Just over three years ago, Nicole Smith worked out of her garage on weekends, evenings and whenever she had a spare moment, trying to launch her new business.
This week, the founder of Flytographer, which has exploded in popularity, reached a milestone when she crossed the threshold into 2,000 square feet of office space at Market Square.
“It feels incredible, it’s so exciting,” said Smith, whose team is now in stand-alone digs on Market Square’s third floor. They had been located in shared office space previously.
“This is a big milestone, a psychological one as well as a notable one,” Smith said. “It feels like a new chapter is starting.”
The company, an online marketplace connecting travellers to photographers around the world to capture special moments and memories, seems to be well on the way to writing itself a bestseller as it steps into the next stage of its growth and development.
From a solo effort three years ago that offered services with photographers in 18 cities, Flytographer’s 10 full-time staff now connect vacationers with more than 400 photographers in more than 200 cities around the world.
The company offers a robust technical booking system and sophisticated distribution network, through partnerships with high-end hotels and such companies as Expedia, that will see it pull in more than $2 million in revenue this year.
Smith said this translates to more than 6,500 per cent growth since it launched.
“Honestly, I always thought it would take off, even in the early days when I didn’t think it was going as fast as I thought it should be,” she said. “But I always thought it would be something people would love.
“My early customers confirmed that.”
The success happened as a result of marketing and getting the word out, which resulted in plenty of media coverage — including mentions by Oprah, Condé Nast Traveler and Forbes.
Now it’s about building on that early success and scaling up.
“I think we are just getting started,” Smith said. “The biggest thing for us at this stage is we have proven the mode — we know it works and people love it. Now it’s a land grab.”
It’s an enviable position that not every start-up reaches.
Start-up culture has very much taken hold in Victoria and other high-tech hubs in North America, but many would-be entrepreneurs don’t see the dark side of the game.
“Being a start-up has become a mainstream aspiration of so many, and why wouldn’t it? You’re independent, control your own fate. You’re clever and well-rewarded. It’s romanticized to some degree,” said Dan Gunn, chief executive of the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council, which runs an accelerator program for start-up firms that need mentorship, coaching and direction.
Gunn said the problem is that most start-ups will stumble and it’s a tough slog to establish a business.
“It can be very hard, and you have to ask yourself: How long do you want to eat Kraft Dinner and own a bus pass?” he said.
And many never make it.
Since the accelerator program was launched in the spring of 2012, VIATEC has had 300 companies apply. Of those, 180 were interviewed to determine their suitability, less than 100 were accepted and only 60 are still going concerns.
Flytographer is one of the 60.
“Nicole was a star,” Gunn said. “Her ability to stay focused and to build on a vision was exceptional, and her coachability was one of the keys to her success.
“The ones that succeed are the ones that listen, work hard and adapt — and put the time in.”
Smith knows there’s still plenty to do.
“There’s a lot coming up for us,” she said, noting they are rolling out a new booking platform and constantly looking to expand their distribution network.
She said the firm will be spurred along by the new space, which has added a bolt of energy to her team.
“I’m seeing the impact that space has on a team. I’ve never seen the team more motivated,” she said.