William Harper tells the story of how his mobile photography studio achieved success.
Kiplinger’s spoke with William Harper, 32, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based mobile photo studio The Headshot Truck, about how he and fellow co-founder Brian Confer, 37, started their business. Here’s an excerpt from our interview:
Kiplinger: Tell us about the Headshot Truck.
Harper: It’s a mobile photography studio. We provide our clients with efficient, affordable and stellar headshots. In mid 2014, we launched with one truck in Los Angeles, and we’ve since added two more, in New York City and Atlanta. We serve actors, businesses, couples, families and pets at scheduled locations and deliver the shots digitally.
Kiplinger: What do you charge?
Harper: The cost for an individual is from $300 to $700, depending on the city and the number of looks [combinations of outfits and backdrops]. We charge extra to hire a makeup artist or have the truck come to you. We can offer corporate headshots for as low as $40 per person because we typically sell them in bulk, but the total fee could be thousands of dollars. For a group shot, we shoot each person individually and create a composite. We can blend in new hires later.
Kiplinger: Do you offer special services?
Harper: We offer green-screen motion-capture video, so we can show a client running from a shark, for example, or a rolling boulder like the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark. We can also turn the truck into an interactive photo booth for special events and weddings.
Kiplinger: Where did you get the idea?
Harper: When I moved to L.A., a friend told me I should talk with Adam Henderschott, an actor and photographer who had a crazy idea about a truck and photographs, and we worked on a prototype. Our main concern was whether people would feel comfortable getting into a truck with someone they didn’t know to have their picture taken. We persuaded the owner of another mobile business to lend us his truck for three Saturdays to try out the idea. Then we bought our own truck and did product testing.
Kiplinger: What did you learn?
Harper: We rely on volume to keep our prices low, so we need to get clients comfortable as quickly as possible. We scrapped an industrial color scheme of black and gray in favor of a soothing scheme of pink, orange and white that makes clients feel as if they’re stepping into something special. We need two people on the truck, so the client isn’t alone, and we try to balance the genders. We play music. And we joke that our makeup artists are client whisperers.
Kiplinger: How did you finance your start-up?
Harper: Initially, from our own funds. In 2014, we used a Kickstarter campaign to outfit our first truck and raised $25,920. We’ve had positive cash flow from day one, and we’ve used it to expand. We’re talking with investors.
Kiplinger: How have you grown?
Harper: We had about $40,000 in gross sales revenue in year one, about $180,000 in year two and $360,000 in year three. We expect to do about $1 million in 2017. We’ll also launch three more trucks.
Kiplinger: Are you making a living?
Harper: Brian and I work full-time for the company and are financially supported by it. All the partners have been living like college students so that we can reinvest our profits in the company, with the hope of growing it as fast as possible.
Kiplinger: It’s not all about profit?
Harper: In L.A., we go to local pet adoption agencies and do glamour shots to help pups that wouldn’t otherwise stand a chance of getting adopted.
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