Knowing Kristian: Leading Through Innovation

By Devon Higgins

Taking advantage of opportunities, genuinely caring about the people under his wing, introducing innovative products, and taking the industry by storm. That’s how Kristian, the energetic CEO of PhotoUp, sees and runs the business.

Being a CEO is definitely not easy. But how does he do it? Let us know more about Kristian, his goals for PhotoUp, and how he keeps up with the challenges of spearheading an amazing company.

Q: Can you explain your role at PhotoUp?

Kristian Pettyjohn here and I’m both a co-founder and the CEO of PhotoUp. I work with our product team to review designs and development progress.

My responsibilities also include creating and approving policy, processes, and culture; working on strategic partnerships; setting company strategies and goals; building our team; and planning out cash flow and budgets.

Q: What made you decide to start PhotoUp?

I ran a small web development company called Zipy Web Solutions back in 2010. After two profitable years, I decided to build our own products rather than chase new client work.

While vacationing in Alaska in 2011, I met Dave Davis, a professional real estate photographer. His business was growing fast, but he had a hard time scaling an editing team while managing the seasonality factors inherent in the real estate photography industry.

As we teamed up to solve his editing issues by expanding my team in the Philippines, we quickly realized that other photographers have the same problems. To address these points, we introduced PhotoUp Version 1, a bare-bones platform that allowed real estate photographers to send their photos to our team in the Philippines to be edited overnight.

Officially, PhotoUp launched on January 12, 2012 and has been in business ever since.

Q: What differentiates PhotoUp from other companies?

PhotoUp helps photographers grow and manage their businesses. Four core areas set us apart from our competitors:

  • Our USA customer sales and support team
  • The cost savings and scalability of having an on-demand photo editing team
  • Our technology platform, which is loaded with tools for photographers
  • The social impact, security, and transparency our team offers to photographers

Q: What is your vision for the company?

Long-term, we want to make PhotoUp the leading technology platform for photographers worldwide. Our product road map involves building tools for photographers to manage their clients, payments, scheduling, marketing, etc. In short, we want to be the all-in-one solution for any photographer to grow and manage their business. We are definitely on this road after we recently released FolioWebsites2, a website builder similar to SquareSpace and SmugMug.

Most software companies give photographers lots of tools, but they implement a strict structure on how they believe you should run your business. This doesn’t work in a dynamic industry where photographers run their businesses in dramatically different ways.

PhotoUp provides the basic tools that all photographers need at an affordable price. Photographers can then add business apps to the core platform, allowing each photographer to build the software they require and prefer. I believe this is the future for software and the photography industry in terms of business management tools.

Q: What are the challenges you face as a CEO?

I want to build and maintain a cohesive culture as we scale our team. This is quite a challenge because I personally work and live half a world away from our operations center.

Q: How do you meet these challenges?

We built an incredible culture when we were still small, so much of this was carried over to the company as we have grown. We have some of the most talented executive and directorship teams I’ve ever worked with in both North America and in the Philippines. Having such a dedicated team helps disseminate our culture and values to all employees.

Our entire leadership team is also committed to investing back into our employees and communities. People can feel when a company authentically cares for them and the local community.

I’m amazed at how the team continues to find ways to grow our culture and build up one another personally and professionally. For example, our staff came up with the idea last year to start doing a yearly Sports Fest. It’s a two-month program where each weekend, different internal teams and departments voluntarily participate in company-wide sporting events.

Q: How do you describe the PhotoUp team?

FRESH! Last year, we came up with FRESH to describe our team. It is the acronym for:

  • Flourishing
  • Respect
  • Excellence
  • Setting goals
  • Having fun

This is really what we believe and live at PhotoUp. Nothing else describes the team more perfectly than FRESH.

Q: Can you describe the company’s most challenging moment? How did you overcome it?

The toughest challenge we have faced to-date was developing our seasonal intern program. The real estate industry in the USA sells twice as many homes in the summer as they do in the winter. Naturally, PhotoUp edits about double the volume of photos during summer time.

As we grew as a company, it became unsustainable to employ summer-level staff year round. We now have put two years of work into developing recruiting, hiring, and training staff to onboard; that’s around 100 seasonal photo editor interns for 6 to 8 months at a time.

This year was the best we’ve ever done, but we believe we can make even bigger improvements next year. We work hard to provide both technical and leadership training to our interns while providing our top-performing ones the chance to gain full-time employment with the company.

Additionally, we care deeply about dignified work and the long-term personal and professional success for all PhotoUpers. We find ways on how we can help interns succeed after their experience with PhotoUp. This last year, we have been working on our new PhotoUp Alumni program to assist interns and employees who are moving out of PhotoUp to still have outlets to give back to their communities and for professional development.

Q: Can you share specific future plans for the company?

PhotoUp’s biggest move in regards to future products is our new photographer website builder, FolioWebsites2. For 18 months, a dedicated a team of seven PhotoUpers built this product, which was launched this August 2017.

We intend to add more business tools to FolioWebsites and do major integrations between Folio and PhotoUp. Additionally, we are working on a new photo proofing and payment tool in PhotoUp so photographers can deliver photos with one click and get paid before their clients download the photos. It’s been a popular request, and one we’ll have live before the end of the year.

Q: Let’s go to a lighter topic. What do you do if you’re not directing the company on its path?

Outside of work, I’m an avid outdoors person! Most often, you can find me on the mountain bike trails around Bend, Oregon or climbing one of the local mountains.

 

Q: What are a few of your professional and personal goals?

I want to continue developing PhotoUp and FolioWebsites. Long term, I want to become an active investor in the mid-cap companies and a more active figure in the social entrepreneurship movement.

Personally, I’d love to buy a house as I’ve spent the past three months traveling around the US and living in a roof-top tent!

 

Q: Any advice to people who want to work or establish a business in the tech/photo editing/web design industry?

There are a million ways to make a million dollars. The key is to find a problem you really feel deeply committed to solving, then build a stellar group of people around who you like to do both business and life with.

Building successful companies is largely a factor of timing, capital, people, and opportunity all in harmonious alignment. Plant seeds, test ideas, and build relationships. With persistence, they will all align, and you can pull the trigger on a new venture.

I have two thoughts about success. First, success should always be defined by an individual. Figure out what success means to you before starting a new venture. Then write success statements with goals around the 4Ps: people, planet, purpose, and profits. Working on goals centered around the 4Ps creates much more meaningful and fulfilling work and life experiences.

Second, starting a new company is downright hard. At some point, the excitement will wear off and it will have a bit of the You vs The World feeling. This feeling is sometimes referred to as The Chasm.
It’s not the smartest or best-funded companies that get through the Chasm. Rather, it’s the ones that never give up. You may need to pivot, realign, or restart a new venture several times. But remember, it’s the entrepreneurs with the most endurance, determination, and outright grit who succeed.

–Kristian’s dynamic skill set, caring attitude, hunger for innovation, and persistence have certainly paved the company’s way to success. He is totally dedicated to make a difference in the photography and tech industries. With him at the helm, we believe we are truly on our way there. Way to go, boss!

Devon

Devon came to PhotoUp with a background in digital marketing and communications. With a BA in Marketing from Michigan State University and previous experience working with both big business and non-profits, Devon brings a well-rounded perspective to the team. Outside of PhotoUp, you can find Devon coaching and playing soccer, socializing in downtown Grand Rapids, or going on adventures throughout the great state of Michigan.

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