Now that Back to School season is underway, the holidays will be here before we know it. As crazy as that sounds, Christmas is just about four months away—so it’s the perfect time to take holiday photos for cards. That’s why we are thrilled to partner with Shoott, a female-run company that is making professional photography more accessible to everyone. Shoott offers “Insta-worthy” 30-minute outdoor photo sessions at local parks and other popular spots with vetted professional photographers—right in your area. “Our sessions are free to book and allow customers to pay only for photos they love at $15 per photo or less. We’re able to provide quality at this price point because of how we work with our photographers,” explains Shoott CEO and co-founder Jennifer Tsay.
Shoott works with photographers to book back-to-back sessions and give intros to new clients, while handling marketing and sales. “It’s our priority to make sure our photographers are fairly compensated and we provide a generous commission on all gallery sales, a minimum guarantee of $100/hour, flexible scheduling built around photographers’ schedules, and transparent and regular bimonthly paychecks,” says Tsay.
Now in over 600 locations nationwide, Shoott is growing under the leadership of Tsay (aka “Jen T) and her partner, COO Jennifer Yeh (aka “Jen Y”). The pair met freshman year at Cornell University. Today, they’re building a brand that increased revenue from $807K in 2019 to $4.4MM in 2020—despite the pandemic. We asked this dynamic duo to share their story with The Local Moms Network, including Jen Y’s experience as a working mom.
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What was the “aha” moment that lead you to launch?
Jennifer T: As an actor in NYC that had a solid corporate background, I always had a desire to marry my skills and experience. When I was first starting as an actor, I needed a day job so I applied for an administrative role on Craigslist with a serial entrepreneur. Once we met, he realized I had a lot of different skills to bring to his startups so we teamed up on various projects for his different ventures. We had about a 10 year hiatus where I went to drama school and he moved to Paris and then when we reconnected, we had the idea to find a solution for the pain points of the gig economy that I had experienced firsthand as an artist and the idea for Shoott was born out of thinking through how we might be able to both find and aggregate gigs for photographers. It would have been nice if we could have done that for actors, but it works much better as a business model for photography!
How did you two decide to team up?
Jennifer T: We met freshman year of college at Cornell and became quick best friends. I transferred for my sophomore year and we went our separate ways as Jen Y got married and had kids right after she graduated college. We reconnected 10 years later when I got married and wanted a “clutch” bridesmaid. This time around, we stayed in touch and pretty soon thereafter, Jen Y got divorced and had to re-enter the workforce after a decade as a stay-at-home mom and freelance web developer while single parenting 3 young kids. A few years later, as I embarked on founding Shoott, it was always my dream to work with Jen Y again and despite her lack of direct experience being a COO, I was confident she could do it. Together, we have transformed Shoott from a small operation offering service in 9 cities in 2019 to over 60+ cities in 2021 and also grew revenue from $807K in 2019 to $4.4MM in 2020 despite the pandemic.
Amazing! How did you grow your revenue so significantly during the pandemic?
Jennifer Y: We had to figure out how to do everything remotely. Our regular work was already remote prior to the pandemic, but we used to launch new cities by physically visiting the cities and test shooting the photographers ourselves. However, we figured out a way to make that process completely remote while still abiding by CDC best practices. This was a true game-changer for us, allowing us to open upwards of 40-50 new cities from the start of the pandemic until today. The more cities we open up, we continue to find such a demand and enthusiasm for our service – it’s been amazing!
Congratulations. What else separates Shoott from other photography services?
Jennifer T: There are a lot of different photography platforms out there offering photography sessions on-demand, but we’re the only ones who have our unique offer of a free session and a pay-by-the-pic model. This really puts the onus on us to make sure a) we’re hiring the right photographers who can deliver great quality while also providing a stellar experience for our clients and b) we’re finding and targeting the right folks who want and need professional photography. Photography is such a beautiful artform and we know it’s a vulnerable experience for a lot of people. We also don’t take lightly that we are capturing some people’s most personal and intimate moments and relationships so customer experience matters greatly to us from start to finish and also as many of us are artists, protecting our photographers (their time, their talent, and their interests) is a huge priority to us. So even though we may look like a platform from the outside, particularly because we have presence in so many cities – we really function very much like a small business. Our operations team is only about 8 people so we promise we care!
Love that. How would you describe your working relationship?
Jennifer T: It helps that we’ve known each other for such a long time and have worked together on so many things – college projects, weddings, and Shoott – over a 20+ year timespan. We’re great at both reading each other, knowing the other person’s strengths and areas of development (without judgment!), and providing what the other person may need to be at their best.
We have a ton of overlap as to what we’re good at, but neither of us have much of an ego and have a shared agreement that we do whatever is best for the business, so we rarely if ever have a major conflict. Minor conflicts are more about discussions and we are really dedicated to finding an answer together so I don’t even know if I’d call them conflicts!
But if we had to make a distinction: I’m more of the overall strategy and relationship-focused person. I love to focus on all things brand tone/voice, writing on behalf of Shoott, and figuring out development plans for internal staff; while Jen Y can learn and execute new technologies, platforms, processes and analysis faster than anyone I’ve ever known (it’s truly mind-boggling given that she was not in the workforce for 10 years!) so she’ll take the lead on more technical components. But we make the vast majority of our decisions together and will step in to support the other in any way we can. This way, we get a ton of work done together!
How does being a mom influence how you approach your work?
Jennifer Y: It actually helps me be more efficient and productive with my time and more focused and disciplined with my life – because, let’s face it – I want to be able to do (and have) it all (i.e. have a career and guide my children towards healthy independence and coping skills, self-awareness and wisdom so that they are set up for success)
And how do you deal with the work/life balance and busy times?
I set very clear boundaries with my children and I plan out the day and send them a text every morning letting them know the plan (i.e. when they need to be ready for a certain class or camp, what’s available for lunch so they can help themselves, what their chores and responsibilities are for the day). I also let them know, that unless one of them is dying, to text me with questions or needs (so that they don’t walk in during a call). My children feel the most secure (a.k.a. less needy) when they have an idea of what to expect and what they can look forward to. So having a structure in place and communicated on a consistent basis helps them and me!
Do you have any “working mom” strategies that help you through?
In addition to what was stated above:
- Plan out each day (including meetings, driving time, rest time, etc.). I don’t always follow the plant to a T, but sketching out the day helps me visualize how much time I actually have and what I can reasonably expect out of myself.
- Set and communicate your boundaries.
- Ask for help (I often hire my sitter to help drive my kids to things if I can’t move my schedule around to accommodate).
- Establish simple traditions with the kids so that you make you sure you’re making quality time with them and so that they have something predictable they can look forward to (e.g. we do brunch every Sunday at their favorite restaurant).
- Be proactive in learning new things and leveling up your skills, whether they be technical or relational. Not only does taking charge of personal and professional growth yourself help you be better, it also helps you do things quicker and more efficiently – which then translates into more time for yourself and/or for your kids!
Shoott has a strong commitment to charity. Can you please share a bit about that?
Jennifer T: Once some charities started reaching out for partnering opportunities with us, we realized that our business model could be easily tweaked for giving back! We’ve made the process SUPER easy for folks to earn money quickly for their charity or organization of choice and also provided a solution to partner with folks if they wanted to invite our service to provide sessions at events of their choice. For more info: https://shoott.com/giving-back
What are the biggest reasons moms should check out Shoott?
- We’re totally risk-free to try! Because we have no session fee, you can wait until you see your gallery to only purchase the photos you want! So you get to put our service to the test and see if we can indeed deliver what we promise 🙂
- We’ve done all the heavy lifting and research of finding the right photographer and the right location. All of our photographers and locations have been carefully curated and vetted.
- We only accept 2% of all photographer applicants. We screen the photographers for you for technical photography skills (can they give you those Insta-worthy family shots?!) and a great personality (can they make everyone in your family comfortable so your unique relationships shine through photos – even and especially your little ones?) We also background check every photographer out of an abundance of caution for our clients!
- We only need 30 minutes. The 30 minute duration is perfect for kids (and oftentimes spouses!) – it’s a great way to also burn off energy while capturing memories at each specific stage of their development.
- We are incredibly affordable at $15/photo and we also offer packages at $120 for 10 photos or $240 for your entire gallery.
- You are supporting a photographer from your local community that is also being compensated fairly from our company – they are guaranteed pay at $100/shooting hour and earn commission and tips and other incentives for working with Shoott!
What’s next for Shoott?
Jennifer T: As a startup, figuring out how to scale and be around for the long run is top of our list of priorities! We know we have an amazing service – how can we make it better and bring it to more people?
We want to introduce more offerings and features to give our clients a better experience including on-demand re-editing and retouching, more printing solutions, and partnerships for hair/makeup/clothing. We’re also trying to give more flexibility and features to our photographers to make sure they continue to be really happy using our platform to work with clients!
Location-wise, we want to keep expanding throughout the U.S. where we can find gifted, dedicated photographers and then move on to Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and beyond! Anywhere there are photographers and people who want photographs, we want to be the top-of-mind brand when folks are looking for beautiful and affordable outdoor photo sessions!