Lawyer-Turned-Tech-Entrepreneur Has A Photographer-Hailing App For You
Uber has inspired entrepreneurs to build a better business model, or at least to dream of making money disrupting an industry that’s ripe for it. Russel Lakey is one of them.
Lakey is the co-founder of a new Venice Beach-based tech startup called QwkPic, an app that lets owners of mobile phones hail a photographer and gives photographers another way of making money.
The app, available on App Store, solves a problem, Lakey says: how to have a quick, creative, fun and affordable photo shoot on demand without the risk of handing your phone to a stranger or of selfie-liability issues.
Professional photographers are scattered, scarce, slow and expensive — $300-plus per hour, Lakey said. His solution can cost as little as $5 for a photo shoot.
“Think Uber for photographers,” Lakey said in an email interview with Moguldom.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Lakey attended Vanderbilt University Law School on a basketball scholarship. He worked as a lawyer for three years before quitting to start his first tech firm.
“Being a lawyer wasn’t really stimulating for me,” Lakey said. “I like to be creative and wanted a career that allowed that. Plus when my friend and I had the idea for my first startup I knew I’d regret not taking the chance so I went all in and quit practicing.”
QwkPic is Lakey’s second startup. His first — Babafoo — was a sports recruiting and social networking website for high school athletes. After five years, Babafoo merged with Lionseek, a data aggregation company in Silicon Valley that was later acquired by Verticalscope.
QwkPic had a small initial seed round of $50,000 from JAS Maverick Investments, LLC, Seth Freedman who is CEO of Driftr, and friends and family, Lakey said.
The QwkPic app allows users to summon an iphotographer to their location and receive the photos on their phone during shoot. Photos cost 40 cents and a shoot costs as little as $5 for about 8-to-10 photos. It lets photographers be their own boss and earn money in their spare time taking pictures with an iphone. They can earn up to $40 an hour, Lakey said.
QwkPic is still in early beta testing and is building a database of iphotographers.
“We have about 500 registered photographers in the LA area,” Lakey said. “We’ll have promo codes implemented soon and start heavily marketing to potential customers.”
Buffy Fermino makes extra money on weekends shooting photos at pop-up events held every weekend.
“QwkPic is pretty cool,” Ferminoto told Moguldom. “They’re typically at free events and festivals in LA so me and my friends go hang out there and I make some extra money taking pics. I went to FYF Fest (“Fuck Yeah Fest” showcasing many genres of music) this weekend and was able to earn some cash taking pics of people in between acts I was there to see. By the second day, my friends signed up for QwkPic to make some money at the festival too. The app definitely has potential.”
Jason Hall, a former Uber driver, has been working as a QwkPic photographer the past few weeks at the Santa Monica pier.
“My day job is close-by so I just set up there after work to make some extra cash,” Hall told Moguldom. “Uber is a multi-billion dollar company so (Uber for photographers is) a pretty lofty goal, but I do think the (QwkPic) app has potential. All the customers I’ve done photo shoots for at the pier have loved it so I can see it being popular at other similar locations.
“But most importantly for me the app works well with my schedule and I don’t have to drive all around town giving people rides. I can stay close to where I work and live and make some money taking pictures, which is convenient.”
Lakey spoke to Moguldom.com about his journey as a young black tech entrepreneur.
Moguldom: What advice do you have for black tech founders?
Russel Lakey: My advice would be don’t be afraid to reach out to other entrepreneurs and tech founders for help or to ask questions. Even if you don’t know them personally you can do a simple Google search and then send a unique and interesting email introducing yourself. You won’t get 100-percent response but you’d be surprised how often people respond and are willing to help. Then you can pick their brain and get some great feedback on your idea and the tech space generally.
Moguldom: What’s your expansion plan?
Russel Lakey: Our expansion plan is to first dominate the greater Los Angeles area and then expand to major U.S. cities (NYC, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, etc) and then eventually to the top tourist and most visited cities internationally (London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Shanghai, Rome, Barcelona).
Moguldom: What were some of your biggest challenges as a tech startup?
Russel Lakey: I would say with my first startup it was getting a foot in the door and learning how to navigate the space. Me and my business partner both came straight from working at law firms so we had a steep learning curve. But we had a good network of friends who helped us greatly. The biggest challenges (were) winning over customers, battling the competition and keeping your users engaged.
Moguldom: Tell me about your team
Russel Lakey: The QwkPic team is myself, my cofounder River Korn who has 7-plus years of tech experience, and our CTO Andy Moeck who has 15-plus years experience and previously cofounded Teleo (acquired by Microsoft) and Adisn (acquired by Crowdgather).
Moguldom: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten, and the worst?
Russel Lakey: Best Advice: Follow your dreams. Worst Advice: Follow your dreams. Hahaa. But I really haven’t gotten any bad advice. I would say the best for me personally was from my college basketball coach. I was a very emotional player and he would just tell me, ‘Try not to get too high or too low, try to stay as level as possible.’ And this comes in handy in the tech space as well because you don’t want to dwell on a success too long or wallow in the setbacks that are sure to come. Just need to be able to continue to plug ahead.
Moguldom: What helped you the most in your journey?
Russel Lakey: I would definitely say my family. I know it’s a cheesy answer but it’s true.
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