“You are awesome at business”.  No One

My initial foray into entrepreneurship was unquestionably an unmitigated outright failure on every level, without a doubt, no question about it. Everything from the name of the company to the shortcomings of the concept was destined for an article on how not to start a business. And so, consequently, here we are. 

The complete lack of awareness displayed is disconcerting, so much so that I can’t and won’t consider it my first company, it was more like a physical assault on the tenets of capitalism. It was started, to some degree, by bravado and only served to promote my ineptitude. So, in the interest of fostering academic scholarship, I will break down the debacle for your consideration.

The Concept: A colleague of mine, who shared my interest in photography, showed me a magazine article about a bloke who had installed a hydraulic pole through the roof of his van with a camera attached. This enabled him to take aerial photos of houses that could be used for real estate purposes. I made some sort of off-handed comment about how I couldn’t see him ever making his money back on his investment as he was selling photos to real estate agents at $100 a pop and it cost him north of $35,000 to create his setup. After a quick internet search, it turns out you could buy a 50 ft tripod, tether a camera to it, and do exactly the same thing for under $1,000. Apparently, that was all the research we needed to start a “company”. We both put in $500 and bought a 50ft tripod and tethering cable and as I already had an appropriate camera and laptop, we were now ready to embark on our road to riches.

The Name; Nowadays naming a company can be challenging and it’s getting progressively harder due to the scarcity of applicable web domain names. You can come up with a great name only to find the web address containing your great new company name, or any version of it, has already been taken.  We didn’t have this problem 15 years ago and yet we still came up with the name “Positional Imaging”. Which, after we registered the website, created company email accounts, and had business cards printed was cheerfully pointed out by my wife, and her many friends, to sound very much like a porn site. Suddenly the logo we had designed featuring a pole with an eye on top seemed extremely inappropriate. We were off to an excellent start.

The Plan; Despite the naming setback, we charged headfirst into an email campaign and sent every real estate agent in our region an email detailing how their lives would drastically change for the better by using our photographic services. Additionally, we sent emails to every golf course within a 100-mile radius, with the belief that providing aerial photos of each golf course hole would be of great importance to golf clubs. We then sat back and waited for the business to roll in. 

The First Client; Surprisingly, we got a hit in our first month and then another shortly after. The first was a commercial real estate agent trying to sell an old historic building. We proposed taking the photos at no cost; he would only be required to pay if he was satisfied with the results. So off we went and quickly ran into our first problem. Turns out that any degree of wind would curve the pole resulting in a tilted photo, but with some creative cropping, we were able to salvage a photo and get a halfway decent result, which we duly emailed to the client. Now if we had any business sense whatsoever, we would have added some sort of watermark to the photo, and it so happens that we didn’t…have business sense or add a watermark. Shockingly the client didn’t like the photo, and therefore didn’t pay for it, but then used it on his website that same day. We chalked that one up to a learning experience and gallantly moved on to the second client.

The Second Client; A local golf course had added a new water feature along a steep grade and needed an aerial photo of the new feature and surrounding terrain. We shot early in the morning so to avoid the wind and got a great photo (As you can see from the above image). The client was happy and wrote a check for $150. We were stoked, a company’s first payment is always a big deal. However, it turns out we couldn’t cash that first payment because the check was written out to Positional Imaging, and we hadn’t bothered to open a company bank account. After a visit with a banker, we learned that we couldn’t open a company bank account because we hadn’t obtained a company tax file number, and we couldn’t apply for a company tax file number because we hadn’t registered the company with the State.  I still have the uncashed check as a reminder of what being a moron feels like (I don’t need the reminder, to be honest) 

The Death Knell; So to recap, we named the company and, unintentionally designed a logo, as if it was an adults-only venture, our equipment didn’t work in even the slightest of breezes, we gave away our first effort for free, and we couldn’t even cash our first check. Things could only go up from there, right? Well, no…no it wasn’t going to get better at all. It turns out the article we read that sparked the idea in the first place was from a magazine that was over 5 years old, and during those five years, drones with cameras became a thing.  We were literally marketing and selling pagers in the age of cell phones…with a pornographic name. And it would seem everyone knew it except us.

I am choosing to view this entire episode as a $500 lesson in business from the School of Moronic Ventures. And I am thoroughly convinced it was a worthwhile investment if only because it gave me the knowledge and experience to reconsider my next great business idea of renting chickens.

And Dave if you are reading this…you can come get your half of the tripod out of my garage.