Every year, I make an annual family calendar for my family and my four siblings and their kids. It's a tradition I carry on that my brother started when his children were young. It's a tradition that enables me to relive memories and share these experiences. I spend at least two weeks pulling these together and I've tried multiple vendors because these calendars aren't just calendars, they're a piece of art. That means the paper needs to be of high quality and design options must be classic and tasteful.
This year, I decided to create a photobook. But not just any photobook, but one that could sit on my coffee table and inspire. It's hard to find a service that could help me pull one of these together in an elegant and artistic way. But I found one: Artifact Uprising.
I was so impressed with the company's products, I wanted to learn more. So here's my interview with the CEO, Brad Kopitz.
VatorNews: When you look at the Artifact Uprising website, you immediately think: Superior quality, personalized and eco-friendly. A company that values quality. You’re one of the early advisors early on before you became chief revenue officer in 2014. What attracted you about their business?
Brad: When I looked at Artifact Uprising, I saw a company that was solving a real issue. Nowadays, all of our photos live on our digital devices. Because of that, we rarely go back to look at them. No one is pulling up Drobox to regularly go through their archive of photos. Yet some of our most cherished experiences live in there. Our photos really do need somewhere tangible and beautiful to live. And not the standard, cheap, high-gloss offerings that are out in the marketplace today. Artifact Uprising was solving the problem to the that question, 'How do I tell my story in a beautiful medium?' Artifact Uprising believes that everyone has a story, and people should be given a way to tell it. I found that very relatable. I found it a problem that would be fun to solve.
It was also the environmental mission that really drew me in. I grew up in the outdoor industry. My family ran outdoor sporting goods growing up, so I spent a ton of time in the outdoors. So naturally I’m very passionate about protecting those wild places. I loved that part of the business’s core mission was to change the print industry to have a focus on sustainability and eco-friendly sourcing. I was drawn to the fact that I was empower, as part our strategy, to do charitable donations and partnerships to bring issues like climate change and environmental impact to the forefront of the conversation.
VN: How has the company evolved over the years, since being founded in 2012?
Brad: Wow, has it changed a lot. We’ve been growing revenue on average 2x year-over-year since founding. We started off as a small bootstrapped team and now we’re a team of 40. We’re much more in tune with our customers. We figured out how to take a much more holistic approach. Before we had to really isolate product from technology and pick the key areas we wanted to focus on. Now we can look to solve the complicated problems our customers have.
We also have a much larger reach. We have over 500,000 people who follow us on Instagram and reach over 750,000 on our email list. I think we get the most excited cause of the impact we can have with this reach. Our dream was always to build a platform to impact social causes. Now we can reach a substantial number of people to do amazing things. We always wanted to make change and do good in this world. And with our reach, we’re able to really make our contribution and impact.
VN: You mentioned larger problems. What are those?
Brad: I think it really boils down to the fact that our photo lives are a mess. Our photos live on our phone, in the cloud, on hard drives. Curating those and transforming them into the right medium is time-consuming. So we don’t do it. As a result, we’re left with no true archive of our lives. No way to leave a legacy. When looking at my digital photos on my computer or phone, I always find myself asking, what are you going to do when your grandkids want to see this? Were out to solve that problem. To create technology and services to help people transform those images into something timeless in as easy a way as possible. At the end of the day, we like to say we create great products and services that allow people to honor that which is meaningful.
VN: Quality is hard to maintain, especially when you’re in demand and growing, which you clearly are. How do you ensure you’re not sacrificing quality for quantity?
Brad: You focus on the experience…every single day. We have an internal motto – “No bad product”. That means we strive for every single order to be perfect. At all costs. We believe great quality takes time. We’ve worked with our production teams for years to perfect the art of book making and photo printing. It’s not an easy thing to do, to make sure the product meets the highest standards. We look at every detail of the experience. For example, we spent an enormous amount of time with packaging to ensure its not just beautiful but actually protects your project in shipping. Finally, our customer service is un paralleled. We look at companies like Zappos and Nordstrom’s and have modeled our mentality after them. Call us anytime and see. Whatever it takes to ensure your happy. We’ve even sent customers to dinners and bought competitor products for them. I believe that if we are going to be the premium provider, we should expect to provide premium service as well.
VN: A lot of people upload photos to Facebook and Instagram and obviously they take photos on their phone. How do you help users gather their photos in a meaningful way from those various places?
Brad: We see our job is to make project building as easy as possible. Both our desktop and IOS apps connect automatically to wherever your photos are stored and can automatically pull them into projects. We were actually one of the first photo companies to develop an IOS app with products focused specifically on mobile photography. We believe project building should be easy. With the Artifact Uprising IOS app, you can build your project in minutes and have your photos on the way to your door with a few easy clicks.
VN: A report showed that 21% of “photo merchandise buyers” said they’d ordered a photo product using their mobile device. Just over a third said they didn’t but were interested in doing so. Do you allow customers to order photos from their phone and how is that going? Is that the trend?
Brad: Absolutely. Our IOS has a number of products, all optimized for images taken on mobile phones. That means they are sized and manufactured in a way to ensure photos from your phone look amazing in print. We also auto-connect to a number of different places you may also store your photos. We think mobile commerce and photography is the future and are currently focusing a lot of our energy on how to rethink the way consumers can print directly from their phones. We’re excited to see where that leads us.
VN: There’s fast food restaurants and then there’s AU, a more upscale restaurant that’s localized (so you know your clientele). Is that a good analogy? If so, how do you add that “higher touch” service you mentioned?
Brad: I think maybe the way to look at is, our competitors are like a road-side motel and were the Four Seasons. Of course they both provide a bed to sleep in, but the experience is not even comparable. We’ve thought through every detail of the product experience. From the website, to the book building process (which is always a work in progress), to the physical product, the materials we are using, the packaging, to the interaction when you call us. We’ve built every one of those aspects ourselves, in house, and redefined the standard that they should meet.
We think consumers should expect a higher standard from the company they choose to help them document those experiences that matter most.
VN: And the cost?
Brad: We focus on value, not on cost. Our goal is to blow people away when they open their first package. We want customers for life, to handle all of their printing needs for years to come. We constantly hear from customers, ‘When we saw the product in real life thought it would cost so much more. We can’t believe it costs what it does.’ We love that!
VN: Obviously, there’s a boom in the number of photos taken. I’ve taken more photos in one week than I have in my first three decades of life. But I treasure the printed calendars I make every year. Is this boom in photos making it easier to create these photo books and hence drive more demand for photo books or photo gifts (cups, calendars, etc.)? Or is this boom in digital photos means print is dead?
Brad: There’s a giant misconception that the print market is declining. The online photo printing industry is a $2.3 billion market, according to IBISworld) and it’s accelerating.
There’s exponentially more photos being taken. That means more experiences that people want to (and should) be documenting. What we see shifting culturally is that consumers want fewer things in higher quality in addition to the knowledge of where their products come from. Our customers don’t want six million prints sitting around the room. They want to be surrounded by the ones that mean the most and they want them to be a form of art.
VN: Since you're so focused on eco-conscious materials in your products, do you attract a certain demographic and if so, who?
Brad: We focus on the sourcing because we believe materials matter. That we have a responsibility to our environment and to think about what we are consuming. We set out to try and shift printing use more post-consumer waste, to change an industry. We hope that something everyone can relate to. That said, are primarily a millennial customer, ages 26-34.
VN: Besides driving toward quality products and service, what’s the key to your success?
Brad: Were all about customer loyalty, so we don’t think like an online photo printing company. We think like a lifestyle brand. That means we spend time in the community, listening and participating. We actively involved with the makers, the photographers, the travel and the environmentally conscious communities. We love connecting with people that have a passion for storytelling, for those that believe was are all creative. We highlight works and thought pieces from those that see the world through our same lens. We try and provide value and give back in those communities by doing thinks like hosting photo meetups with great photographer’s. This is what creates a great brand: a company that gives back to the community that supports it.
VN: Share some statistics about how much momentum your company is seeing.
Brad: It’s been a crazy ride. Since launching in 2012, we’ve expanded from photobooks to prints, cards, wall art, as well as gifts (print stands). The team has grown from 3 to 40. We’ve shipped to 98 countries and every continent, except Antarctica. What’s blows my mind is that we don’t even have don’t have an overseas presence, so all these orders are coming off our US site. We’re not sure how they find us!
VN: How do you build your brand besides just being around forever?
Brad: As I mentioned earlier, a great brand has to do with community involvement. Additionally, to build a great brand you can’t just meet customer expectations, you have to blow them out of the water every single time. You have to leave your customers wondering “wow, how do they do that”. And its’ not just in your product, it’s in the way you interact with your customers. We believe everything we deliver should have value. For example, we focus our email communications around thought leadership pieces and highlighting the work of our community. Something our customers will actually want to read. If you want to know the key, it’s to value your customers and respect them.
VN: Are there any growth areas for you that you're looking to build out?
Brad: We’re seeing a lot of growth in framed photos and wall art. It’s a newer line and we’ve seen a shift to personalization in home décor. More people are bringing to prefer being surrounded by their photos as art vs generic pieces of art. We also are extremely interested in continuing to solve the problem of how to use technology to curate and print those photos that matter most in as easy a way as possible.