focus on herding their users in a certain direction that’s favorable to the company, we created an environment that gives users the choice of what they want to consume on PhotographyTalk and where.”

Tip 7: Top Talent Acquisition is Essential for Success 

Ask most startup founders about their biggest struggle and chances are good talent acquisition will be near the top of their list. Regardless of the type of business you’re building, understand the quality of your team will determine the level of success you’ll reach.

Finding success in the e-commerce world doesn’t require a huge pool of employees. What matters is finding dependable, reliable team members that are experts in their field.”

Whether you’re bootstrapping your venture or seeking angel investor funding, following Alex’s tips can help ensure the long-term viability of your business. Learn from the wisdom of an Army veteran and success can be yours too.

This Veteran Bootstrapped His Startup To Nearly 3 Million Users–Here’s How

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