Kristian Pettyjohn, the CEO of PhotoUp, a real estate photo editing company with offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA, and Cebu, Philippines shares his journey from founding PhotoUp to establishing the company as an industry leader.
PhotoUp offers professional photo editing and virtual staging services. Additionally, the company is a one-stop shop for real estate marketing and also offers additional services such as single property websites, floor plans, virtual tours, video editing, and much more.
With no further delay, let’s start the interview!
Can you kindly start by telling our readers about your background?
I grew up obsessed with video production in high school and college, which had a lot of cross-over with photography of course. Through college, while studying business and marketing, I ended up working for a high-end web design company and then became a licensed real estate agent on the tail of my schooling.
The combination of my interest in media, software development, real estate and business would ultimately culminate a few years later into the founding of PhotoUp in 2012.
As an entrepreneur and CEO, can you tell us about your entrepreneurship journey and how PhotoUp started?
After a short and sweet run as a Realtor, I decided I was more interested in web design and software development, so naturally, I launched my own development company. It was through my software company that I initially was introduced to the Philippines.
And it wasn’t until a few years later that an old real estate buddy of mine introduced me to a real estate photographer he knew who needed some help with real estate photo editing. It sounded like an interesting project so we hired a few dedicated photo editors for him.
Before long it seemed there may be an opportunity to improve real estate photo editing outsourcing, so we founded PhotoUp in 2012.
What inspired you to start PhotoUp?
To be honest, PhotoUp was a much more random circumstance than it was premeditated. However, over time PhotoUp became my main focus rather than a side project and now it’s my full-time career.
Where is PhotoUp based, and how long has the company been in business?
PhotoUp has offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA and Cebu, Philippines. We’ve operated publicly since 2012, though we started early operations in 2011.
What have been your biggest challenges as a CEO of PhotoUp, and how did you overcome them?
Every year brings a new challenge, but certainly, super typhoon Rai which was a category 5+ storm that hit Cebu directly in December 2021 was the most challenging season operationally for the company.
It really revealed both some of our strengths as well as areas we can continue to improve redundancies. Through it all, we emerged a much stronger company, but it took a better part of a year for some of our employees to get back on their feet.
What makes PhotoUp different from other companies in the real estate photo editing industry?
I would say the three big areas that set PhotoUp apart from our competitors are: USA support, a focus on building software, not just services, and most recently the introduction of staffing, that is, having photographers work directly with their real estate photo editors.
Would you kindly explain the difference between a dedicated photo editor and a distributed photo editor?
Sure. Distributed photo editing is how most traditional real estate photo editing desks run. You send your photos and the first editor to get to it does the editing. PhotoUp has a more advanced distributed editing system that looks at historical data between a photographer and editor to make this matching process better than most.
Dedicated photo editing on the other hand is basically hiring an employee. The photographer works directly with a photo editor to really dial in their quality and consistency, plus assist them with other tasks, such as building virtual tours, delivering photos, or doing marketing outreach to prospective clients.
With real estate photo editing as your main product offering, how many photo editors does PhotoUp currently have?
The business is very seasonal, but we typically have 180+ staff members year-round, with more seasonal staff to assist in the summer. We also have direct relationships with hundreds of contract photo editors as well. So it’s a bit of a moving target.
What are the advantages of hiring a dedicated photo editor?
Quality and consistency. A dedicated real estate photo editor is 100% focused on a photographer’s business. Naturally, this leads to much higher quality results than distributed editing ever could.
Is a dedicated editor the same as a virtual assistant? If not, kindly explain the difference.
Yes and no. A dedicated real estate photo editor is basically a specialized VA. Whereas VAs are typically more experienced in basic marketing and administrative tasks.
Just for our readers to get an idea, how much does PhotoUp’s real estate photo editing services cost?
Cost per edit ranges from $0.50 up to $2.00 based on if our photographers shoot single frames, HDR or flambient method and also depending if they choose dedicated or distributed. By far the least expensive editing on average comes from hiring a dedicated editor.
What other real estate marketing services does PhotoUp offer?
Our most popular additional service is real estate virtual staging. We’ve spent nearly five years becoming one of the top providers for VS in the country. We also offer 2D and 3D floor plan renders and real estate video editing.
Which product/service do you think is PhotoUp’s strongest? And why?
For a full-time professional real estate photographer, the answer is clear cut: hire a dedicated photo editor. You drop your cost per edit significantly and get the highest quality editing possible, plus they can help generate additional business in the slower season.
We also offer amazing single property websites which are growing in popularity as we continue to add more requested features.
Do you have any upcoming new product launches?
We do. In early 2023 we’re launching our new DIY virtual tour product, which is quite exciting. We’re also updating our plans to include at least 10 single property websites and 10 virtual tours with every plan.
This just provides more value to our photographers and provides another great opportunity for dedicated editors or VAs to assist photographers by building property sites and tours.
Can you share with us some of the factors that have made PhotoUp so successful?
The biggest thing is US phone support plus 24/6 chat support directly from our operations floor in the Philippines. You call, we answer. It’s so important to me that we offer instant support to all our photographers.
What can you share with us about your vision for PhotoUp’s future?
We’re really towing the line that media, not just photography, is the future of the industry. As such, we’re investing heavily in our single property websites and virtual tour products, plus we’re going to be introducing updated order forms for photo editing, virtual staging, and floor plans in the coming year.
We’re also looking to build more operational and marketing software for photographers to be a true end-to-end system for real estate photographers.
Do you see the market for real estate marketing changing? If so, how?
Now more than ever the real estate market is just volatile. However, I think this provides a big opportunity for real estate media professionals to promote the value of their services.
As there become fewer listings available, agents need to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Zillow says that over 80% of buyers, for instance, find floor plans and virtual tours really helpful. So providing these extra levels of service to agents right now can help them win more business.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for PhotoUp and its mission?
We just blog a lot! But really, our marketing budget is actually very small. We have found a lot of success writing thought-leading content for our customers, such as reviewing other products and services in our industry, talking about new technology, and creative ways to market their business.
What advice would you give to someone just entering the field of real estate photography?
I think the biggest thing is to keep it simple and not to undersell yourself.
What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
Haha, that’s an interesting question, not sure I have a good answer, but I will say starting a company overseas in a developing country is not for the faint of heart. We’ve had to navigate corrupt officials, very tricky international tax and accounting laws, and learn everything about labor legalities in the countries we operate… It’s a lot!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
First and foremost, we appreciate each and every one of our photographers. If you haven’t already tried out a dedicated editor, I’d recommend trying a test edit with three different editors, it really has been game-changing for a lot of our customers.
And of course, I must give a huge shout out to our entire team! It’s been a wild, challenging, and fruitful ten-year journey, and we’re all very excited for the future. As a company, we believe in being a social enterprise and having a positive impact wherever we operate. In fact, our mission is to put people, planet, profit, and purpose on equal footing in business and beyond.
It’s a beautiful thing to connect talent around the world with the real business needs of our clients. While we’ve come a really long way, we are humbled by the journey in front of us as we continue to create services, technology, and staffing solutions to help drive more value for all our stakeholders around the world!
How can customers connect with you?
The best way to reach me is to just shoot a message over to firstname.lastname@example.org or give our customer service line a call. I work directly with all our support and operations teams each day and work to solve any customer inquiries as quickly as we can.
And that’s all for this interview.
Why don’t you try us out for yourself?!
Sign up for a free PhotoUp account, and get 10 free edits to test our services!