When an opportunity to fill a gap in the marketplace with a product or service presents itself, you jump on that chance. No matter who you are or what you are working on, you quickly become an entrepreneur regardless of your personality and past work history. And so the story goes for Normal, Illinois based startup QikPix and their quest to become the world’s first platform that streamlines the photography process by matching users with photographers based on interest and location.
QikPix founders Jarek and Katie Hamilton aren’t your usual suspects for creating a tech startup. Their respective backgrounds are more like the typical bio’s you read of hardworking Midwestern folks. Jarek works for the Army Corps of Engineers as a Lock and Dam Operator, and his wife Katie is a photographer and CNA. However, according to Jarek, “the cool thing about entrepreneurship is that the market will determine if our idea is a success.”
“The cool thing about entrepreneurship is that the market will determine if our idea is a success.”
Since establishing the business in August of 2015, QikPix has gone through the gauntlet of a vetting process over the last six months which has seen the launch, a pitch competition, a presentation to a local angel investment group, and market validation of the concept. In a short amount of time, it grew from 3 photographers to 38 nationwide, and has also gotten interest from investors across the country.
PEN had the chance to sit down QikPix founder Jarek Hamilton to talk about how that wild ride has been for someone jumping head-first into entrepreneurship.
Can you talk about the last six months and what it’s been like pitching and presenting?
Sure. At the KeyStart pitch competition in November, I learned how to ask for money. That may sound funny, but if you want something like money then you really have to deliver your idea in a concise way and ask for what you want in return.
The judges that asked some tough questions and really learned from it. We didn’t win which was disappointing, but it taught me more than what the money could do. It taught me how to look at myself at and how I’m presenting my idea. It taught me to listen to what people say and what they ask, and then take in those comments and learn from it. I also learned that you don’t want to just give them an answer that I thought that they wanted to hear.
Just recently, I gave presentation to the Bloomington-Normal Angel Investors, a local angel investment group. This was a much bigger ask. It was hard to come up with an amount that was what we needed to grow, but I only asked for what I truly believed we would need. This presentation was similar in terms of the experience. However, for this, I needed the proof of why I needed the investment and a logical reason as to why I’m even asking.
The approach was a little bit different than at KeyStart. I didn’t lay out as much as I could have then, but I made sure to lay out everything as much as I could in this attempt. I didn’t want to undervalue or overvalue QikPix though.
Aside from the potential of financial investment, what have you gained throughout these activities?
Number one was definitely learning how to ask for money. Then to be prepared for anything. I had some technical glitches at one presentation, but I was able to act fast and think on my feet to recover.
It’s also taught me to be myself. Since I wasn’t familiar with the startup scene I felt uncomfortable initially because I thought people expected me to act or look a certain way. You just have to show people who you really are and I think they respect that.
Have there been any pivots, changes or adaptations along the way?
Yes – to the actual business itself. It was originally an editing service to make cheaper and quicker for business. Then it turned into actual, physical photography. Having a large family, we personally knew there was a problem to solve with arranging a typical photography service due the costs associated with having to pay for a shoot.
We did more research, scoured the industry and the Internet to see if there was something there. It was actually our second idea that was actually the biggest – now it’s an improvement of our first idea.
Is there anything you’ve learned from trial and error?
I’ve noticed that sometimes less options for a customer can be better as long as you can deliver on quality. We found out that letting customers decide too much was one of the first things that we needed to fix. We also knew early on that we wouldn’t be able to do full photo restoration off the bat.
How have you been able to reach so many people so quick?
Social media has really been the tool for success for us in customer acquisition and exposure. “Likes” mean a lot for a startup and increases reach and visibility. Facebook advertising was definitely the best bang for our buck.
What advice can you give to someone about to enter into a competition, give a presentation to investors or who is just starting to work on their idea?
I’m not a tech guy and I’m not a photographer. I’m just a guy who looks for improvements on something or a change that needs to be made to solve customer problems. Just be yourself, if you want to wear a hat, wear a hat. But be professional as you can to present the best version of yourself as you can.
What’s next for QikPix?
We’re excited that QikPix will be at Collision, a startup conference during April 26th-28th in New Orleans. Our Beta is going through end of March. We want as many people to get on website, try the service, find a photographer and let us know what they think.