When Keats Elliot was working as a spokeswoman for the Children's Hospital Los Angeles, she started bringing a camera along to business events. Her pictures were so good that she started earning as much attention for her photography as her communication skills.
Her career since then has balanced a love of photography with a sense of its business possibilities. She served a stint with photographer Gary Fong, managing his Web-based imaging business. Two years ago, she hooked up with wedding and portrait photographer Jessica Claire to address a professional dilemma: When photographer is shooting an elegant party or wedding, the last thing she should look like is a photographer. Their answer: Shootsac, a line of fashion-forward lens bags that has grown into a $1.5 million business in less than two years.
We caught up with Keats during a particularly busy month, as she contemplated Shootsac's future growth.
Monday, April 28, 10:17 AM
"We're [relaunching] our blog. It's a personality business. There's a handful of photographers who are celebrities within the industry. People are interested in what these people are shooting, and they're interested in what these people are recommending. We're tapping into that sphere of influence. It's not so much that we're interested in your dog-it's the ability to start a conversation."
Wednesday, April 30, 2:37 PM
"We just got back from our commercial shoot. We're taking our existing commercial and expanding it out with a sit-down interview about photography and tools. Our product is selling really well, but this will help sell more. The best way to sell products to the audience is to educate them."
Thursday, May 1, 10:43 AM
"Yesterday we met with our new designer, Elizabeth Thunnum, at the Blue Whale [the Pacific Design Center in L.A.] to pick fabrics. Jess and I think our website looks a little schizo. We've picked fabrics based on what we like. We're spending time with the designer trying to come with a cohesive line. I walk in the door there, and I realize we're going to have to renegotiate our budget. Every fabric was $80 a yard, and she loves it. And I'm, like, 'Let's keep this at $14 and under.'
"We've just hired a CFO, so I'll pass this along to Rosalind. We're sort of heading toward hiring a CEO. We're really struggling with getting the organization right."
Monday, May 5, 1:08 PM
"We shot the commercial last Wednesday and had it online on Friday-whew! It turned out really cute and we will be using it as a tie-in for our Mother's Day e-blast as well.
"Now I've got to run out to shoot my nephew for Mother's Day. A normal person would have done this over the weekend!"
Wednesday May 7, 11:42 AM
"I was in New York for an 11-hour visit. I'm too old for this! The best-case scenario is 4½ hours of terrible sleep for a full day of meetings. I changed clothes in the airport, got into a cab, and went straight to the meeting. I felt like a bag lady. But the meetings were really good.
"I met Jess for our first meeting with Viewmark USA, a design company. It's easier for them to work with us if we have an entire line of products. They needed to know: If we went from having only one to six products, what those would be? We have a wish list, including a laptop case. I laid out our materials, with everything we needed from them, and the guy offered me a job on the spot. Jess said, 'No, she's taken.'
"I ended up with a little time to kill. I had lunch in Union Square, then went shopping- a little girl's afternoon! Then watched two movies coming home-the completely girly movies that no man would ever sit through."
Tuesday, May 13, 9:52 AM
"We have to sign the contracts for WPPI [Wedding and Portrait Photographers International]-a big trade show in March. I'm leaning toward a 10-by- 20-foot booth, but my partner wants to make a huge splash with a 20-by- 20-foot island. It's $15,000 for the space. Now is the time to make my complaint. How do I make the best use of a space like that? But what if I have six products by then?"
Friday May 23, 1:23 PM
"Adorama placed a big order with us. It's a huge kind of success and a vote of confidence. I got together with our CFO Rosalind and we put our heads together. (She's working out of Chicago.) We're thinking about investing in rapid growth. It's on track to be a $1.5 million company from my dining-room table; what would it take to be a $5 million company next year? What kind of bodies would be in place? What would a CEO
look like for our company? The reality is that I'm doing the product development and marketing. We need a CEO to take stuff like developing a sales team and pursuing the patent.
"I've created a life where I can run everything using a laptop and a cellphone. But I'm beginning to realize the reason a corporate structure exists: You can stand on it. The more bodies you get involved, the more structure has to be in place.
"Right now, somebody is knocking us off. Do I sue? I've already sent out a cease-and-desist. You have to have a stomach for these things. The woman is a stay-at-home mom; her husband's in Iraq. She says, 'If you walked a day in my shoes.'-yeah, but you're still wrong! All the money I spend on trade shows creates the audience that supports her product. You think it's going to be a little easier."
Tuesday May 27, 9:52 AM
"I was doing an online course in product launching. But Memorial Day is a holiday, so in sheer defiance, I sat in my bathing suit on my patio with my laptop. I thought, 'I'm going to look like I'm on vacation, damn it!'"
MBA Jungle, August 2008