Sarah Pearce is the founder of Travelshoot, a business that connects local photographers and travellers across the world. So those terrible selfies you’ve been taking on holidays? Hire a Travelshoot photographer and say goodbye to the unflattering double chin mementos forever. We caught up with Sarah to talk about her business, which is having a stellar year, after receiving $500k funding from lead investor Steve Baxter in February.
You came up with the concept of Travelshoot during a trip to New York, what were your next steps?
I invested about six months into the research of the concept first. I knew ‘holiday photoshoots’ were a new concept for the Australian market, so I partnered with a local university and ended up having 80 marketing students helping me complete pretty extensive research. The results definitely validated the concept had potential, so I spent the next six months (most nights and every weekend) while I was working full-time into developing the business – recruiting and testing photographers, doing all the foundational stuff like legal and insurances, website and contracts, etc.
How did you first market the business? What was your strategy?
I was fortunate to have a unique launch to market experience – I ended up as a finalist in the Optus ‘My Shark Tank’ entrepreneur search in partnership with Channel 10. I ended up being part of the final episode, and once it aired, I was inundated with jobs. So my hand was forced into jumping from my full-time job into my business to cope with the bookings I had – way before I had even finalised my launch strategy!
So, what did winning the ‘My SharkTank’ competition do for your business?
It was just such a solid launchpad for the business – the media exposure around winning the national vote was a complete game changer. Not only did it throw us into operations immediately, but the win opened doors to meetings that would have been much more difficult to secure so early on in our business journey.
Can you share more about getting investors on board, what was that process like?
Running a full ‘by the book’ investment round is a hard slog, and I’m lucky that I knew founders and advisors who had warned me of the reality beforehand. It’s ironic, the hardest but the best thing about meeting with very educated investors is they will ruthlessly test your business knowledge and strategy.
“If you survive the analysis paralysis, it builds a huge amount of self-confidence.”
My advice for anyone considering an investment round, both seed or later stage, is to ensure you have capacity dedicated to managing it. I was advised to allow six months from start to money-in-the-bank. Getting a deal can happen earlier in the process, but the due diligence period can still take months.
What was it like to secure Steve Baxter as lead investor?
Really proud. There’s a reason he’s one of the most informed and educated investors in the country, his due diligence process is incredibly thorough, so getting through it with a “yes this business has a lot of opportunity” type of validation at the end was incredibly exciting. People choose different strategies when they seek investors, for us we knew we wanted educated investors who could add value to Travelshoot. A key capability we looked for were people who had proven aggressive growth strategies.
At what point in the business did you think to yourself, ‘this might take off’ in a bigger way than you’d perhaps first anticipated?
Winning the Shark Tank competition and walking into work to resign the next day was a massive holy shit moment. Then months later when we signed with the Flight Centre Group who now sell Travelshoot experiences across all of their global travel brands – that was an exciting ‘big picture’ business moment.
How many people have been photographed by Travelshoot to date?
We’ve had the privilege of capturing over 1000 people across Travelshoot memories over the past couple years. It’s a pretty big deal to be part of someone’s family holiday, or honeymoon, or girls getaway – so we take the business of capturing lifetime memories pretty seriously.
What is one of your favourite photographs so far?
It’s really hard to choose. I’ve always had a soft spot for this shot of one of our clients who was travelling in New York with her husband. They both wanted some special images in and around Central Park, so one of our local New York photographers suggested a spot mid-week, and if you get there early enough, you can have the park to yourself.
I’m a sucker for black and whites, but particularly this shot, dancing in Central Park early in the morning, I just think it’s such a unique keepsake…
What’s the best thing about your business?
Knowing people will have these awesome memories of key periods in their life to cherish and reflect on as they get older.
How about the worst (if any)?
The nature of what we do is of course fun, but we’re totally aware that clients might only ever get one chance of that family holiday in Paris, or the wedding proposal in New York, or the girl’s reunion in Bali – so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to deliver. Because it’s a global business, Travelshoots happen when we sleep. So like any global service business, you sometimes can be a little too obsessed (or paranoid) with ensuring client experiences will be perfect.
What is your involvement in the day-to-day running of the business?
I try to be across as much as possible, but as the business has grown, I’ve had to build a team of specialists who own their areas of the business such as photography or customer experience. Since having my first child last year, I was determined to factor in some ‘mother bonding’ time each week, so I work between 3-4 days per week. And as any business owner knows, if you try to be flexible midweek then the compromise is a lot of night time + weekend catching up happens too. I’ve tried to shift from being involved in any operational day-to-day activities within the business (as much as I used to love viewing all of our client albums!!) and now the focus is on growth strategies and working with our partners and investors.
Where’s the wildest place TravelShoot has shot?
We haven’t completed a shoot in any ‘wild’ locations as such, but we did have a request from a couple who wanted a honeymoon shoot in Antarctica! I had to let them know we hadn’t recruited there yet, sadly. However, we have had some of our photographers go to interesting lengths to ‘get the shot’ – such as hiding in bushes to capture a surprise proposal!
Have you had any customers who haven’t been happy with their shots? How do you manage that?
We’ve never had to refund any customers due to any concerns about the quality of their images – “touch wood.” Being a business that’s based on a global network of photographers, we are absolutely prepared for it one day, but are delighted up until this point a couple of years in we haven’t faced this yet.
I think the biggest reason why we have had such great client feedback is the quality control measure we have in place. We have a very talented photographer on the team who hand-picks who we want on the network, and after portfolio and legal checks, the last stage for them is to complete a test shoot with us – with a real client we assign. This not only assures us their photography skill is as their website would have you believe but secondly that they’re a genuine people person.
The Aussie summer holidays are fast approaching, where would you next like to visit?
I’m currently expecting my second little human in February so our summer holidays will be spent closer to home. We’ve got some time mapped out for Palm Beach on the Gold Coast, and then some day trips to Byron will be on the cards.
Had it been post-baby (and breastfeeding) my favourite summer holiday memory was in Biarritz and I would love to go back and spend more time there! I describe it as a mini coastal Paris.