Scroll through an average website and you're likely to see walls of product images that have all been expertly shot. Now imagine being on the other side and having to painstakingly produce all those images. This is the exact challenge that husband-and-wife duo Andy and Jo Mackie were trying to solve when they set up their business, which uses some clever tech to take the backache out of professional photography.
What exactly does your business do?
We run two related businesses, LookDepot and Asset Factory. They enable retailers to easily create and publish photo and video content for their websites. As online shoppers, we take the incredible range of online content for granted, but it's crucial to create really engaging online experiences. There are literally hundreds of thousands of static and video images online and someone has to make all that content. This can be really time-consuming and expensive for retail businesses. We enable this at a significant saving in terms of cost and time without compromising quality. What really catches our customers by surprise, is how much they can create without the use of a photographer and how good it is.
So how do your produce photographs without a photographer?
LookDepot has the exclusive rights to technology by StyleShoots, a company that leads the world in automated all-in-one photography machines. The machines have a combination of tools that create fully edited stills and video with a ridiculously easy-to-use interface, making content creation a breeze for anyone. We supply and service the technology to large retailers across Australia and New Zealand with most of our clients in Australia.
At Asset Factory, our team utilises this technology and provides the know-how to smaller Kiwi-based retailers to create content within our Auckland based studio. You can hire the equipment and studio for periods of time or alternatively our team will shoot product and supply the content with really rapid turnaround times.
What are some of the brands that you work with?
Some our customers are household names like Huffer, Swanndri, Bendon, Huckleberry and Ecostore and we also work alongside many ma and pa retailers and start-ups.
How long has your business been around?
LookDepot was established in 2014 with Asset Factory following in 2016.
What was the motivation behind starting this business?
There are two parts to this, one was the classic entrepreneurial desire to have our own thing and have more control over our own destiny. We are also ambitious and want the best for our family, so having our own business seemed the best way to achieve this. Jo had previously had her own business which we sold, so you could say we are business owners by nature.
The second part is spotting an opportunity. Andy had been working with leading retailers for some time across many aspects of retail technology and photography and came across StyleShoots as a result of research. This, along with Andy's vision that ecommerce was on the brink of explosive growth, was a lightbulb moment and a glimpse into the future. Andy secured the rights to StyleShoots and the rest is history.
How does the chaos of entrepreneurship compare to working in a corporate role?
The key difference is greater accountability. We have a level of commitment to our customers that, in our experience, is significantly amplified compared to being an employee, even a senior one. If things go wrong it not only affects the success of our customers but can have a major impact on our livelihood. We are very tuned into this. On the plus side, we have a greater sense of achievement and potential financial return and in theory at least, provides the opportunity for more flexibility to enable family time, but this happens less than we'd like.
What are some of the toughest lessons you've learned running your own thing rather than working with another company's budget?
The buck stops with us and ultimately it's our future on the line. It's probably a bit of a cliché to say that the Covid outbreak was an existential threat. We really had to hold our nerve and had many sleepless nights playing out negative scenarios in our heads. Ironically, Covid has ended up amplifying the place for high-quality customer experience for ecommerce which is our sweet spot.
Was it hard to get things off the ground?
Very hard. We had a vision for the future but that future meant the complete disruption of ecommerce content creation and all the processes around that. Most retailers found that confronting and we questioned, in the early days, if we had made the right decision. It took us around two years of absolute hard graft before we started to make real traction. It's strange to look back on those times now as much of what we do now has become industry standard.
How big is your team now?
We are still small with a team of four based in Auckland and an Australian country manager in Melbourne alongside an installation specialist. So six altogether. We anticipate the team growing as we expand our footprint across Australia.
What are your long-term plans?
We have the ambition to be the leading provider of ecommerce and retail photographic technology in Australasia by 2023.
We also want to broaden our conversations beyond fashion, which is our foundation. Being Kiwis, we have found innovative ways to use the technology in other verticals like food and beverage, health and beauty and homewares.
Paul Catmur recently wrote that entrepreneurs need to be a little psychopathic to succeed? Does running a business require a slight suspension of rationality?
We've enjoyed reading Paul's comments and agree with a lot of what he says. It is true that if we'd known the challenges we would face we would have thought twice, but still have done it. We don't regret a thing. People, say that you can't or shouldn't combine work and marriage and stay happy, we disagree. As a partnership, we balance each other out and complement each other. Andy is the (slightly) psychopathic one.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Be very clear about what your "Why" is. Establishing your purpose, your reason for being, beyond making a profit is crucial. What has been consistent for us is a belief that we would make retailers more successful by improving ecommerce customer experience. We can now demonstrably show this is true. That is where we get our buzz.