Name: Nicole Smith
Current location: Victoria, Canada
City you were born in or raised: Victoria, Canada
Title: Founder of Flytographer
Can you tell us more about your work experience prior to launching Flytographer? Do you think any of those skills were important to launching your own business? I worked as a product manager at a startup and as a marketing manager at Microsoft for many years. The skills I learned at both jobs absolutely helped me with launching Flytographer. At the startup, I learned the importance of getting to product/market quickly and creating clear value for your customers, even in a nascent or shifting market. At Microsoft, I learned the importance of the “voice of the customer” and using it to tell your brand story vs simply stating it yourself, as well as how to define a strong go-to-market strategy.
Please tell us more about Flytographer: While on a trip with my best friend in Paris, I was frustrated by our inability to capture a great picture together. Most of our pictures involved selfies, or awkwardly asking a stranger to take a somewhat blurry photo. We met up with a local friend and I asked her to take some candids of my BFF with my iPhone…. twenty minutes later I had the best souvenir possible—beautiful photos that captured the spirit of our trip that would have been impossible without that third-party vantage point. I returned to Canada and obsessed over the idea for 9 months before finally getting the courage to do something. In March 2013, I launched Flytographer so that everyone can have beautiful, professional photos of their most important memory-making trips. In just four years, we have grown to 400 photographers in 200 destinations on every continent but Antarctica. We have also forged official partnerships with global travel brands including Context Travel tours, Fairmont Hotels, Hyatt, and Virtuoso. In the future, I see us to continuing to grow, expanding to new cities, and simply getting more people to know this option now exists!
What did you want to be when you grew up? It changed so much. Initially, as a young child, I wanted to be an actor, then as a teen, a professional soccer player, then I simply wanted to get a great job in marketing for a big global brand.
What are your favorite aspects of being an entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges? One of my favourite things about being an entrepreneur is seeing your vision come to life, and that no two days are alike. There are always new challenges to keep things interesting. I also really love the opportunity to build a strong culture and set of shared values from the ground up. Our team is fantastic and there’s a real sense of community and gratitude amongst everyone. Every Friday, for example, we have “Prosecco Friday” where we toast to the week and share a personal highlight. It really helps connect the team and remind everyone how valuable every person’s role is with respect to the success of our business. As for challenges, there are so many, of course, whether it’s a hiccup with a shoot or bigger things like acquiring new customers on a bootstrapped budget.
What are some of your favorite moments that you’ve helped to facilitate with Flytographer? There are so many magical customers stories! I could write about this all day long. The sisters who took their elderly father back to Hong Kong when he had not been back since age 5! The girlfriends who flew their friend to Chicago to celebrate kicking cancer’s ass, or simply the heart-swelling surprise proposals that happen every day all over the globe. We are reminded daily how much love and joy is truly out there in the world—whether it’s the parents from Saudi Arabia who can’t wait to show their daughter the Eiffel Tower for the first time, the honeymooners from Tokyo who have been saving for years for their dream honeymoon to NYC or the solo travelers that inspire us with their adventures. One of the best parts is seeing customers come back over the years. For example, seeing customers who got engaged with us, come back to do a honeymoon shoot the following year, then a babymoon shoot and then a family shoot! We feel so honoured to be a witness to some of these key moments in people’s lives and I know my team really feels connected to our repeat customers. Every day someone’s yelling “Couple x & y just booked a babymoon shoot!” or something like that. It’s the best!
How many countries has Flytographer popped up in? Which are the ones that are most popular? We are active in over 200 cities across 6 continents. The iconic cities (Paris, London, Rome, Venice), New York City and Hawaii are our most popular destinations, but we are seeing a rise in bookings in places like Dubai, Iceland, and Japan these days.
What’s the number one reason clients request your services? They simply want to preserve their memories when they are taking a special trip that deserves more than selfies.
Flytographer is connecting people from all over the world to create lasting memories. What that part of your original vision? Connecting people around the world was not in the original vision, it was more just a way to capture a moment before it escaped. What I saw very, very early though was how much fun customers had connecting with the local photographers; they would tell us it was a “highlight of their trip,” learning their insider city tips and they felt like they made a new friend. It’s also been wonderful to see all the friendships flourishing within our community. Whenever Flytographers travel, they look up the local Flytographers in that city to grab a coffee or beer and that’s led to deep friendships, people second-shooting for each other and more connections!
Do you think Flytographer is changing the photography industry? We are offering photographers a new way to make extra money doing something they are passionate about. It’s also created a new category of photography that didn’t really exist in consumer’s minds on a global scale. But I also feel it’s highlighting the value and importance of the local artist, and that owning a camera doesn’t make you a photographer—that it’s worth investing in a pro on vacation to capture your memories in a beautiful way.
How are you planning to evolve to stay ahead of trends in the photography industry? We do a lot of reading, host meetups, and attend conferences etc., but mostly, we simply listen to both our customers and our community of photographers to understand their unique needs and deliver services that exceed them. It’s important to have both formal and informal ways of gathering this feedback, so authentic conversations can be had, and we can keep a pulse on how well we are delivering something of value to all parties involved.
Tell us about Victoria, Canada where you are based. What are some of your favorite spots that we should check out when we’re in town? (restaurants, stores, hotels, etc) Victoria is a magical place. My grandfather was a big world-traveler and always beat that into my head growing up. I honestly couldn’t wait to escape when I was 19. However, moving back at age 36 after living abroad and traveling the world myself, I finally understood what he meant. It’s this picturesque little seaside town surrounded by majestic natural beauty. There are wonderful cafes and restaurants, a thriving art scene all nestled in historical European-style buildings… and within 20 minutes you can be on top of a mountain surrounded by nature. I love the classic Fairmont Empress Hotel which has recently been refurbished, or the Oak Bay Beach Hotel if you want to embed with locals but still have a gorgeous ocean view. Our office is right above some of the best shopping in town: Citizen and Still Life and my team’s favourite coffee shop, Hey Happy. Don’t miss Nourish for a great lunch and the classic fish and chip shop, Red Fish Blue Fish.
Favorite place for a weekend getaway from Victoria? Tofino for the surfing, amazing local food, and gorgeous beaches.
Tell us about the best trip you’ve ever taken. Where was it, what did you do and who were you with? A four-month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia with a good friend from university.
What about the next vacation you have planned or want to plan? Where are you going, staying and what activities will you do? I am heading to Florence in April for our 3rd annual Flytographer meetup! We will spend 3 days connecting with our photographers from across the globe doing workshops, exploring the city on photo walks and, of course, drinking and eating lots of good Italian food and wine. Last year it was in Barcelona and it was so much fun!
Do you get to travel quite a bit for work? What are the essentials in your carry-on? I travel a lot, most regularly to San Francisco and New York. My travel essentials include extra chargers for my iPhone, earplugs, water, a good book, and Neutrogena wipes so I can have a fresh face before landing.
In your downtime, what are you most likely doing? Definitely playing basketball or hiking with my two boys, ages 10 and 12. I also love playing squash and spinning.
If you could pack up and move anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? I dream of living in Europe with my boys for a year and running Flytographer from abroad. Each weekend they’d take turns choosing a different city to drive to, and we’d all learn another language. Current cities on the move abroad list include Lisbon, Barcelona or Rome.
When Oprah complimented Flytographer (congrats by the way!), how did that make you feel? When I saw the article on Oprah.com (a friend had emailed it to me) I was shocked. It wasn’t Oprah who wrote it (one of her writers) but still, this was a huge milestone for our business and my whole team was so excited. It felt amazing!
What does being a success female entrepreneur mean to you? To me, success is having choices and control over how you spend your time. As a female entrepreneur, I want to help other females who are thinking about starting a business, it’s so important to pay if forward. I had many people help me get where I am today.
Any advice for other young ladies who are looking to start their own businesses? If you are passionate about something and you can’t stop thinking about your idea, then just do it! Take the first step and take the next step and so on. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and full of ups and downs but if you truly love what you are doing, then the journey will be worth it.
Anything else to add, please share! I really, really love my job and feel like the luckiest person in the world!