In 2012, Nate Grahek had a corporate training and development job and was building a small portrait photography business, an avocation that helped justify an occasional splurge on expensive camera equipment.
To give his photography customers a little perk — and to hone his own tech skills — he started building mobile apps that enabled the customers to load his photos of them on their phones to show to friends. Those customers loved it and Grahek saw opportunity.
“I knew right away this was a business model,” he said.
With the use of mobile devices soaring the opportunities seemed endless, but Grahek’s mentor, Clay Collins, the co-founder of LeadPages, offered some important advice: “Don’t stray outside of your expertise.”
Grahek heeded that advice and launched StickyAlbums, which focuses on selling mobile photo albums to photographers who in turn sell them to their own customers.
“It’s like a digital business card,” said Grahek. “The key problem I’m solving for photographers is helping them market themselves more effectively and differentiate themselves from the competition.”
After building a website to promote the business, Grahek ran an online special. Within three days, he sold enough apps to gross about $10,000 in fees, but he had to build the galleries by hand because he promised his wife he wouldn’t go into debt to pay for the software that could do it automatically.
After he signed up the first 500 customers, he decided to leave the corporate world and six months into the venture he was making $40,000 to $50,000 a month.
Grahek quickly noticed that some of the photographers who were using StickyAlbums were using it to build a quasi website for their clients, including caterers, florists and DJs.
Grahek polled his customers: “What if we let you build something so awesome you can sell it?”
The response was overwhelming, so Grahek created StickyApps, which gives photographers a digital platform and online instruction that enables them to build websites via mobile apps for other small businesses.
StickyApps, which functions like a mobile website, targets the estimated 14 million small businesses across the country that don’t have a website, don’t have the time to use the many do-it-yourself web builders and don’t have the resources to pay a professional designer. Grahek said a custom website can cost upward of $10,000, not including photography and monthly maintenance fees.
“My grandma can build a website,” Grahek said. “But professional images are the most important aspects of doing business.”
The site also creates an important revenue stream for photographers, whose income is seasonal.
“Ninety percent of professional photographers have another source of income,” Grahek said.
StickyApps has already received professional praise. Professional Photographer magazine gave it the Hot One Award and it was recently featured on Shutter Network, an online photography show.
It’s also gathering a national audience. Kate Treick, a portrait photographer in Pensacola, Fla., started using StickyApps a few months ago to supplement her income and to promote her 2 year-old business. In July, she sold her first website to the owner of her daughter’s dance studio, which had already commissioned her to take photos.
“She loved it because it told the story of the dance studio through these images,” she said.
Since then, she’s sold 13 websites and is gathering string on several sales leads.
Selling the service, Treick said, isn’t difficult because it doesn’t require a major upfront investment. Like StickyAlbums, StickyApps charges customers an upfront fee followed by a monthly maintenance payment, which is shared with Grahek.
That income has helped Treick move into a new studio without going into debt.
“It’s not for every business,” she said. “But for those who need a place on the Internet to tell their story and connect with clients, it’s perfect.”