A picture is worth 1,000 words — and for business owner Jen Loong, that equals a world of entrepreneurial possibilities.
Loong is the founder of WanderSnap, a Hong Kong-based venture she launched in 2016 to connect photographers with local clients. While shooting photos for various publications in Asia, she noticed a disconnect between the high-quality photographs social-media users wanted to post and the paid picture-taking gigs that were available to satisfy their need.
It gave her an idea: “What if we could marry that appetite for content all the time, anywhere, with creating job opportunities?”
And opportunities are what she created. More than 1,000 photographers in 58 cities throughout Asia now use WanderSnap to connect to paying clients. She also has eight full- and part-time employees. The company takes a cut from client fees and from participating photographers, though Loong declined to disclose its revenue figures.
Photographers receive bookings from one of her venture’s three business lines: one focused on travel photos, maternity shoots, baby pictures and other types of images for individuals and families; another that takes photos and manages content libraries for businesses, including Airbnb; and a third that documents live events like conferences and weddings.
A New Age Business
Technology has played a significant role in Loong’s entrepreneurial journey, both good and bad. On the positive side, it helps her find photographers to work with. Social media — image-sharing site Instagram in particular — helps her identify talented hobbyists who, “if they just had a bit more opportunity, they would buy that extra gear, quit their jobs and shoot full-time,” she says.
She also trains most WanderSnap photographers online. She offers them training videos covering topics from sexual harassment and cultural sensitivity to how to customize shoots to meet customers’ needs. She also shares digital reading materials that support their professional development.
In addition, Loong partners with non-governmental organizations to teach local children photography through a 10-week, in-person course, to help them earn income with their talents.
Because all her workers are far-flung, Loong relies heavily on technology to coordinate workflow. She says using applications like Slack, which provides a platform for workers to collaborate digitally from laptops and smartphones, helps everyone stay connected while keeping costs low.
Competing Against Tech
But digital communication comes with challenges. “How do you build in trust and community and stickiness via Slack, when you don’t even see the team?” she asks.
And technology, itself, is a constant competitor. “One thing we have to think about is how to compete against the iPhone,” she says, which takes better quality photos with every new model.
The most frequent question she reports receiving from potential clients is why they should hire her photographers in the first place, instead of taking pictures on their phones for free. Clients also often wonder why they should pay to wait to receive physical and digital copies of their images, when they can immediately access quality images and videos taken with their smartphones. “These are unique challenges of our time,” she says.
To address the latter concern, she and her team have been pushing a new app called Live Photos. The technology lets WanderSnap access and touch up (and watermark) images from its photographers’ DSLR cameras in real-time during an event and then send edited photos to clients’ phones, so they can be shared immediately at their discretion.
She also explains the importance of having a professional behind the camera. For example, people seeking engagement photos will get more natural, flattering results with a photographer who knows how to put them at ease, she says. And for her business clients, she stresses that her employees are trained to deliver the sort of “high-quality, relatable, social-worthy imagery” that ventures need in this day and age to build brand awareness.
It made a difference for Airbnb, who hired WanderSnap photographers to make home listings in Asia more appealing. And, to ensure individual clients get the professional snaps they want to remember key personal milestones, WanderSnap pairs each of them with well-matched photographers whose portfolios and ratings are readily available online.
The International Road to WanderSnap
Loong says she learned about entrepreneurship early. “My dad is a serial entrepreneur in and out of China, so the appetite to build and grow was in my DNA, so to speak,” she says. “I was always a builder, even in school,” where she worked with friends on an events company.
She split her childhood between Vancouver and Hong Kong, then completed her education at the University of British Columbia in 2011. Just 2 days after finishing her last exam, she took a one-way trip to China and started a career helping brands like Lululemon Athletica and Tom’s Shoes launch and grow in Asia.
But she had “the bug to do something of my own.” So in 2016 she launched WanderSnap in Hong Kong and quickly starting establishing her business in more than 50 cities, committing to the business full-time within a matter of months.
At the beginning, WanderSnap focused on travel photography, pairing shutterbugs with travelers to Asia keen to document their journeys, which she says set apart her venture as something new and fresh from the start. “We’re different from other platforms in this space, which are typically very focused on wedding or family photography or real estate.”
Last winter, she did incorporate live-event photography, soon after beginning to offer business-to-business services. Now, all prospective clients in WanderSnap’s cities need do is search by location and type of service they want to find the photographer who best suits their needs.
Going forward, Loong aims to take her platform beyond Asia and, ultimately, link photographers and clients the world over. And she plans to scale up in other ways too. For example, she’s looking for a way to pay photographers as soon as a shoot is done, with the goal of enticing more of them to sign on to her platform.
Of course, her path to growth continues to be a race against the smartphone. “The cost of content goes even lower as they get better,” she says. “In such an environment, what are the tech breakthroughs” that can keep WanderSnap competitive?
But Loong is confident that she will find the answers and continue to grow her business, thanks to her large network of talent. “This would not have come to life without their hustle and effort — having that is really important.”